For much of the car scene, chasing big horsepower figures, excessively fast speeds and being the fastest from a roll is the goal.
For many, performance has surpassed the importance of aesthetics. Evidenced by a time when some minivans have more horsepower than the sports cars of old, and the companies that used to be known for the styling of their cars continue to alienate their customers with bizarre design choices.
That is not to say, that there isn’t a group of people who value looks over speed. Window tints, new wheels and suspension are often the first modifications those looking to personalize their rides make.
For Monse Cardenas, freshman accounting major, her first choice was to “bag” her car, a 2013 Honda Civic Sedan.
The Meriden native commutes to the university and needed a remedy for her bumpy ride.
Her solution—add air.
Before adding her personal touch, Cardenas had coil-overs, a suspension component that compresses when driving over bumps and absorbs the impact. Coil-overs provide drivers with a lowered look but often result in a harsher driving experience compared to a stock suspension setup.
“I was lowered, and so I would scrape everywhere, and it was so annoying,” says Cardenas. “Since it was my daily car, I thought, I can’t be riding like this. I have people in it, and it just scrapes everywhere. I decided to do air suspension. Now it’s a way smoother drive, and I can bring it up when I drive over speed bumps now.”
With the push of a button, Cardenas sets off a series of sounds that don’t usually come from a car. The pneumatic compressor generates a loud whirring sound, followed by a hiss of air as she “airs it out.”
In addition to the four automatic settings that control how low you go. With the controller, she can manually lower each side of the car, resulting in something akin to a ’64 Chevy Impala lowrider.
“The coil-overs have airbags on them, and so it’s just monitored by a button that I have in my car. It just lowers and goes up, and then my trunk is where the air compressor is—the tank and all that,” says Cardenas.
The setup is not cheap. In all, Cardenas says it cost her about $4,000 to install, which she paid for by working at her family’s restaurant.
Before Cardenas owned her car, it belonged to her sister-in-law. With the help of Cardenas’ brother, her sister-in-law did most of the work on the car before selling it to Cardenas.
The three got into cars around the same time. The trio would frequent car events in their food truck to look at other car builds.
“I think we’re all into Hondas. Yeah, my brother leans into getting more Hondas, too. His last car was actually the same one as mine, but it had a manual, and it was orange,” Cardenas says.
Driving is still an inconvenient task with the bagged suspension. Taking backroads and learning which route is the smoothest is common for Cardenas, but she is willing to put up with a longer commute for the look.
“I like the super clean and simple look. I don’t like doing too much to it,” Cardenas says.
She adds, “Every time I park, I air it out.”
Before installing her new suspension, she adjusted the camber on her wheels. Camber is the inward and outward angle of a car’s tires. More aggressive camber angles can yield better traction; in extreme cases, they cause the wheels to stick out far enough that only a slight portion of the car’s tire is in contact with the road—this does not have any performance benefits, but many people like the look of these aggressive setups.
Cardenas kept the look in the rear but removed it from her front wheels because too much camber significantly reduces a tire’s longevity.
“I was driving, and there were people walking on the sidewalk, and they’re like, ‘your tires are about to come off,’ and I’m like, oh, that’s because it’s cambered,” says Cardenas.
Despite the comments, the car’s look is something Cardenas hopes to carry to her next, which will look similar but come in a sportier package.
“I want to get the same model, just a manual—an SI. And that way, I can switch the air suspension to that car,” says Cardenas.
A Honda Civic SI of the same model year would be an upgrade from Cardenas’ base model sedan. It boasts nearly 60 more horses and an improved driving experience. Better yet, Cardenas can directly swap her air suspension system
to the car to keep that bagged look.
“I feel like it would be more fun,” says Cardenas. “I was actually looking into an SI when I was looking into cars, and my dad was like, ‘If you want a manual car, you need to get it as your first car because that way, you’ll need to learn how to drive it.”
Despite not owning a car with a manual, Cardenas says her brother taught her how to drive one and is ready to make the switch.
With the SI, Cardenas hopes to have even more freedom to customize her car by starting with a clean slate.
Cardenas’ love of her air suspension is not shared by everyone in the car community, specifically those with a “static” suspension setup.
“They say bags are for groceries. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re cheating because you get to pull your car up, and you get to put it down, and you’re not really low,” says Cardenas.
Static suspensions are just that—static. They offer little in the way of movement because they are locked at a fixed ride height, usually very low to the ground.
In the future, Cardenas plans on having two cars. One to drive on the weekends and another to use for her daily commute.
“Because of the roads, it is really hard to have this as a daily,” says Cardenas. “I want to get another car with more luxury to drive daily.”
“I’ve really been looking into something more luxurious and comfortable. I’ve been eyeing a Mercedes or BMW, but I’m not quite sure what type yet. But definitely either car brand—I’m hopefully looking forward to purchasing it within the next three years as my graduation gift to myself,” Cardenas says. “That way, I’m able to do more to my car, like camber it more, ride lower, change my rims, and little things like that make it more of a weekend car.”
By: Tyler Fisher