Many of us wonder if investing in aftermarket suspension is a good idea, so we’re visiting world-leading experts KW Automotive to find out
How manufacturers and aftermarket companies are improving the suspension on your 911
It’s fair to say that Porsche has had many years – decades in fact – to refine and hone the 911’s suspension. A landmark development came with the advent of PASM (Porsche Active Suspension Management) for the 997.1, which offered manually adjustable damping settings at the press of a button. Optional on the Carrera S, where a multitude of sensors fed back information so the system could make adjustments to best suit the driving scenario, these early PASM setups tended to offer too large a gulf between ‘Normal’ and ‘Sport’ modes, the latter being extremely stiff and therefore only suitable for a smooth race track. However, PASM has been refined many times since (incorporating active engine mounts to compliment), with the most sophisticated system now standard specification on even the entry-level 991.2 Carrera.
With Porsche seemingly having all bases covered, this has raised questions as to whether enthusiasts still need to rely on aftermarket suspension companies to improve the handling of their Porsche 911. It’s a question we put to Richard Good, MD of KW Automotive UK, during a recent visit to its Rochester premises.
“The 991-generation system is very clever,” Richard begins. “What the customer demands is that instant feel – to know that something is working, that something is actually happening when they press that PASM button. So, switching on the car’s active suspension system firms things up by 80 per cent straight away. From there, the system works backwards to a softer, more appropriate setting for the scenario. It does this part without the customer barely noticing a difference.”
So how does a product from KW differ? “Our products have a much greater adjustability to cover a wider range of driving styles and scenarios,” comes Richard’s reply. “Our product gives the car an even better focus, right down to the minute details. You have to remember, the products that emanate from Zuffenhausen need to maintain a broad appeal, working as well on smooth European Tarmac as they do on a bumpy British B-road, and so there will always be an element of compromise. Aftermarket suspension specialists, on the other hand, can concentrate on more focused products, catering for individual preferences rather than the mass market.”
The theory certainly makes sense, and it’s hard not to be swept up by Richard’s affable nature when talking about improving the 911 breed. This isn’t a sales pitch either: for Richard it’s personal, his knowledge and clear passion for the 911 rooted in both air-cooled and water-cooled examples of the Neunelfer currently gracing his own garage.
That passion has led to breakthrough products from KW to improve the handling characteristics of classic 911 models in recent years. A case in point is KW’S V3 damper kit, developed for the G-series 911s. Richard says it’s one of the company’s most popular products over the last year, with more and more enthusiasts craving more modern-day handling finesse from their G-series 911 while not compromising its original factory looks. Constructed from galvanised steel, it’s built to last, and it’s designed to work perfectly with the standard torsion bar springs. But more important when it comes to fine-tuning the perfect set up is the adjustability on offer, each damper offering 16 ‘clicks’ of adjustment for rebound and 12 for compression, and it seems the real secret to its operation is the clever design of the bottom ‘rebound valve’ within the damper itself.
Whereas other adjustable dampers might feature valves that are either open or closed – providing an instant change in feel but lacking nuance – the V3 allows much more precise control of the oil flow through each click of adjustment (adopting a twin-tube design also brings benefits, such as reduced internal friction, though many other aftermarket brands are monotube).
Ranging from a firm control of rebound that helps minimise roll and pitch to a more progressive, comfort-
oriented feel, there’s no doubt their fitment can mean an impact-bumper 911 can look like a classic, but it doesn’t necessarily have to drive like one.
Passion to get a product onto the market is one thing, but in order for that product to be commercially successful, strenuous testing needs to take place. We soon learn this is all done in-house at KW HQ’S Fichtenberg base in Germany, with serious investment culminating in models being tested on KW’S seven-post track replay rig bought from a Formula 1 team (Porsche used the same system for optimisation of its LMP1 programme 919 e-hybrids).
“We also spend a lot of time developing and testing the products for each individual 911 model, so although they might look the same on the outside, if you’re choosing a damper and spring package for a 997 C2, C4, or Turbo, for example, spring rates and other settings could be very different,” Richard tells us. Probing further we also discover that KW boasts a secret weapon in their head of R&D Thomas Wurst (his nickname within the company is ‘the bottommeter’). Best described as the KW equivalent of Walter Rörhl, every single product the company develops has received his expert input.
A key area of R&D resource has been in ensuring KW’S products work with existing factory computer systems in modern cars, says Richard, walking over to an Aerokitted Basalt back 997 Turbo S. “For example, this Turbo S here has 21 different sensors, which feeds information back to the factory ECU. Our system needs to fit in and work harmoniously with that.” The result here is KW’S ‘Dynamic Damping Control’ system, which provides an extensive range of adjustment through Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ modes, along with the potential to personalise settings still further via a smartphone app.
We can’t help but admire the front axle lift kit on offer too. It’s not cheap, as you’d expect, but it does allow the nose of a 911 to be raised by up to 40mm: that’s around the same as Porsche’s own option, but the KW kit operates at up to 50mph rather than the 21mph of the factory system, and it can be activated from inside the car or via a remote control and reacts impressively quickly in just four to five seconds.
Interestingly, it also neatly illustrates how a smaller company can innovate when it comes to technical solutions, Richard explaining that the pump for their front lift system was originally located in the front compartment, which resulted in feedback from customers saying it compromised space for those with official Porsche luggage. The system was then moved to fit snugly next to the battery, tucked away from sight under the car’s battery cover.
It is refreshing to see such breadth and depth of quality products constantly being developed at KW – it is their hard work and dedication to the very science of car handling that will ensure enthusiasts always have a more focused option to get even more from their 911 driving experience. Improving the breed? Absolutely, and then some.
“Our products have a much greater adjustability to cover a wider range of driving styles and scenarios”
below KW makes every coilover kit to order, with detailed date stamps showing exactly where and when the product was made. Richard and his team also refurb existing customer kits in-house