3 Inches Of Lift and 38’s On The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
It has the largest wheelwells of any midsized truck ever produced, solid front and rear axles, and unbelievable aftermarket support. The Jeep Gladiator is without question the easiest midsized truck platform to transform into a dynamic off-road machine. While the JT works well out of the box, for more serious off-road adventures, it needs a lift and larger tires.
This boost is necessary mostly due to the truck’s 137-inch wheelbase. While we’ve found a modest 3-inch-lift can greatly improve the ground clearance of the Gladiator, pairing it with a true-to-size tire is equally important. This is why we decided to pair our 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon with a 38x13.50R17 Nitto Trail Grappler. Sure, we will be the first to admit that we are absolutely pushing the limits of the stock Dana 44 axles with a 38-inch-tall tire.
However, given it’s only 3 pounds heavier than a 37-inch Trail Grappler, going with the 38-inch Trail Grappler is fairly a safe gamble. In this article, we’ll breakdown how our combination of a 3-inch BDS Suspension Lift and 38’s has worked, what issues we’ve had, and if this is truly the best do-all configuration for the JT.
Why 3 Inches?
With so many suspension lifts on the market, why go with just a 3-inch lift? We’ve learned from experience that a 3-inch lift is ample for running a 37-inch-tall tire under the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. While a taller lift would be better for more technical wheeling, a 3-inch keeps the overall vehicle height low enough to not require any major upgrades (i.e., driveshafts, long arms, brake lines, and so on). Going with a taller lift would be more of an investment and a bit unnecessary for our intended use with this Jeep.
The lift we opted for comes from BDS Suspension, a company we’ve had great experience with in the past. It’s the company’s 3-inch lift kit, with the only two add-on options being a set of fixed front lower control arms and Fox 2.5 series shocks. Starting just under $1,200, it’s one of the best bang-for-your-buck JT suspensions on the market. We installed this lift ourselves at home, which took about a half-a-day of work. Note: BDS recommends a maximum tire size of 37 inches for Rubicon models and 35 inches for Non-Rubicon.
The BDS Suspension comes with 3-inch front and 2-inch rear bumpstop extensions. You can see that our 38’s do occasionally contact the BDS control arms, despite having a bend similar to the factory arm that allows for increased tire clearance. This contact only happens occasionally off-road and isn’t enough so that we feel the need to address the issue.
It’s worth noting that our 38x13.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers are as close to a “true-to-size” 38-inch-tall as you can get. Despite the mud-terrain radials aggressive tread pattern, it’s one of the best riding and handling tires we’ve driven on. It’s also surprisingly quiet. We have years of experience with the Trail Grappler and for the type of off-road adventures we enjoy, it’s an excellent fit.
Once we knew what tire we were going to run, we had to make a more challenging decision- wheels. We landed on the Method 701 Bead Grip wheel for a few particularly important reasons (aside from the fact that we liked how they looked). First, it was a 17x8.5, not a 17x9. We prefer the 8.5-inch width as it tends to protect the wheel better on the trail. Secondly, the proprietary Bead Grip design means we can safely air down to trail pressure without worrying about debeading a tire. Lastly, it was available with 4.75 inches of backspacing, which we felt would be the best balance of scrub radius preservation and tire poke with the 38.
Out of the gate, we love the look of 38’s and with 3 inches of lift. Even as massive as the 38’s are, they look extremely balanced under the Gladiator. The combination of the true-to-size 38’s and lift now has the bottom of the rocker guard sitting at appx 22 inches off of the ground.
On Road Ride
We’ve never liked how bouncy the stock Rubicon suspension feels under the Gladiator. Moving to the BDS kit took all of that unwanted bounce out of the suspension and made it feel more planted and controlled. We would consider the springs a touch on the soft side, but they pair very well with the valving in the Fox 2.5 shocks. This is how we wish the Jeep rode from the factory.
We live in the coastal plains of North Carolina where’s it’s extremely flat. This is one of the reasons we felt we could eek by for just a little while with a 38-inch-tall tire and stock 4.10 differential gearing. What we can tell you is that the fuel economy averages around 14.5, which is actually better than we thought it would be. Stop and go driving isn’t bad thanks to the 8-speed automatic’s low first gear ratio, but the Jeep struggles to stay in 7th and 8th gear on the highway.
Does It Rub?
On-road, this lift and tire combo works perfect, as in, there is no rubbing to speak of. Surprisingly, the only real issue we found off-road was the front tires rubbing on the backside of the stock front bumper. It doesn’t do so enough to create any major damage, but it needs to be addressed. While it does touch a little on the inner fender liners, it’s not enough so that we feel we need to split the flares.
Our Method wheels have 4.75 inches of backspacing, which makes a significant difference in how little we are rubbing. While this means they do poke from outside of the fender a bit, it’s not so much that they grab the outside of the flare as the Jeep articulates. Pushing the tire further away from the Jeep would definitely create more rubbing issues.
On-road, we keep our 38’s at 31 PSI. On the trail, we drop the front to 12 and rear to 10 PSI. Keeping the front at or above 12 PSI is important as the massive footprint of the 13.50-inch-wide tire can make steering very heavy when the front locker is engaged. Compared to a 37, we can tell you that the 38 is much more demanding on the steering overall.
Big and Low
The 137-inch-long wheelbase has some serious pros and cons off-road. The combination of a the 38-inch-tall tire and 3 inches of lift makes for a very versatile setup. But we still hit our frame and rocker guards on more challenging obstacles. We’ve wheeled a variety of different locations over the years with just 3 inches of lift under the Gladiator Rubicon (Moab, Utah, The Rubicon Trail, and Windrock Park, to name a few). While a taller lift is better on the trail, it will be a trade-off with practicality overall.
There are plenty of aftermarket tire carrier options for the Gladiator. We don’t daily drive with our spare tire as it robs a bit too much space. When we need to haul it for a trail ride, we stand it up in the back to create more room or simply lay it flat. Placing it in the stock spare location is not an option (at least not with our setup).
The good news is that 3 inches of lift and 38s can absolutely work. Well, at least it can in this configuration. Considering how much you’ll save on this suspension compared to a more expensive kit, you can easily drop that money into differential gears, which the Gladiator absolutely needs. While we admit that we are absolutely pushing the limits of what the factory Rubicon axles can manage with such a massive tire, we feel confident that with our conservative wheeling style, we can make this setup go the distance. For those looking for a versatile configuration, we think this is a great option. Be sure to check out our YouTube Channel to see this setup in action and hit us up with any questions you may have.
More From Driving Line
- Thinking about 37’s and 3 inches of lift? Watch this.