Continuously controlled damping on new Ford Focus takes the thump out of potholes. Picture: Ford

Warley, Essex - Potholes are a world-wide problem, inflicting costly repairs for tyres, rims and suspension compoments on motorists everywhere. Now Ford has come up with an innovative, elegant way of limiting their impact on the new Focus, due for South African release in the fourth quarter of 2108, using existing technology with a new twist.

And this is how it works: The optional continuously controlled damping suspension system on the new Focus monitors the suspension body, steering and braking inputs every two milliseconds and adjusts the suspension's responses for the smoothest possible ride. Nothing new about that, although this is the first time it's been offered on the Focus.

But here's the kicker: If everything else stays the same and one wheel suddenly runs off the edge of a sharp drop in the road surface - that's a pothole. Ford has taught the system to recognise this scenario, and to react by blocking the rebound movement of the damper concerned, thus limiting how far the wheel is allowed to drop and causing only the tyre, and not the rim, to hit the opposite edge of the pothole, and at a much shallower angle than would otherwise be the case.

This reduces not only the chances of damaging the tyre or the rim but also the severity of the bump that gets transmitted to the occupants. More than that, the rear suspension can respond even faster than the front, because a signal from the front wheel sends a warning to the rear wheel on that side in a split second, even before it reaches the pothole.

Ford Focus vehicle dynamics supervisor Guy Mathot said: "We're always searching for the roughest roads to really test our suspension to the limit, but more and more we're noticing that the rough roads are finding us. Potholes are a problem that isn’t going away anytime soon, but at least we've been able to reduce their impact.”

Ford develops suspension systems on a specially built road at its test track in Belgium, which includes precise replicas of some of the worst potholes and road hazards from around the world, and through hundreds of hours of testing on a wide range of European public roads, monitoring loads and strains with equipment very much like that used by seismologists to study earthquakes.

Continuously controlled damping is under consideration for the new Focus when it is released on the South African market in the fourth quarter of 2018, but no decision has yet been made, says Ford SA.