Most “$3K, 3Day” build-ups consist of installing a number of little items—some to improve off-road ability and some to improve reliability. And then there is some work done just to get the danged P.O.S. running again. Well, not this time. This time we’re starting with a new ’14 JK Wrangler—a four-door Rubicon that a dealer had already equipped with an ARB bumper and Warn winch. There is no sweeter out-of-the-box Jeep currently built for off-road use. But as sweet as it is, when have you ever seen us leave anything alone? Adding a little off-road-related customization is something that couldn’t be done soon enough.
Taking our vehicle platform into consideration, we decided that spending $3,000 on top-tier parts (and less of them) was the right way to go. Just because we capped our budget right now doesn’t mean we can’t spend more money later. Suspension and tires seemed like the most obvious things to address, so we specifically looked for pieces that wouldn’t require other mods (no long-arm kits requiring exhaust mods, too big of tires requiring fender mods, and so on). After some casual internet searching, MetalCloak’s 2.5/3.5 ARB Edition suspension stood out as the right kit for the right price. It would eat up more than half our budget at $1,599, but it came with a number of quality pieces for a good deal and was a kit we could build upon as we later add more parts to our JK.
MetalCloak’s 2.5/3.5 Dual-Rate ARB Edition lift kit arrived at our doorstep with everything you see here: four dual-rate coil springs, four Old Man Emu by ARB shock absorbers, new front track bar, a rear track bar relocation bracket, front upper control arms, two brake lines (that will work in the front or rear), four sway bar links, four bumpstops, and all the necessary hardware. Also, finding information about this kit online was much easier than investigating any other suspension. MetalCloak does a great job of having an informative website that details every piece found in its suspension kits. MetalCloak’s web team gets an A+.
While 37s would’ve fit with the MetalCloak kit and some fender modifications, we wanted to stay with 35-inch tires, not only for clearance reasons but power reasons as well. With the stock Rubicon 4.10 gears, our automatic JK would hopefully still be able to hold overdrive on the freeway with 35-inch tires. On a daily driver, we’d normally opt for more of an all-terrain pattern, but this daily driven JK is going to see a lot of time in the dirt, and subsequently, only a mud-terrain radial like the Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ would satisfy. By the time you read this, the new Baja MTZ P3 will be available with a new silica-reinforced tread compound that gives better traction in wet weather and a longer tire life, so you won’t be ponying up for new tires as quickly as you used to. At $325 each, they’re not cheap. But, we wanted a good tire that could last a long time, so we can kiss most of the remaining $1,400 in our budget goodbye.
That left us with $100 out of our original $3,000. We’ll obviously be staying with stock wheels for the time being, but there’s nothing wrong with a good-looking, high-quality stock wheel—as long as it accommodates your chosen tire width. We found out that our stock wheel did not have enough offset at full steering lock and needed spacers added into the mix, or we’d suffer tire-to-control-arm rubbing. Assuming nothing goes wrong and the MetalCloak kit is a “complete” kit as advertised, there shouldn’t be an issue putting this JK up a few inches and on 35-inch MTZs.
Step By Step
Starting with a well-equipped four-door JK Rubicon, there wasn’t much else that needed to be done. A dealer had already added an ARB bumper and Warn winch, and stock 4:1 transfer case gears and 4.10:1 axle gears gave a great crawl ratio. Selectable lockers front and rear, along with a disconnecting sway bar, also help out tremendously in the dirt. Without getting too radical, just about the only things left to do was to add larger mud-terrains and give this JK a few more inches of height. With the kit at the house, we quickly knocked out the first of a three-day project. With two friends, three of us tore down the front end in a matter of minutes, in the dirt, with a floor jack and a couple jackstands.
Before adding the coils, we bolted in the adjustable bumpstops. For every inch of lift, MetalCloak recommends adding one puck to the stack and gives different hardware to accommodate. With about 21⁄2 inches of expected lift, we tried only adding two pucks. We’ll probably end up adding a third one in later, but we can do so without having to remove the coil, thanks to MetalCloak’s bumpstop design. In the front, the bumpstops are round. In the rear, the stacks are rectangular.
To keep costs down, only front upper adjustable control arms are included in the MetalCloak kit. The front uppers allow for proper caster correction, and can be complimented by replacing the remaining stock control arms at a later time. We’d rather go this route and get high-quality dual-rate coils and Old Man Emu shocks at each corner for $1,599.
The kit is called a “2.5/3.5” kit because the dual-rate coils give 3 1⁄2 inches of lift for a totally stock JK and 2 1⁄2 inches of lift with bumpers and a winch bolted on. MetalCloak’s dual-rate coil allows for a comfortable on-road ride and a progressive-stiffening rate when off-road that will better absorb harsh hits. While this may strike you as a fancy waste of money, you’ll never accept less than dual-rate coils once you’ve driven a vehicle equipped with them.
With the new upper control arms bolted in and the dual-rate coils installed, we jacked up the front axle enough to get the Old Man Emu Nitrocharger Sport shocks bolted in place. The triple-stage valving in this shock gives a firmer ride that handles nicely with a heavier-than-stock vehicle and soaks up bumps better than the stock Rubicon shocks. See that new fixed sway bar link? Because this is a Rubicon-edition JK, disconnects are unnecessary. MetalCloak has a non-Rubicon version as well with sway bar disconnect links included. One thing to note is that MetalCloak’s four supplied sway bar links are all the same length, even though the stock front links are longer than the stock rear ones.
MetalCloak’s solid chromoly front replacement track bar mimics the factory unit’s design and bolts directly in place of it. It is even formed for front differential clearance. The holes are 14 mm to fit the stock track bar bolts without any slop. The axle side of the track bar features an adjustable rod end to dial in the correct axle location of any JK lifted from 1 to 4 inches taller than stock.
In the rear, a track bar relocation bracket elevates the axle-side mounting point about 3 inches. The bracket was designed to correctly locate the rear axle and not cause any track bar interference with the frame.
One pair of stainless steel braided Teflon-core brake lines is included with the kit. These brake lines can be used in the front or in the rear, as the 26-inch brake lines fit both ends. This JK’s owner decided to use them in the rear. At a later point, he’ll add matching front ones too, but for now, the front brake lines are actually not being stretched at full droop.
The MetalCloak kit went on in about three hours, with three guys bustin’ knuckles. Remember how we said “there shouldn’t be an issue”? Well, we found one. It’s not that the MetalCloak kit was incomplete, nor difficult to install—It’s that since we were staying with stock wheels, the wheel offset was not enough for the wider tires’ clearance at full steering lock. While MetalCloak did warn us about this, we figured it out for ourselves on the second day after we mounted up our Baja MTZs and tried to turn the wheels. This was an easy-enough fix with a set of wheel spacers to increase the wheel offset. After some Craigslist searching, we found a used set of four online for $80 that we picked up the next day. Unfortunately, it put us over our $3,000 budget, including the $60 it cost to get our Baja MTZs mounted.
The set of 315/70R17 Mickey Thompson Baja MTZs we mounted up to the stock wheels had a similar tread design to the tire Jeep decided to outfit the Rubicon with. It was just bigger and with a little more puncture-resistant sidewall. The $60 tire-mounting cost would have been within our budget had we not bought wheel spacers and instead just let the tires rub the control arms at full steering lock. Sue us for doing things the right way.
The new Mickey Baja MTZ P3 tread compound will be available by the time you read this. The new tire is almost identical to the original Baja MTZ, with the big difference being the new silica-reinforced tread compound. The high-tech compound is said to give a longer tire life and enhanced wet weather traction on pavement.
MetalCloak dual-rate coils, 35-inch Baja MTZs, and Old Man Emu shocks gave a cushy ride to our Rubicon. How can we complain? While a JK like this has a bolt-together no-brainer recipe that certain Jeep freaks will hate, some guys like this sort of thing. In fact, the majority of consumers like this sort of thing right now. That’s why bolt-on JK parts are flying off the shelves faster than any other off-road part made. If you want guaranteed, immediate off-road performance, a JK Rubicon with some good suspension and bigger tires is impossible to beat.
Breaking the Budget
The point was to come in under $3,000 for this JK build, but let’s be realistic for a minute: You bought a JK Wrangler. Coming in a few dollars over your initial modification budget is not going to end your world.
That said, we overshot the budget by 39 dollars, and we’re happy about it. If we had to take one kick in the shin for every dollar over budget, we would. The enhanced performance of our MetalCloak-adorned Wrangler with Baja MTZ tires was well worth breaking the budget. We didn’t just lift this JK—we improved it.
Here’s how the costs broke down after we installed the kit ourselves:
Mickey Thompson Baja MTZ tires ($325x4) $1,300
MetalCloak 2.5/3.5 ARB Edition kit $1,599
Used G2 spacers (4) $80
Tire mount and balance $60
Total cost of better off-road performance: $3,039