Just as we did with our last suspension comparison, this report will compare and contrast the features of three popular 2.5- to 3-inch suspension kits for the Jeep JK. Again, the intended recipient of this suspension upgrade is a 2009 two-door soft-top JK that sees use on both street and trail, with most of the driving, sadly, coming on highways and surface streets. The Jeep currently wears a set of 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratracs, with 35-inch tires planned as their eventual replacement.
Let’s look at our suspension choices:
Metalcloak Overland Elite 2.5-inch system: The top of the line in Metalcloak’s overland-oriented suspension systems, the Overland Elite reduces cost by reusing the original-equipment control arms, instead utilizing drop brackets for caster correction. (MSRP: $1,269)
Rock Krawler Overland 2.5-inch system: A smooth on-road ride and improved off-road handling are among the top benefits of Rock Krawler’s 2.5-inch overland system. It features progressive coil springs, front sway bar disconnects and longer rear links, and includes Rock Krawler’s “abuse-proof” lifetime warranty. (MSRP: $1,242.10)
Teraflex 3-inch lift with four control arms & front track bar: To create a lift kit comparable to those from Metalcloak and Rock Krawler, Teraflex took their standard-issue three-inch lift kit and added front lower and rear upper adjustable control arms and a front adjustable track bar. (MSRP: $1,759.99)
Components & considerations
Coil springs: We’ve only started, and already our three kits couldn’t be more different. Teraflex uses traditional linear coil springs to achieve 2.5 inches of lift and a factory-like ride, then tops the springs with a half-inch spacer to achieve its advertised three inches. Metalcloak, on the other hand, issues two pair of its “true dual-rate” coils, which combines a traditional linear spring lower with a “flex rate” section that remains compressed at ride height. This design ensures the springs stay seated in their purchases, even at the extremes of articulation. Rock Krawler’s approach is more high-tech. Where Rock Krawler once used springs of different designs in the front and back, the company’s Overland lifts use progressive springs front and rear.
While many coil-spring lifts deliver slightly more lift than advertised to account for the varying weight of Jeep and armor, both Metalcloak and Rock Krawler kits are known to give significantly more than the stated height. (This is less an issue now that Rock Krawler offers specific springs for two- and four-door Jeep JKs.) For example, a survey of nearly a dozen owners of two-door JKs like mine reveals the average lift height from a 2.5-inch Metalcloak kit was about 3 3/8 inches!
Both the dual-rate and progressive coils provide an excellent on-road ride and trail manners, superior to a linear spring, but progressive springs can sometimes be difficult to pair with a suitable shock. Any shock not specifically valved for the spring will have a hard time adjusting to the progressive springs’ five spring rates (three load rates and two transitional rates). Advantage: Metalcloak
Shocks: None of the kits in today’s comparison include shocks. Each company offers house-branded or third-party standard or long-travel shocks as an option. For Teraflex, that’s a pair of Fox options headlining the available options, with a twin-tube design serving as an economic back-up. Rock Krawler offers monotube or external-reservoir versions of what I suspect is a rebadged Bilstein unit, similar to American Expedition Vehicles’ approach. For it’s part, Metalcloak touts its high-performance Six-Pack shocks, but also offers a long-travel option from Old Man Emu and a Chinese-sourced house brand. All these options are nice, but savvy consumers will look for the best standalone deal. Advantage: Tie
Bump stops: The Teraflex and Metalcloak units include adequate front and rear bump stops, while Rock Krawler requires the end user to determine his or her desired size and make a separate purchase. (Steel bump stops of varying sizes are a $59 option up front or $54 aft.) The two kits with included bump stops, then, take differing approaches. Teraflex boasts a more plug-and-play approach, adding a rubber bump-stop mount between the jounce tube and the factory Jeep bump stop. Metalcloak, on the other hand, requires drilling the front axle’s spring perch, but includes front and rear stops that are height-adjustable, enabling the user to customize his or her available up-travel. Advantage: Metalcloak
Front track bar: Any lift of 2.5 inches or above shifts the front axle a quarter-inch or more to the driver’s side. At 2.5 inches, many choose to overlook re-centering their axle under the Jeep. At three inches or more, however, the shift is a bit more noticeable, and so all three of these kits include a replacement unit. Metalcloak’s track bar is standard steel stock with an adjustment head on one end and, while Metalcloak and Rock Krawler both use a solid steel bar, Rock Krawler’s features adjustment heads on both ends. Teraflex’s Monster Adjustable Track Bar is unique in that it allows adjustment via an adjusting sleeve, providing the option to adjust its length while mounted to the Jeep. Any of these will get the job done, but I prefer the convenience Teraflex provides. Advantage: Teraflex
Rear track bar: All of these kits include a replacement track bar bracket to raise the Jeep’s roll center. Rock Krawler’s bracket raises the Jeep’s roll center three inches, according to the company website, while a visual inspection suggests the Teraflex and Metalcloak brackets provide a similar, if not larger, increase. Both the Teraflex and Metalcloak brackets mount on three planes, which some say negates the need to weld them in place. Teraflex and Rock Krawler provide powder-coated bracketry, while Metalcloak’s parts ship with a gilded covering of zinc chromate, which affords considerable protection against rust formation. The Metalcloak Overland Elite is the only kit among these offerings to include both front and rear replacement track bars. Advantage: Metalcloak
Sway bar links: All three kits include disconnecting front and solid rear sway bar links. The Rock Krawler units are height-adjustable. That inherent advantage is tempered, though, by Rock Krawler’s choice to use nylon straps as a method to secure the links when disconnected. It seems likely these straps will weather, fade and ultimately break over time. When compared to the other companies’ solid metal parking posts, it’s hard to see Rock Krawler’s straps as anything but a cost-saving maneuver. Advantage: Rock Krawler
Brake lines: Two of the three kits include four replacement brake lines to avoid overstretching. Not surprisingly, those two are the companies perhaps most noted in the industry for incredible flex and lifts that exceed their stated height — Metalcloak and Rock Krawler. Teraflex’s three-inch kit does include longer replacement lines for the front wheels. Were they going on my Jeep, I’d prefer Rock Krawler’s more understated steel-colored lines to Metalcloak’s bright red, but that’s a subjective argument, which others may see differently. Advantage: Two-way tie (Metalcloak, Rock Krawler)
Geometry correction: A lift of any height will change the factory caster and pinion angle and, the higher you go, the worse the resulting vibrations and driveline stress. Returning these figures to near-factory settings can be accomplished with aftermarket control arms or with brackets that adjust the mounting point of the front arms. The Metalcloak Overland Elite lift includes a set of brackets that maintain the factory Jeep control arms, while the Rock Krawler Overland kit includes a pair of solid 2″ diameter, 7/16″-wall (0.438″) steel alloy front lowers with impressive rebuildable joints. Teraflex adds a pair of 1.75″ diameter, 0.281 wall rear upper arms with natural rubber bushings to its competitor’s lineup, to replace four of the Jeep’s eight original arms. Hard-core wheelers will no-doubt find Rock Krawler’s arms beefy and resilient against the rocks, while average users likely will only suffer the costs of added weight without any of the gains in ruggedness. In other words, for most drivers, Rock Krawler’s arms are simply overkill. Many find drop brackets abhorrent, as they do reduce functional ground clearance by an inch or two, though Metalcloak’s choice to include them in its Overland kits allows drivers to enjoy corrected caster and pinion angles now, while saving costs that can be applied to a full set of fixed or adjustable arms down the road. In the end, though, Teraflex strikes an interesting balance by offering a half-set of arms at only a moderate increase in cost. Advantage: Teraflex
Instructions: How many shade-tree Jeep mechanics have been frustrated — or, worse, had their planned modifications delayed by — poorly written or incorrect instructions? Moreover, instructions must be written not only for expert installers, but for the first-timer, who’s figuring it out as he goes in his driveway. The choice by Metalcloak and Rock Krawler to provide a single set of instructions for all their suspension systems, in my view, is simply lazy and sloppy. More than one or two statements to the effect of “if your kit includes X, then do Y” can easily confound a novice Jeeper. In today’s world of computers and do-it-yourself desktop publishing, there’s simply no excuse for this approach.
Teraflex, on the other hand, includes thorough instructions (though I would prefer color photography or at least higher-quality black-and-white photos) specific to the product at hand. Additionally, the company’s online video collection, surely intended more as a marketing tool than a customer resource, is in fact a tremendous help when installing their products. Advantage: Teraflex
Customer service: The “Teraflex Advantage” wins again. While all three of these companies produces great products and offers satisfactory support after the sale, I’ve found Teraflex’s support staff easily accessible and eager to help. Advantage: Teraflex
Price: In the final MSRP category, the Teraflex entry in today’s roundup is burdened by the fact it contains more components than the Rock Krawler or Metalcloak kits. More components means a higher price and, at a penny shy of $1,760, the Utah company’s suspension system is the costliest of today’s bunch. In a true, apples-to-apples, part-for-part comparison, though, the Teraflex kit comes in more on par with its competitors. In an unusual twist, the Rock Krawler kit edges out Metalcloak in the price department by a scant $27. I’ve always suspected Rock Krawler kits were a little overpriced for their contents, so this comes as a very welcome surprise. Advantage: Rock Krawler
Each of these companies caters to a unique audience, each with its own specific needs. The important thing to remember about selecting parts for your Jeep is that within a large group of high-quality parts manufacturers, you really can’t go wrong. I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to do business with Rock Krawler, Metalcloak or Teraflex. Each offers a variety of products suited to a number of driving styles and environments. Hopefully, comparing these products side by side is helpful in making a decision.