Have you ever been driving somewhere at night when suddenly a pothole the size of Serbia appears in front of you and you can’t swerve in time? You wish you had a Land Rover with pothole protection, but you don’t, and all you can do is brace for impact and pray that you don’t pop a tire or, worse yet, crack a rim.
According to Ford, a new study from AAA shows that in the U.S. alone, pothole damage has cost drivers over $15 billion in vehicle repairs over the past five years (many northerners can attest). Addressing this issue head-on, Ford Motor Company created what it calls “a diabolical 1.2‑mile road that consists of precise replicas of some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world.” In order to build this abomination, Ford engineers spent three years driving on the worst roads in the world, leading them to Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, Spain, Switzerland, and the U.K., as well as areas of Asia, Australia, and both North and South America. It was without question quite the back-breaking experience, but the results look to be well worth the effort.
Since potholes are often unavoidable, Ford has figured out a way to make them less jarring for drivers and their wheels and tires. Ford’s engineers have taken what they learned at this holy proving ground and developed what it calls “an advanced computer-controlled shock absorber system,” with the all-new Fusion V6 Sport slated to be the first Ford to test this technology out. By utilizing a series of sensors, the car can continuously control damping force so that when a pothole appears it firms up so that the wheel can glide over the the top of the hole instead of dropping down in it.
“We tested and tuned this system by driving over countless potholes – subjecting Fusion V6 Sport to the brutal, square-edged potholes of our Romeo Proving Grounds to finesse the software,” says Jason Michener, Ford’s continuously controlled damping engineering expert. “It was long hours of not very pleasant work, but the results are well worth it.”
When it gets unleashed this summer, the Fusion V6 Sport sedan will be the first vehicle in its class to feature this technology. With its 2.7-liter twin-turbo V6 EcoBoost engine supposedly delivering upwards of 325 horsepower, this clever suspension system will help offer drivers some superior handling to go with all that tire smoke. Here’s how it all works.
As previously mentioned, onboard computers constantly analyze the signals obtained from 12 hidden sensors, giving the system the ability to adjust dampers every two milliseconds depending upon what drive setting you are in and the quality of road beneath the vehicle. When a pothole suddenly pops up, the car’s computer slaps the suspension into the stiffest setting, thus avoiding a complete drop into the pit of peril. Naturally, there are limitations to this setup, as certain craters are too big to skim over, but at least the rear suspension responds faster than the front, as warnings reach the rear wheels the moment the nose of the car detects a pothole.
Essentially, the Blue Oval has found a way to make your daily commute more stress-free, all while still giving you the option of getting crazy in the corners. This forthcoming sport sedan will also offer suspension tuning at the push of a button, with normal mode featuring the maximum amount of comfort, and sport mode giving a stiffer ride in order to allow sharper steering inputs and flatter cornering in the twisties. But regardless of what driving mode you select, it all comes back to that insane test course in Belgium.
“From a rutted traffic junction in China to a bumpy German side-street, this road is a rogues’ gallery of the most bruising surfaces that our customers might encounter,” said Eric-Jan Scharlee, a durability technical specialist at Ford’s Lommel Proving Ground, in Belgium. “By incorporating these real-world challenges into our test facilities we can develop future vehicles to better cope with challenging conditions.”