Choosing the right suspension upgrade for your truck or SUV can seem overwhelming. If you happen to own an ’84-to-’01 Jeep Cherokee XJ, your options are even more immense. One aspect of lifting the Jeep Cherokee XJ platform most seem to agree on is upgrading to longer control arms than what the factory offered. Although a long-arm suspension may be a more expensive initial investment, the ride quality and performance gains that come with the system over a comparative short-arm lift, make the extra coin worth throwing down.
To check out just what it takes to convert to a long-arm suspension, we took our 1995 Jeep Cherokee XJ to SoCal Super Trucks in San Bernardino, California, to install a BDS Suspension 4.5-inch long-arm kit. Over the course of a day, Casey Coughlin and his team knocked out the kit without a hitch. The end result was a Jeep Cherokee XJ that looks sharp and performed drastically better off road, without sacrificing on-road comfort and handling.
The only major cutting required is the removal of the stock lower control-arm mounts. SoCal Super Trucks used a Sawzall, which easily sliced through the sheetmetal.
To mount the new control arms, BDS supplies a 3⁄16-inch steel crossmember, which replaces the XJ’s stock crossmember. The new crossmember bolts to the XJ’s Unitbody using a mixture of existing and new mounting holes. Since the BDS kit is a four-link with a track bar, all of the control arms attach to the new crossmember.
Up front, BDS uses 4.5-inch progressive-rate lift coils to raise the Jeep and bumpstop spacers to keep the wheel travel in check. To make the off-road ride smoother and increase articulation, sway bar disconnects are also included. The spring-loaded lock allows quick one-handed disconnection and includes lanyards to hold the sway bar out of the way.
While we appreciate the well-built and adjustable front track bar, we would have preferred it to be dual sheer. For the BDS 6.5- and 8.5-inch kits, a dual sheer drop bracket is included.
The control arms are offered with an OE-style rubber or polyurethane bushing on one end and a forged flex joint on the other. The flex joints are designed to allow 30 degrees of misalignment and use a 4-inch-long 1.25-inch -12 shanks for more adjustability and thread engagement.
In the rear, full-replacement leaf packs were installed, along with a new set of shackles. Shims come with the kit to help the driveline angle, but we will be doing a more serious driveline upgrade and will break it down for you in a later issue.
BDS 5500 series shocks come standard with the kit, but we opted to upgrade with Fox 2.0 series absorbers. BDS works directly with Fox to create valving that is supple for the street, but not too light to absorb off-road punishment.
The new upper control arms are made from 1.625-inch, 0.120-wall steel tubing, while the lowers are comprised of a beefy 1.75-inch, 0.250-wall steel tubing. We tend to prefer this style link system to a radius arm long-arm. The four individual links allow the suspension to cycle more freely. This equates to a smoother ride and less wear on parts.
The final step in the install process to have the Jeep professionally aligned. The BDS links are completely adjustable, and we were able to finely tune the caster of the axle and get it driving just as good as stock.
For tires, we opted for a set of 33x12.50R15 LT Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ radials.
We went with the MTZ for its versatility and great traction in the southwest terrain this XJ frequents. The company’s Power Ply sidewall includes an angled third ply, which is intended to provide added sidewall rigidity. We could have gone with a 35-inch-tall tire if we did a bit more fender trimming, but running a 33-inch-tall tire made the most sense for this project. To secure our new mud-terrain radials, we used a lightweight and strong 15x8 Mickey Thompson Classic Baja Lock. The complete package was an excellent fit for this daily driven ’wheeler.