4k miles into our Bilstein B14 suspension with our 18 inch steel wheel setup and off the back off a 900 mile in-less-than 48 hour impromptu trip, now seems like a good time to give them a review. An honest review. A long read, but a necessary one for all who want to know the truths and pitfalls of the air VS static debate.
I honestly believe if you delve into the greasy trenches, get your mitts grubby on the tools, and have a keen eye for specific keywords in certain search boxes, on a well known online auction website, you can put your T5 platformed van on AirRide for the same price as a set of shiny, out-the-box set of Bilstein B14 coilovers. However, I can't begin to explain how far the two worlds are apart. Actually, I can try. Let me explain.
If you did eventually come up trumps on your AirRide hunt, your built-not-bought culmination of parts or, your all singing and dancing 'kit' you will be getting a lot of bang for your buck, certainly a lot of parts in comparison to the analog coilover comparison so-to-
Compressor, air tank, airlines, many valves and numerous gages. Switches and wires, all sorts of interesting paraphernalia and many new words that 'stance' guys get excited about. After your hard work unpacking it and the harder, rather lengthy, often leaky (air, under high pressure is incredibly sneaky. It has an incredible ability to find the smallest of holes) you get the ultimate pay off. A low van that you can take photos of when 'aired out'. Brilliant...Fantastic! Get ready for some for serious likes on Instagram, be prepared for new friends too.
There are both good AirRide kits and budget setups (I will admit there is a big difference between the two), I can confirm that you very rarely 'air it out' as quite frankly it's embarrassing. The rush of air being exhausted when 'decking' it is LOUD, the van, then creaking and banging as it lowers eventually crashes to ground, the end result? To the majority of folk? Yea, a catastrophic failure appears to have occurred.
Funny when you think about it. The effort and money that has gone into this little piece of showmanship. Instant internet hero status has been achieved (depending on crowd) yes. Rendering it an uncomfortable ornament? Also yes.
Being fortunate enough to have been on both sides of this coin first hand I would argue that maybe I am qualified to express my opinion on both? I am as much of a fan as the next guy when it comes to a van (or any vehicle for that matter) sitting well and looking purposeful.
I guess my new found love for the B14 setup is off the back of cutting my teeth growing up scraping sumps and wishbones off the floor pans of vintage Volkswagens the proper way, 'static.' No air. 'AirRide' is considered a swear word for die hard stance guys and my time bouncing about in old cars taught me that knowing your car looks the same rolling as it does parked up is a good feeling and there lies the problem. I like driving my cars low and while that usually means uncomfortable and bouncing of the asphalt with your ordinary budget coilover that simply isn't the case for the B14 Bilstien. You can drive them low, you don't hit things and the ride isn't compromised, it's improved. A genuine improvement. That, is the difference.
You cannot drive a van on air low. You need sufficient pressure in the bags to act as the spring. Not enough pressure and the van wafts about bashing the floor and the shock mounts. Scary, loud and not very fun. The optimum pressure for the bags has to be be a certain amount of PSI and that means that you are driving about at a fair height and it certainly isn't comfy.
After an impromptu Nine hundred mile trip in a sub forty hour time frame, (very favourable forecast on other side of the country and a good tour guide for a certain stretch of coast is a drop everything and go affair for us wave starved East coasters).
All of us here have T5 based vans or have had at certain times and, while I'm partial to ruining mine with silly suspension setups this was an experiment I had wanted to conduct for a while. Pretty much constant time in the van driving for two days, putting guys who usually drive standard vans behind the wheel of our new demo van which is clad in the B14s, seemed like the prefect test.
More solid, comfier, better, more direct, smoother, quiet, really quiet...The plug and play nature, the ease of instillation and the way they work with our 18 inch steel, and obviously the way the make the van sit are all massive ticks in the box for anyone looking for a practical hauler that is visually pleasing without ruining your van.
If you want to talk Bilstein or have any other suspension questions don't hesitate to give me a shout.
In the mean time I better head back out to the workshop and continue installing the final bits of the AirRide setup on the new demo van to make sure it is well and truly ruined. (email@example.com)