Tested: What It Takes to Run 35s and No Lift on the Rubicon JL [Video]
It’s been over 15 years since Jeep unveiled its flagship off-road vehicle—the Wrangler Rubicon. While each rendition of the Rubicon has received more off-road-oriented improvements over the previous generation, the latest JL comes with a feature many "wheels" have been wanting for years—highline fenders. It’s such a simple but brilliant factory upgrade.
By moving up the fenders a few inches from the standard model, the Rubicons are designed to accommodate a larger tire with little to no lift. This equates to a lower center of gravity and a much easier vehicle to move in and out of. From the factory, Jeep states you can fit a 35-inch-tall tire on the JL Rubicon without a lift. In that same breath, the company also states that if you plan on actually using the Jeep off-road, you’ll need a 2-inch lift.
We liked the idea of running 35s on our 2018 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, but we wanted to see if we could do it (and wheel) without lifting the vehicle. In the video above, we dive into just what is needed to accomplish this goal. Below, you can read even more about the challenges associated with what it takes to properly run 35s with the stock Rubicon flares.
To take all of the guesswork out of the equation, we started our experiment off by pulling all of the coils from the Jeep and bolting on a set of 35-inch-tall Nitto Ridge Grapplers. Here the Jeep is resting on the stock bumpstops. Yes, you can actually drive it like this. Although, we don’t recommend it. Surprisingly, the tires cleared fine. Case closed? Not exactly.
While we had no trouble clearing the tires with the Jeep on level ground, we wanted to see what would happen in a more realistic trail scenario where the Jeep would be forced to articulate. Here, we found that the tires were pressing heavily against the outside of the inner fenders. This contact was even worse in the front.
To prevent the tires from contacting the flares, we had two options. The first, we could ditch the inner fenders and free up some room. The second, we could raise the bumpstop location on the axle. We opted for bumpstops since we like the stock flares. This particular front bumpstop set comes from JKS Manufacturing. What drew us to these particular bumpstops was the fact that they were stackable. This meant we could easily dial in the bump amount we needed. This kit comes with a ¾-, 1 ¼-, and 2-inch aluminum spacer set along with hardware.
Bump in the Back
Out back, there were less options in the bump adjustability department, so we ended up with JKS’s 2-inch bumpstop riser that it uses in its 2.5-inch J-Flex suspension system. These bolt directly to the axle using existing holes and don’t require you to pull the coils out to install.
We enjoyed how truly dual-purpose the Ridge Grapplers were on our previous setup, so we opted for the hybrid all-terrain in a 35x12.50R17. These are wrapped around a set of 17x9 VR-501 wheels from Venom Rex. The flow-forged aluminum wheels are extremely lightweight and strong, making them an excellent fit for the JL. While there are few color options in this wheel, we liked the highland bronze finish the best.
Two inches of up travel is what we ultimately lost by adding the bumpstop spacers on the axle. This isn’t extremely noticeable on the highway, but off-road, it can be felt. Airing down improves the ride, but it’s not a great replacement for travel.
One thing that’s definitely worth noting is that aside from a small hit to our fuel economy, adding the 35-inch-tall tire set wasn’t a big shock to the Jeep’s overall performance. Power still feels great and we still manage to hold overdrive on the interstate. We did add on a Taser JL to adjust the speedometer for the taller tires.
The amount of backspacing and tire type will also factor in to just how well your 35 and no lift setup will work. Our 35-inch-tall Ridge Grapplers run more true-to-size than some of the “other guy's” 35s. Even with the bumpstops installed, clearances were very tight. Keep in mind, these are essentially the same size bumpstops you would get with most JL 2- to 2.5-inch lifts.
To Lift or Not to Lift?
It’s pretty clear why Jeep recommends installing a 2-inch lift for 35s. It has less to do with the lift being a necessity and more to do with the need for moderating the up travel so the tires won’t rub off-road. Yes, you can run 35s without a lift on a JL Rubicon, but if you are going to wheel it on anything more than a gravel road, you can plan on the tires contacting the fenders. For the 118-inch wheelbase on the Unlimited JL, moving up 2 inches would help with ground clearance, while giving you back the up travel you lost.
So, what’s next? We wanted to see just what it would take to run 35s without lifting the JL or modifying the fenders. We believe we’ve more than accomplished that goal. However, we don’t love the ride quality loss associated with the bumps, so we’re going to look for a better way to get our ride quality back, without drastically changing the suspension system. So, be sure to look for that article coming soon.