Dual Sport Suspensions
It used to be that when building a rig you had to decide if you were primarily going to go ripping down desert roads or if you were going to spend your free time crawling around. Suddenly suspension manufacturers are starting to realize that many of us only have one rig, yet we like all kinds of wheeling. Enter the dual-sport suspension design. Often, these are long-travel suspension systems that articulate well on the rocks but have good high-speed shock tuning and secondary suspension systems, such as jounce shocks, that allow the vehicle to perform on any terrain. No longer are you limited to your desert truck in the fast stuff, or your rockcrawling Jeep in the slow. These new dual-sport-style suspensions combine the best of both worlds, and as this trend emerges, the technology and innovation should only improve over the next few years. Keep your eye on this trend.
More Tire Choices
Just 10 years ago, if you wanted big meats on your truck, there were just a few big trusted names to go with in a very limited number of tire sizes and tread patterns. In the past five years or so, there has been an explosion in the off-road tire segment, with newcomers entering all the time, giving the consumer a mind-boggling array of choices. Countless tire sizes, tread patterns, and terrain missions means you are likely to find a tire to fit your exact needs. Even the old faithful brands are introducing new versions of popular tires so fast it is hard to catch up.
Chrome won't get you home as they say, and we are happy to see the trend of chroming everything that sticks out to be a dying trend. With project vehicles such as Trailhugger and 'Con Artist, we have done as much as possible to rid our rigs of the shiny stuff, going with less blingy and subdued hues that can be touched up with a rattle can, while still being stylish. Heck, even our H3 project has flat paint as Brubaker has gone on a mission to address anything that reflects light. We are pretty sure he is trying to create a black hole, but until that transformation is complete, it sure looks right!
TJ Stretch Kits
When the Wrangler TJ first came out, it set the Jeeping world on its ear, while some proclaimed it was the end of Jeep because of that newfangled all-coil suspension, others thought it was the best thing since the Willys took the famed workhorse of WWII to the buying public. Now that more than a decade has passed, we all know that the TJ is a wonderful platform to build from, but many of us long-wheelbase guys always felt the TJ was a little bit too short for our comfort and could use a little more than the factory 93.4-inch wheelbase. Jeep must have agreed because they responded with a 10-inch stretch of their own, in the form of the TJ Unlimited. Enter the TJ stretch conversion. Offered by companies such as AEV, Rubicon Express, and Genrite, in various increases in length, the TJ stretch kits have become a hot commodity for those ready to modify their prized TJs and take them to the next level. Our guess would be that there are going to be many more options in the coming year.
With bigger wheelwells and noticeable vehicle rake from the factory, it is now usually possible to put plus-size tires on your rig with only 11/2 to 2 inches of front lift. With these simple-to-install leveling kits, many people are finding that 33s fit on midsize vehicles and 35s on fullsize rigs, which is just fine for the casual wheeler and for folks looking to give a better stance, while retaining factory-like ride and handling characteristics and serviceability. Leveling kits are also more affordable (well under a grand for leveling components and matching rear shocks), and are available from the biggest names in the industry. We expect the growing trend of leveling kits on daily drivers to continue to gain steam as more and more wheelers learn the benefits of this type of lift.
More Diesel Options
2008 was the first full year of new clean-diesel technology, and while the diesel world faced challenges from high cost, pollution control devices causing decreased fuel economy, and the increasing price of diesel fuel, we still like that there are many more light-duty diesels slated for the years ahead as well as trick diesel conversion kits such as the one we sampled from Moab. We just hope the popularity of light-duty diesels increases and doesn't get put back on the trailer before they ever hit the trail.
If there was one big story this year, it was the implosion of the SUV and truck market that has altered plans for many of our favorite 4x4s and anticipated future offerings. In a giant knee-jerk reaction to the tumultuous economy, energy prices, and green movement over the past several months, you can thank scared execs and bean counters for killing off or postponing several of your favorite or much-anticipated machinery. And don't get us wrong, we'd love to see cleaner vehicles and better fuel economy as much as the next guy, but at the rate product plans are changing, this current crop of 4x4s could be the modern heyday of what we do.
Confirmed dead: Next Gen Hummer H2, and Tundra HD.
Postponed or shelved: Next Gen Hummer H3, Hummer H4, GM fullsize pickup.
Still in play: Ford Bronco, Ford Raptor, Jeep Wrangler, Nissan X-Terra.