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Heavy-Duty Ram Suspension Showdown

Posted in How To on July 1, 2008 Comment (0)
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Photographers: Steve Dohermann

Today's heavy-duty Dodge pickup is the most advanced Ram to date. The Cummins motor, rated at 325-plus horsepower and 610 lb-ft of torque, will tow anything you can hitch up to your receiver. On the outside, bold looks and clean lines make it stand out from the crowd. The interior is stylish yet functional. But for most Ram owners, the ride comfort and handling could use some improvement.

That's where three companies from Southern California come into the equation. Kroeker Off Road Engineering (KORE), Carli Suspension, and Lorenz Industries are manufacturers of performance suspension systems for the mighty Ram. Although their kits offer enough lift to run 35-inch tires, these systems are designed to improve your driving experience. If you use your truck for work, commuting, hauling, or playing, these companies have a suspension system for you.

Now that you're ready to upgrade your truck's ride, how do you choose which suspension to go with? How do those Fox shocks compare to Bilsteins? Are variable-rate coils any different than linear coils or infinite-rate coils? Do you need a steering stabilizer? Let's face it, you're about to spend $1,000 to $10,000 to improve your truck's ride. You want to get it right the first time: There's no money back with these kits.

Earlier this year, three Dodge Ram owners hosted Suspension Day. James Miller, Kevin Collins, and Kersten Pankatz, have trucks with upgraded suspensions, and the purpose of the event was to testdrive and evaluate each other's systems. Information was gathered to help fellow Dodge Ram enthusiasts decide if they really need to upgrade their truck's suspension, and which manufacturer's system to select. Testing was done on freeways, country roads, undulations, speed bumps, and dirt roads.

View Slideshow

The KORE truck is equipped with the Chase system, consisting of variable-rate front coils, mini spring packs for the rear, and Fox 2-inch reservoir shocks. KORE recommends this system for drivers who use their trucks for towing, ranching, off-roading, and long-distance highway driving. This truck also runs the KORE Race Series steering stabilizer and Erated 35-inch Toyo M/T tires.

James Miller's white Ram is equipped with the Lorenz Bilstein 5100 system. Sean Lorenz designed this system with Bilstein shocks, infinite-rate front coils, and a mini leaf-spring pack for the rear. James uses D-rated, 35-inch Toyo A/T tires to fill the wheelwells.

The Carli truck is equipped with the Starter System, which includes linear-rate front coil springs, Bilstein shocks, and a five-leaf progressive spring pack for the rear. Carli builds this system to improve on-road comfort and increase off-road performance. Kevin wrapped his wheels with E-rated, 35-inch Toyo M/Ts.

The testers met in Sacramento, California. After some breakfast at a 24-hour diner, it was time to get busy. Evaluation sheets were handed out, along with a brief description of each test. The route was discussed, along with some basic guidelines such as "Wreck my truck, and you're paying for it!"

The trucks headed west, traveling 22 miles of highway, doing the speed limit. The first section of the test consisted of freeway expansion joints and not-so-smooth pavement typical of California. The drivers exchanged vehicles and reran a 5-mile section of the route. The Carli and Lorenz trucks smoothed out the expansion joints, while the KORE truck rode a little stiff.

Next, the Rams made their way to Prairie City OHV park. The park has a 1-mile off-road course that hosts races for VORRA. This track has jumps, whoops, tight turns and fast straightaways. This track is more extreme than what most drivers typically encounter; however, the suspension manufacturers claim that their systems are designed to work off-road. Again, the KORE truck was firmer than the other two, but it was more controlled. The Carli and Lorenz trucks soaked up the smaller bumps quite well; however, they had reached their limits as the shocks heated up.

View Slideshow

After some fun in the dirt, James, Kevin, and Kersten took their trucks back onto the pavement. Undulations, windy roads, potholed streets and high-speed turns were all driven and evaluated. While the Carli and Lorenz trucks shined with their ride comfort, the KORE truck showed the most control and least amount of sway.

After six hours of testing, the drivers felt they had enough experience to draw some conclusions. Trucks were graded on a scale of 1 to 5 based on steering and ride capabilities, as well as ride comfort.

***** - Outstanding
**** - Good
*** - Average
** - Needs improvement
* - Don't buy

Kore Chase System With Fox Shocks
The KORE system shined on the undulation section of our test. The truck sailed over the undulations in a very controlled manner. The rear of the truck seemed to be the biggest factor as it minimized the "hop" on the undulations, even though we were traveling at about 50 mph. The KORE was the firmest ride of the group. Not sure if it is the springs or the Fox shocks that are making the difference, but there was definitely a noticeable difference. The freeway expansion joints and rough road bumps were controlled but did produce more jarring than the other systems. The cornering is very good on the KORE.

Lorenz System With Bilsteins
The Lorenz system did well in most situations. The ride between the Carli and Lorenz systems was very similar. They both handled the on-road portions very well and were softer (less jarring) than the KORE. The rides were soft but controlled. The Lorenz ride may have been even a bit softer than the Carli. The off-road section of our comparison was handled very well and gave confidence even as the speeds increased. Even though they handled the undulations respectably, there was more rear hop when compared to the KORE. The cornering on the Lorenz was a little bit soft - not quite as good as the KORE or Carli - but it may have more to do with the tires (D-rated) than the system.

Carli Starter System With Bilsteins
The Carli system also did well in most situations. Like I stated above, the ride is similar to the Lorenz. I would give a slight edge to the Lorenz in the ride department (a little bit more cushion), and the edge would go to Carli in cornering (again, it may have just been the difference in tires). Other than that, the systems performed almost identically.

In summary, all of the systems worked much better than stock. Any of them would be a great upgrade to a heavy-duty Ram truck. Your driving habits and style, and what you want from your suspension, will be the deciding factor in which one to choose.

View Slideshow

Rough Road/Gravel

*** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Highway Expansion Joints

*** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Off-Road Track

*** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Undulations/whoops

**** - Kore
*** - Carli
*** - Lorenz

Kore Chase System With Fox Shocks
The Chase system is a great system for long-distance racing with the Fox Shocks and undulations over 5 inches (I believe that is what the speed bumps in the road were). It rides smoothly. It hugs whoops well. It is stiff for rough off-road dips and pothole-size ruts. The Chase system serves a purpose and is a good system. The two real drawbacks are KORE's pricing and stiff daily driving.

Lorenz System With Bilsteins
The Lorenz Bilstein 5100 suspension system is a great daily-driving and moderate off-road system. I feel it kept up good and has a similar ride and feel as the Carli Starter System. The one noticeable drawback is the rear hop or bounce on bigger undulations at higher speeds (50 mph) and certain lay of the rough/gravel roads as it fishtails a tad, but not out of control.

Note: The Fox shocks were cooler than the Bilstein shocks. After doing consecutive laps, the Bilsteins were scorching hot compared to the Fox shocks which were just hot to the touch.

Carli Starter System With BilsteinsThe Starter System is a great system for daily on-road encounters and moderate rough off-road. Not a racing system. The only con for the system is a rear hop when encountering higher undulations. Hitting whoops, it hugs the mound at low speeds and feels good.

Rough Road/Gravel

*** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Highway expansion joints

**** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Off-Road Track

*** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Undulations/whoops

**** - Kore
*** - Carli
*** - Lorenz

Kore Chase System With Fox Shocks
Stiffest ride on-road and off-road. Not as smooth of a ride for your daily driver, but when your drive takes you over rough patches of freeway or expansion joints, it shows great control. Speed bumps and undulations are handled very well: no or little rear wheel hop.

Off-road, the system shows great control, steers great, but still, a stiff ride. This suspension likes to be driven hard and fast.

I'd recommend the system to those who like to drive their truck over really rough roads at high speeds. Control is this system's priority - comfort is second.

Note: Truck is running E-rated tires. I believe switching the truck to a D-rated tire will soften the ride, or run Es at a lower air pressure.

View Slideshow

Lorenz System With Bilsteins
My favorite all-around ride. It handled the expansion joints the best, keeping the truck fairly level with little bounce. Very little sway in high-speed turns. Steering felt good. Some wheel hop in the undulation test. Off-road, it felt similar to the Carli. A little more control in the rough stuff.

I recommend the Lorenz if you're looking for a great all-around suspension.

Note: The Lorenz truck is running D-rated tires. I believe running Es will stiffen the ride and affect its handling, perhaps producing a harder ride.

Carli Starter System With Bilsteins
Softest ride of the group. Very comfortable for city driving, freeway cruising. I felt more bounce on expansion joints. Fast, winding roads felt loose, as if it needed more sway control.

Some wheel hop over undulations. Good control over the rough stuff. Good ride off-road. Steering was good. The suspension seems to float, making the ride more comfortable, yet it loses some road feel/control.

I'd recommend the system to those who drive 70 percent pavement, 30 percent off-road.

Note: The Carli truck is running E-rated tires. I would not run this system with D-rated tires, as the ride is already soft.

I think if we did this over again with the three systems, but matched with equal tires/trucks (i.e. stick versus auto), the results may have been a little different but not by much.

Although any one of these systems will improve the ride of your truck, each does have its own style of comfort and handling. Contact the manufacturers and ask if they have done any installs in your area for you to test-ride. Or join those guys from Northern California when they host their next Suspension Day!

Rough Road/Gravel

*** - Kore
*** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Highway Expansion Joints

*** - Kore
*** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Off-Road Track

**** - Kore
**** - Carli
**** - Lorenz

Undulations/Whoops

**** - Kore
*** - Carli
*** - Lorenz

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