While Rubicon Express offers a full range of very complete lift systems for the Jeep Wrangler JK, in the interest of the economical theme of this issue we elected to try out one of its base-level lift systems. The RE 3.5-inch standard kit includes the key components necessary to maintain proper steering and suspension geometry, but keeps the included parts and pieces to a minimum to package a more affordable entry-level lift kit.
The company recommends use of new shocks with the 3.5-inch kit, but also offers front and rear shock extension brackets that can be combined with the factory-length shocks. We tried the brackets-and-factory shock arrangement with the 3.5-inch standard kit. While they do work, we weren't too impressed with this set up; we'll be installing a new set of shocks very soon. Use of the brackets and too-short shocks diminish the positive effects of the new coil springs and limit available suspension travel. Rubicon Express sells very nice mono-tube shocks that we think would work very well with this lift kit, but none were available at the time of the installation. It's nice to save some money where you can when installing a new suspension system but shocks are items we'd rather not skimp on.
Parts that are included in the Rubicon Express 3.5-inch standard system include an adjustable front track bar, front and rear replacement coil springs, front and rear cam bolts for caster and pinion adjustment, bumpstop extensions, a rear track bar bracket, front and rear brake line relocation brackets, and rear extended sway bar end links. The factory control arms and other components are retained. Additionally, the 3.5-inch standard kit can be easily upgraded to an RE 3.5- or 4.5-inch Super-Flex lift system that includes all of the key suspension bells and whistles.
Trying to save money on tires and wheels isn't easy, especially when a larger diameter combo is what you're after. A 35-inch name-brand tire such as the 35x12.50R17 Toyo Open Country MT we used for this build typically sells for more than $300 a piece. A new set of wheels with the proper back spacing, like the Black Rhino Rockwell wheels we used, sell for $150 or more a piece. These aren't inflated prices compared to other like brands, either. It's just the fact of the matter; you will pay a premium for premium products.
More budget-minded 'wheelers do have options though. We could have used a set of steel wheels and retread tires to keep costs down, or even bought a used set. Either method would have yielded similar performance results in regards to the lift installed, however tire tread life and puncture-resistance might be diminished. We also could have retained the stock wheels and used wheel spacers to achieve the necessary back spacing. We've tried these methods with good results. This time, however, we went for the whole enchilada and installed a fresh set of Toyo Open Country MT tires mounted on 17x9 Black Rhino Rockwell wheels with 4.5 inches of back spacing. They look and work great.
We landed at Tri County Gear in Pomona, California, with parts in hand to tackle this very basic installation. The Tri County Gear crew had no trouble knocking it out and we were back up and running the same day. The lift springs allow ample under-fender space for the 35s and the tires offer a great highway ride and incredible traction on the trail. As mentioned, we'll be installing a set of shocks to replace the factory shock and extension bracket arrangement, which limit the flex offered by the new coil springs.