Shopping for a new JK requires some planning, especially if you want it exactly “your way.” You will likely not drive away from the first dealership with your new Jeep, if you’re picky about what you want. We were looking for a Rubicon Unlimited in Billet Silver, with matching hardtop and fenders, along with a saddle-brown leather interior, so being patient was a must. Since we planned to install things like a custom high-end sound system, rear bumper with hitch, wiring, gears, better spare tire carrier, and more on down the line, we didn't require extras like the factory tow package (Trailer Tow: AHT code) that add a Class II hitch, wiring, and a four-pin connector. The max tow group (AHQ) would have added a 3.73 rear axle to the aforementioned list. No added cooling functions though, but we’ll take care of that later. Not choosing those two options alone saved us close to $3,000—money we could drop back into upgrades later.
Shopping smart and placing our order meant we had to wait, but it was not long after taking delivery of the ’16 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon that Phase One was kicked off. We wanted to focus on the basics in this first upgrade: suspension, tires, wheels, and a spare tire carrier.
After much study, we opted to go with the 4 1/2-inch Rubicon Express Super-Flex Short Arm Lift Kit to maximize articulation, while avoiding any cutting and/or welding to relocate the control arm brackets. With a brand-new Jeep, we chose a direct bolt-on product that would require no cutting, drilling, or welding. If we later wanted to make changes, we weren’t dealing with a rig that was hacked up.
The Rubicon 4 1/2-inch Super-Flex Short Arm kit fits Jeep JKs. It incorporates adjustable upper control arms, fixed lower control arms with serviceable Super-Flex spherical ball joints, and replacement springs specifically tuned for this vehicle and suspension system. New PT-Meg Super-Ride bushings designed for on- and off-road performance are part of the package, and the lifetime warranty on the bushings gave us a little extra peace of mind about our decision. You choose the aftermarket shocks to go with the suspension lift kit; Rubicon Express offers suggestions for shock options. The manufacturer also recommends the replacement of front and rear driveshafts to accommodate the increased distance from the transfer case to the axles created by the suspension lift.
When it came time to choose tires, we knew the 4 1/2-inch lift would easily accommodate 37-inch rubber without having to trim anything, so we decided to run the brand-new Nitto Ridge Grapplers. These tires represent the best of both worlds by falling right between the company’s AT and MT.
Next it was rims, and in this category, you can definitely get lost down a rabbit hole, as there are options as far as the eye can see. After a search that saw us going through almost every manufacturer’s catalog, we came to the Pro Comp Rockwell’s. The wheels have a very clean look (satin black and not too flashy) that seems to echo the factory rim styling but then expands upon it. The Rockwell fits the style we want for this build, and they are available in a variety of sizes. We chose the 17x8.5-inch Rockwell with zero offset and 4 1/2-inch backspacing, which should keep the 37s from rubbing on anything even when turned to full-lock.
We partnered up with the Redondo Beach, California, 4Wheel Parts retail store for the Phase One installation labor, as it made things so much easier and quicker than doing it in our garage. However, all the work shown here could be done with the proper tools if you want to go the DIY route. Take a look at how easily Phase One came together.