There's an automotive buzzword that's becoming ever more popular, and it's killing our cars ride quality. That word is "sporty". "Sporty" means lower suspension, bigger wheels, lower profile tires and uncompromising seats, and it's splashed liberally throughout virtually any model range you care to mention regardless of a car's sporting qualities.

All is not lost however, and with the miracles of modern technology you can have that sporty car but not compromise with a bone-rattling ride. Engineers at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands and Swedish firm SKF have been working on new electromagnetic suspension systems that are claimed to improve the overall ride quality of cars by up to 60 percent.

If you're thinking we already have electromagnetic technology in some suspension systems, then you'd be right. However, the current systems still use hydraulic shocks, just combined with an electromagnetic element to make the fluid inside more or less viscous depending on the driving scenario.

The new suspension is entirely electromagnetic, so can react much quicker than hydraulics. Externally, the new units don't look too different from your typical spring and shock unit, but inside the unit is lined with magnets that provide passive shock absorbtion, and varying the strength of the electromagnets varies the shocks' behaviour. All of this is controlled by an ECU.

Another difference between the new suspension units and other types of electromagnetic shock absorber is the ability to recover energy and generate electricity by using vibrations from the road. This means the new shocks use far less energy than other types of active suspension.

Testing so far has all been under controlled conditions. A test car at the University has two wheels equipped with the new units and the 60 percent ride improvement figure was obtained by laboratory comparisons using a special rig. The next step is to develop electronic systems to allow each unit to communicate with another for optimal ride and handling qualities.

Does this mean good news for "Sporty" cars then? In theory, yes. Significantly more adaptive dampers can ensure that virtually any wheel and tire combination can be accounted for without sacrificing too much ride quality, giving a combination of good handling, grip and ride.