Build to Suit: Rough Country 3.5-Inch JK Suspension w/Vertex Shocks Review [Video]
One of the biggest reason so many people modify the 2007 to 2018 Jeep Wrangler JK is because, quite simply, it’s easy. Fit with solid axles, a coil-sprung multilink suspension and large wheelwells, the JK is a breeze to lift and squeeze larger tires on. In fact, with what may be the strongest aftermarket support of any vehicle ever produced, the options are seemingly limitless for what you can do with the modern Wrangler platform.
Recently, we had a friend looking to modify his 2014 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited. As is often the case, he wanted to start off by improving the overall stance of the vehicle. Given this Jeep will spend the majority of its time on-road, ride quality and handling were both extremely important. Having modified Wranglers in the past, he knew some of the critical components he needed to achieve his on- and off-road goals.
With so many options, he decided to make things easy by checking out Rough Country Suspension’s website. While Rough Country’s budget friendly pricing initially drew him to the site, the fact that he could piece together a suspension to perfectly fit his needs was what tipped the scales in their favor. With the Jeep in the capable hands of Low Range 4x4, we stopped by to check out the build. While the video above gives you a thorough rundown of the 3.5-inch lift, we’re diving even more into the details in the article below.
One area this JK owner did not want to skimp was on was the shocks. So, he opted for Rough Country’s Vertex series shocks. These nitrogen-charged reservoir shocks come with a massive 2.5-inch shock piston, along with a sizeable 22mm chrome-hardened piston rod. Moving to this performance level series of shocks isn’t cheap, but it gives him a shock that he can easily dial in and adjust as the build evolves.
The real draw to the shocks are the eight-stage compression dampeners. These allow you to dial in the suspension with the twist of the knob. Given this Jeep owner likes to move quickly in the dirt, it’s easy for him to dial up the compression for more spirited off-road driving. Once he’s ready to take it easy on the street again, he can quickly click down the compression settings. These will also come in handy as he adds items such as bumpers and body armor that increase the weight and require additional dampening force.
Jeep spent an obnoxious amount of time and money dialing in the suspension geometry of the JK. In an effort to preserve this work, Rough Country offers a 3.5-inch lift that uses control arm drop brackets. These reduce the operating angle of the arms, which ultimately translates to improved handling and ride quality dynamics over retaining the arms in the stock mounting locations.
Opting for Rough Country’s adjustable front track bar was another easy way to dial in the suspension system. This forged-steel bar is fit with Clevite bushings on both ends to ensure long life and removing unwanted vibration. The bar is also designed in a way that it can be adjusted on the vehicle, making life easy for you and the people handling your alignment.
Improved Ride Quality
Rough Country’s 3.5-inch lift coils are engineered with a similar spring rate as to what the JK left the factory with. This preserves the Jeep’s ride quality while giving you the lift you’re looking for.
To dial in the rear suspension, a track bar relocation bracket is used. While this allows you to retain your stock track bar, it raises the mounting point on the axle to retain proper on- and off-road handling. Just like the front, new raised bumpstop landing pads are bolted to the axle.
Ensuring the Jeep’s electronic nannies wouldn’t throw a fit is a Quick Cal module from Rough Country. The unit allows you to easily adjust your speedometer in addition to working as a trouble code reader.
While Rough Country recommends 35-inch-tall tires for this lift, this owner decided to step up to a slightly taller 37x13.50 Nitto Mud Grappler. Despite being the most aggressive tire in the Grappler catalog, it's extremely well mannered on the road. This, along with the un-matched off-road performance, has made the Mud Grappler the go-to tire for this particular Jeep owner for years.
The extreme terrain tires were paired with a 17x9 Manifold 740B series wheel from Gear Alloy. Fit with 4.53 inches of backspacing, the cast-aluminum wheel is a strong and lightweight wheel. Yes, this setup does rub at full suspension compression off-road. Given the next modification will be done to the fenders, this issue should be taken care of soon.
The Build Continues…
We got a chance to check out the new setup on-road and off. While a differential gear upgrade would definitely bring the power levels back, we found the overall ride quality and handling extremely plush. Playing with the compression adjusters on the Vertex shocks absolutely yielded noticeable results. For the trails and intended use of the Jeep, we think this setup is great. Sure, the fenders will need to be trimmed or replaced eventually to allow the tires to properly cycle off-road. However, on-road, it isn’t an issue.
Like most builds, this one is still a work in progress. Thankfully, the owner is starting with a solid base to build from.