1994 Jeep Cherokee XJ Rough Country Long-Arm Upgrade

    Go Long (Arm): Increasing Performance & Control on Our Jeep Cherokee XJ

    Ali MansourPhotographer, Writer

    When the Jeep Cherokee XJ hit the scene in 1984, it was impossible to predict how large an impact the Unitbody machine would have on the off-road world. One of the most significant advancements at the time was the multilink front suspension. Nearly identical configurations of this coil-sprung configuration would go on to appear in the 1993 Jeep Grand Cherokee ZJ and then in 1997 with the launch of the then-groundbreaking Jeep Wrangler TJ.

    Each rendition of the multilink suspension carried over the same general configuration of four independent control arms working with a track bar (also commonly referred to as the Panhard bar). Over the years we have found that this link setup works excellently in a stock configuration. It’s when you lift the vehicle that the shortcomings of this setup become apparent. This is largely due to the length of the stock control arms.

    At the factory ride height, the links remain fairly flat, which allows the axle to easily cycle up and down. When you place taller coil springs in to raise the Jeep, the angle of the control arm can increase dramatically. This is because the control arms are fairly short. Given their short length, we tend to suggest staying with 3 inches of lift or less for the XJ, TJ, or ZJ when retaining stock-length control arms.

    For those looking to go with a slightly taller lift, we suggest upgrading your stock control arms with a longer set. Our 1994 Jeep Cherokee XJ is a great example of a Jeep riding on the handling cusp with short arms. While the 4-inch lift has served the daily driven Jeep well for some time, it was obvious that the handling of the vehicle on-road and off could be greatly improved.

    To get the Jeep moving better, we picked up a long-arm upgrade from Rough Country Suspension. This entirely bolt-on kit is designed for XJs running 4-6 1/2 inches of lift. It eliminates the stubby factory control arms with a new crossmember and heavy-duty radius-style set of control arms. Thankfully, not only was this upgrade budget-friendly, but we were able to knock it out from the comfort of our own garage. Here’s how it all went down.

    1. The first items to assemble when you get your Rough Country long-arm kit are the flex joints. While you will need a pair of snap-ring pliers and a small Allen key, Rough Country provides the tool required to thread in the adjustable retainer rings. The fully rebuildable lower flex joints use polyurethane bushings to allow the spherical ball to flex up to 35 degrees.

    2. At the axle end of the control arm you find a Clevite bushing. This type of rubber bushing is known for longevity and is similar to what you find on the stock control arm end. They are ideal for absorbing vibrations and have proven themselves to be a durable rubber joint in most Jeep suspension applications.

    3. Rough Country designed the XJ long-arm upgrade to utilize a quarter-inch steel crossmember to secure the radius style control arms. All of the steel components come with a gloss black coating to ensure that the parts remain rust free.

    4. Installation of the long-arm upgrade starts by removing the stock transmission crossmember. You will need to use some type of jack to support the transmission while replacing the original crossmember. Since our XJ is over 20 years old, we took the time to spray down all of the hardware we would be removing the night before with a can of PB Blaster.

    5. Rough Country’s replacement crossmember bolts in using the stock crossmember mounting holes. Once it is in, you will install the side braces and drill two holes on the side of the Unitbody framerail.

    6. Working with the sheetmetal Unitbody structure is easy from a drilling standpoint, but extra care is needed when modifying the suspension such as we are. Rough Country uses a sleeve in the rear hole and a flag nut in the front, to secure the crossmember brace plates to the body.

    7. Once you support the front axle you can remove the stock lower control arm. This allows you to access the lower mount on the Unitbody side, which will need to be removed. A sabre saw will do 75 percent of the work, but you will need some sort of cutoff wheel or angle grinder to clean up the remaining bracket pieces the rest of the way. This will be the most labor-intensive part of the job.

    8. Here is a perspective on how much longer the 1/4-inch-thick Rough Country arms are over these older stock-length aftermarket control arms. When your control arms are working at extreme angles, the poor geometry can often be felt on-road and off. By increasing the length of the control arm, and subsequently where it mounts on the chassis, you are reducing the operating angle. This alone can eliminate many poor handling quirks often associated with taller short-arm suspension systems.

    9. The upper arm attaches to the stock upper control arm mounts. Radius-style control arms are extremely easy to package, which is one of the big reasons many aftermarket suspension manufacturers offer them.

    10. Also included with the kit is a transfer case skidplate. Our XJ’s NP231 T-case has been upgraded with a slip-yoke eliminator kit, but this is nice added protection for the aluminum housing case.

    Pros & Cons Moving to a longer control arm is without question the best way to get your XJ to handle better when you are running more than 3 inches of lift. One of the biggest concerns people have with long arms is the perceived loss of ground clearance. Rough Country uses a high-clearance formed design for its tubular radius arms, so there isn’t a significant amount of metal sitting low. Sure, you will need to be mindful of the longer arm, but the on- and off-road handling benefits of the long arm far outweigh the potential off-road interference.

    Living Long Despite our XJ being fit with front and rear lockers, it wasn’t built for frequent hardcore off-roading. Like many of your off-road trucks, this Jeep is actually a daily driver too. It even pulls a small trailer occasionally. These are all factors to consider when looking at long-arm upgrades. While a radius-style control arm set may not articulate as freely as a four independent control arms, it is not a limiting factor on our application. Overall, the long-arm upgrade was a significant improvement over the stock-length arms and a job that was easily knocked out over the weekend.

    Travel Notes A longer control arm does not automatically equate to more suspension travel. The vertical wheel travel a vehicle has depends more on the shock (among other things) than the control-arm length. While a longer control arm setup may provide you with greater suspension travel potential, it does not guarantee more travel.
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