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Faster Raptor

Installing ICON’s Stage 4 Suspension System

Our project specimen for this experiment is a 2013 Ford F-150 Raptor. These first-generation off-road trucks came equipped from the factory with revolutionary Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks. However, in the 10 years since its introduction suspension technology has evolved and we were ready to as well.
Jason GondermanAuthor, Photography

The Ford SVT Raptor was the first production pickup built to tackle the untamed desert of the Southwest United States and Baja, Mexico. Until its debut in 2009, SVT was all about high-performance street machines, so this was new and exciting territory. Ford engineers did an impressive job and the truck proved to be a wild success. Through the years, as owners pushed their first-generation SVT Raptors to go faster and faster, the limit of the factory components was quickly found.

Enter ICON Vehicle Dynamics, a company that is intently focused on high-end, high-performance, suspension systems. Seeing these shortcomings and the rabid desire of Raptor owners to go further faster, ICON has brought to the market a line of products aimed at doing just that. Best of all, they didn't just do it for Raptor but instead offer a full line of high-performance suspension systems for nearly every pickup and SUV on the road today.

When we set out to improve our first-generation 2013 SVT Raptor we knew ICON was the crew to talk to. And because we felt what was a failing factory front shock and worn out ball joints (after nearly 90,000 miles of faithful service) we opted for the company's full Stage 4 suspension system.

ICON's Stage 4 suspension system for the 2010 to 2014 Raptor includes the company's Delta Joint billet upper control arms, 3.0-inch front coilover shocks, 3.0-inch rear bypass shocks, rear leaf spring pack, and a rear hydraulic bump stop kit for the rear. All-in, the parts cost just north of $11,000 and are entirely worth the price of admission. We did the installation ourselves with basic hand tools and a couple extra hands. With no hang-ups, the install would take the better part of a long weekend to complete.

Our project specimen for this experiment is a 2013 Ford F-150 Raptor. These first-generation off-road trucks came equipped from the factory with revolutionary Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks. However, in the 10 years since its introduction suspension technology has evolved and we were ready to as well.

3.0-inch CDC Coilover Shocks and Billet Upper Control Arms

ICON's 3.0-inch coilover shocks utilize a full 3.0-inch piston with digressive rebound valving and a flutter stack on compression. The dampers also feature an internal hydraulic system (similar to an external hydraulic bump stop) during the last 40-percent of suspension travel for the best bottom-out control. And for the ultimate in adjustability ICON includes their Compression Damping Control Valve (CDC), which is an external compression adjustment with 10 settings from soft to firm. The coilovers are also height adjustable for those who want just a bit more.

ICON's Delta Joint-equipped billet aluminum upper control arms are designed to improve the overall performance of the Raptor by correcting the front suspension geometry with caster and camber adjustment that wasn't previously available. They also work to provide clearance for larger shocks, such as ICON's 3.0-inch coilovers. The Delta Joint, which is patent pending, combines the durability of a traditional ball joint with the performance characteristics of a race-proven uniball.

After 90,000 miles of faithful service our factory suspension was looking pretty worn. We could feel a definite decline in damping from one corner and upon inspection both upper ball joints were fully worn out. To say it was time for an overhaul would be an understatement.
Replacing the Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks are a set of ICON's 3.0-inch remote reservoir coilover shocks. These shocks utilize a full 3.0-inch piston with digressive rebound valving and a flutter stack on compression. They also feature an internal hydraulic system (similar to an external hydraulic bump stop) during the last 40-percent of suspension travel for the best bottom-out control. And for the ultimate in adjustability ICON includes their Compression Damping Control Valve (CDC), which is an external compression adjustment with 10 settings from soft to firm.
Other than limiting suspension travel and having a ball joint that's prone to wear the factory Raptor control arms are perfectly adequate. ICON, however, offers a billet aluminum replacement that eliminates potential binding while also providing clearance for the larger coilover shocks. The standard ball joint is replaced with ICON's Delta Joint and FK heims take the place of rubber bushings. The arms are CNC machined from 6061 aluminum for the ultimate combination of weight savings and strength.
We began the installation process by removing the three nuts on the upper retaining ring of the factory shocks. These bolts are best reached from the engine bay with a long socket extension. Pay close attention to only remove three small nuts from the outer ring. If you accidentally remove the large center nut the coil spring will violently separate from the shock body. The lower bolt is torqued very tightly from the factory and requires a large breaker bar (or powerful impact) and a 30mm socket to remove. At this point we had also removed the steering tie rod from the knuckle along with the upper ball joint as well as disconnecting the sway bar. Once the lower bolt is removed the factory shock slides up and out.
With the factory shock out of the way we turned our attention to the upper control arms. Due to the direction of the bolts (nuts on the outside of the coil bucket) the arms cannot be removed with the shock in place.
To complete the swap over from the factory shocks to the new ICON unit's special misalignment spacers are used in the lower control arms to both position the new shock and narrow down the holes for the new mounting bolts. the position of the spacers is critical as the larger one serves to push the shock body away from the front axle shaft.
Due to its sheer size, getting the new 3.0-inch ICON coilover into place is a tricky task. The reservoir and hose must first be fed through the inner hole in the coil bucket and out of the way into the engine bay. Next the shock is lifted into the coil bucket before being lowered into the lower control arm mount. If you have a buddy this is a good time to have a third hand.
The upper control arm bolts are a bit difficult, but not impossible, to torque. These bolts get torqued to 120 lb-ft.
The new ICON CDC 3.0-inch coilover and billet aluminum control arm setup not only performs at the head of the class but looks great doing it too. The install is very straight forward, however, due to clearancing of the coil bucket that's required the job took us about 12 hours to complete.

RXT 3.0-inch Bypass Shocks and Leaf Springs

In the process of building our Raptor into the ultimate backcountry, whoop slaying, prerunning, and overlanding machine we added a lot of weight to the bed of the truck. To compensate for this ICON offers the company's RXT rear leaf springs and 3.0-inch bypass shocks as part of the Raptor Stage 4 system. The RXT springs, when used with the provided add-a-leaf, are designed to compensate for up to 600 pounds of weight carried in the bed of the truck, which is about the same as we've calculated to have been added to the rear of our Raptor.

Both the RXT springs and shocks can be used independently, however, to get the most out of the system they need to be paired together. And when used together the system really does impress. Working with the help of a buddy, the springs are quite heavy, we were able to install the new springs and shocks in long day in the driveway with basic hand tools. The results are a leveled ride height, an increase in travel of about 25 percent (from 12 inches to 15), and incredible off-road performance.

The factory first-generation Raptor rear suspension was relatively simple and worked really well. Springs were a soft two-leaf pack with an overload, and they were paired with 2.5-inch Fox internal bypass shocks. This combination produced 12 inches of rear suspension travel.
Desiring more suspension travel, increased load carrying capacity, and improved durability the team at ICON Vehicle Dynamics developed the RXT spring pack. These springs are multi-rate and come with new U-bolts, a replacement front hanger bolt, additional add-a-leaf, and bumpstop extensions.
One of the best features of the ICON RXT spring system is the ability to change the spring rate. Using the included add-a-leaf the spring rate can be increased by either 10 or 20 percent. Counting from the bottom up, replacing spring number five with the add-a-leaf will increase the rate by 10 percent, which adds 1.25 inches of lift or compensates for 300 pounds of constant weight in the bed. Adding the leaf in the number six position will increase the rate by 20 percent, which adds 1.75 inches of lift or compensates for 600 pounds of constant weight.
While a rate change can be performed with the springs on the truck, we opted to set up the springs prior to installation. Because of our desire to carry two spare tires, tools, and a Dometic fridge in a custom rack in the bed, along with our ARE bed cap, we opted to install the add-a-leaf for maximum spring rate.
While the RXT springs can be used with Ford's factory Fox shocks or with the myriad of other aftermarket dampers the most improvement is found when paired with ICON's RXT 3.0-inch rear triple bypass shocks. The biggest difference you may have noticed is the side-mounted upper eyelet, which allows from more suspension travel and longer stroke shocks while retaining the factory upper shock mounting location. Part of the magic of the RXT bypass shock lies in the placement of the upper eyelet. Because of its placement on the shock body ICON added a patent-pending anti-wobble link. This link provides the needed stability to keep the body from rotating, keeping the bypass tubes clear of the springs and tires.
To clear the anti-wobble link a small section of bed floor support needs to be removed. Following the detailed instructions, we broke out the trusty angle grinder and set to work. After the initial cuts were made, we used a small flat file to deburr the rough metal edges.
With the RXT shocks installed you can clearly see the function of both the anti-wobble link and the clearance notch that was cut to clear it.
The 3.0-inch RXT bypass shocks feature large knobs for easy bypass tube adjustment without the need for tools. Each bypass valve is individually equipped with unique spring rates, and use dampened valve stops for quiet operation.
Speaking of the remote reservoir, these RXT shocks are equipped with ICON's patent-pending dual-hose recirculating reservoir. These units use a one-way check valve to circulate hot fluid from the shock body to the reservoir while returning cooled fluid to the body. What this equates to is a more stable operating shock, which is less prone to performance degradation and fade during continuous hard use.

Hydraulic Rear Bump Stops

If you've ever hit a speedbump or gutter a little too quickly, and haven't we all, then you no doubt know the value of a good suspension bump stop. Most vehicles these days use a microcellular jounce, which is basically an advanced foam rubber. In most situations these types of suspension stoppers are perfectly adequate. However, when you start going faster across rougher terrain a more robust stopper becomes necessary.

ICON's rear hydraulic bump stop kit is fully bolt on and can be installed without removing the truck's bed. The kit's clamshell design not only holds the hydraulic bump stop but also adds strength to the truck's frame in an area where they've proven to need it. The damper itself is 2.0 inches in diameter and features a 2.5-inch stroke.

When combined with the company's RXT leaf springs and 3.0-inch triple bypass shocks our 2013 Ford F-150 Raptor gained an enormous amount of not only wheel travel but also control. Big bumps are smoothed out and we haven't experienced the harsh bottoming that used to happen on large G-outs. There's a little bit of added noise from the bump stop pad contacting the metal strike plate, but the reality is the truck is so loud anyway that it's hardly noticeable. Over the course of hundreds of miles of testing we've been constantly impressed with the performance of the bump stops.

The factory microcellular bump stops simply snap into a steel cup that is bolted to the frame. Removing them is easy. The bump stop pulls out by hand and the cup can be unbolted with a simple ratchet. It's really a miracle they stay in place at all.
ICON's hydraulic bump stop kit comes in pieces for easier installation. Seen here are the outer most pieces of the kit, which bolt to the outside of the frame rail and secure the bump stop in place. Installation begins by centering this outer piece on the frame rail and securing it in place with the factory bump stop retaining cup bolt. Doing this ensures that both sides are evenly spaced and centered above the axle from the start. You may be wondering why the ICON kit positions the bump stop so far off the frame. Well, it's simple really. Pushing the bump stop out allows for both better bottoming control, and increased wheel travel by way of moving the bump stop out of the way of the leaf springs.
This fancy looking contraption is the miracle worker that prevents the need to drill into the frame rails. The welded nuts line up perfectly with slots in the frame and holes in the outer frame bracket. Working from underneath the truck, the nut plate gets inserted into the frame rail with the arrow facing forward. While holding the nut plate in place, thread a bolt through the outer bracket and into the plate. A second set of hands is helpful for this process, however we did it just fine by ourselves.
The inner bracket needs to sit flush against the frame rails, which means the brake lines and wire harness need to be moved from the driver side frame rail and the exhaust needs to be moved away from the passenger side. To get the passenger side bracket in place we needed to use a ratchet strap to pull the exhaust far enough away from the frame.
Once both interior brackets are installed the billet aluminum crossbar can be installed. This crossbar links the two sides together stiffening the whole unit. It's this crossbar that protects the frame rails from bending when the hydraulic bump stops are engaged.
In addition to the billet aluminum crossbar a pair of tension rods are also used to help ensure rigidity of the system and frame rails during hard off-road driving. One thing to note, however, is that the factory exhaust is a very tight fit through the passenger side tension rod, and most aftermarket exhausts won't fit at all.
Since the bump stops are moved outboard with the ICON kit new strike plates need to be added to the axle tubes. These strike plates secure by catching a hook under the axle leafspring perch, and with a U-bolt on the other side around the axle tube. Looking at how tight the fitment is for the strike pad under the spring pad, it will most likely be necessary to loosen the axle U-bolts in order to secure the strike pad properly.
Worth noting is that the leaf spring alignment pins will likely need to be shortened. If they are left too long they could hit and damage the hydraulic bump stop mount on full compression.
Last, and most important, is installing the hydraulic bump stops. These bumps come from ICON already setup in the most ideal way for the majority of Raptor owners. They are adjustable, however, by way of valving changes, fluid volume, and nitrogen pressure. That part is best left to the professionals.

How Does It All Work?

Since installing the full ICON Vehicle Dynamics Stage 4 suspension system we've logged about 1,000 miles of off-road travel on varied terrain. We've run desert whoops, mountain roads, sandy dunes, rocky trails, and everything in between. Impressively, the ICON suspension has been unflappable through it all. The truck handles large whoops, dips, and ruts with ease and is incredibly smooth over all types of terrain. We can comfortably and confidently explore any backcountry site we choose.

Highway travel has been just as good, as we've placed about 2,500 road miles on the suspension since installation as well. Because the suspension is a tad stiffer than factory, we haven't noticed a marked increase in body roll or wallow on the highway. We also installed the ICON recommended Hellwig rear anti-sway bar. During this time, we've had zero issues with any piece of the ICON suspension system, and everything continues to function and look as it did on day one.


ICON Vehicle Dynamics