Install and Review: Rough Country Long Arm Suspension on a Jeep Grand CherokeePosted in How To: Suspension Brakes on December 5, 2015
Your Jeep’s suspension system can make or break its on- and off-road performance. We’ve been in some downright scary Jeeps that could have easily been fixed with the proper suspension system. Our ’98 Jeep ZJ Grand Cherokee is a great example of a daily driven wheeler that just needed a little fine-tuning on the suspension.
A few years ago, we installed an entry-level short-arm suspension lift, which, for the most part, has served us well, but we knew it could be better. The biggest complaint we had was the handling and ride quirks that were mostly due to the steep control-arm angles. From the factory, the ’93-’98 Grand Cherokees suffer from the same stubby-length control arms as the ’97-’06 Jeep Wrangler TJ. Much the same as the TJ, equipping the Grand with longer control arms can translate into a better suspension system in the dirt and on the road.
Like many of you, price was a determining factor for us when upgrading to a new suspension system. We didn’t want a cheap kit but good value for our dollar. Despite the ZJ platform’s age, the aftermarket support remains strong, and after searching around, we ultimately landed on a Rough Country 4-inch long-arm suspension. Opting for the 4-inch kit would give us room to run the 33-inch tires we want (Rough Country suggests a 31-inch maximum) with a little fender trimming and maintain a reasonably low center of gravity—a good thing for on- and off-road driving. We borrowed time on a two-post lift from our friends at Low Range 4x4 in Wilmington, North Carolina, for the installation so it would be easier to get the photos we wanted to show you, but because this kit is a bolt-on with very little cutting or drilling involved, this is actually a very doable driveway install. You’ll need a good assortment of tools and some suspension experience, but if you’re looking to save money on the installation, it can be tackled at home.
Once the old suspension pieces were removed, the first major spot to tackle was removing the stock lower control-arm mounts. This is one of the few times you’ll be thankful that the Grand Cherokee is a Unitbody design. Slicing through thin metal is extremely easy. Low Range 4x4 used a cut-off wheel attached to an electric grinder. A Sawzall is also an excellent cutting tool option for this task.
Your next order of business will be to mock up the new front suspension crossmember. Once you have it in place, you can mark the holes that will need to be drilled out along the underside of the Unitbody rails.
The Rough Country crossmember is made of heavy-duty 1/4-inch steel. The one-piece design takes place of the flimsy stock crossmember and accepts the stock transmission mount. While it does come with a transfer case skidplate, we found it made contact with the NP242 T-case. Low Range trimmed it to fit and sent it out for another round of powdercoat before bolting it back on.
The rear portion of the crossmember is held in by the stock mounting locations. To bolt the front portion in place, you will need to drill a small access hole in the rail so you can fish the flag nuts in place. Using long pliers to hold the flag nuts will make the process much easier.
Rough Country sends rebuildable endlinks with its long-arm kit. You will need to assemble them yourself. Thankfully, the adjustable 2 1/2-inch flex joints are very easy to put together, and beyond the tool Rough Country includes, you’ll only need a sturdy set of snap-ring pliers.
A set of radius-style control arms from Rough Country replace the original suspension configuration up front. The arms come formed for increased tire and ground clearance and offer plenty of adjustment so you can properly dial everything in.
Supporting the front is a set of 4-inch lift coils and Rough Country’s Performance 2.2 Series shocks. Also standard issue with the kit is a set of quick-release anti-sway bar disconnects.
Handling the side-to-side movement of the axle is a new fully adjustable track bar. This setup comes with a new track bar mount on the frame side and reuses the stock hole at the axle. Since the new track bar has a threaded adjustment collar, you can easily adjust it once it’s bolted in place.
Out back, the kit includes new control-arm brackets at the frame that are through-bolted from the side and bolted via inset flag nuts from below. The beefy brackets are used to mount both the upper and lower control arms at the frame on each side.
We talk a lot about long arms versus short arms, but here you can really see how big of a difference there is between the two. As you raise your ZJ’s suspension, the control-arm angle significantly increases, which can often create a harsh ride and poor handling. One of the biggest advantages of having a long control arm is that it decreases the operating angle of the arm.
As we previously mentioned, this ZJ was originally outfitted with a short-arm suspension lift. As such, an aftermarket track bar bracket was already bolted and welded to the rear axle. While Rough Country does include a track bar drop that goes at the body side, this setup was left in place. Both suspension systems retain the stock track bar. This setup is preferred because raising the bracket at the axle increases the roll center.
To finish the rear kit install, a new set of lift coils and 2.2 Performance Series shocks were bolted up. Both the front and the rear use bumpstop extensions to moderate the suspension’s upward travel. On our 4.0L-powered ZJ, we found the long-arm kit did require a new cat-back exhaust system, so you should budget accordingly.
To make sure this wheeler doesn’t get left spinning in place in the Southeast mud, a set of 33x12.50R15 General Grabber MTs were mounted on 15x8 steel wheels. The load-range-C mud-terrain radial has been a solid performer so far. We found them to be surprisingly quiet, always a nice trait on a daily driven SUV where noises seem to echo inside the cabin.
To shoehorn the 33-inch-tall Generals in place, we had to trim a little from the front bumper, as well as slightly modify the fender wells. The stance of the ZJ is what we would consider a true 4-inch-lift, great for something you’ll be climbing in and out of daily. One thing we didn’t like as much was the overall length of the rear lowers. The long control arms are good for handling, but they are more likely to take a beating off-road. We have no doubt that the arms can take it, but it’s definitely something to be aware of. We also found the coils and shocks to be a bit on the soft side. This made for a great on-road ride, but we wouldn’t mind a little more damping for more spirited off-road driving. Without question, the Jeep handles better than it did with the short-arm system. We look forward to putting this kit through the paces in the upcoming months.