First Test: AEV Wrangler JL 2.5-inch DualSport RT Suspension
Engineered for whatever road you take
Most Jeep owners are familiar with American Expedition Vehicles (AEV), a premium aftermarket company that goes about developing desirable products with an OE engineering mindset. AEV has been a premium purveyor of quality off-road accessories since 1997 and has been hard at work to expand its reach while catering to its Jeeping core.
Although the company's product portfolio has expanded to cover Ram, and more recently the Chevy Colorado, and a few Toyota wheel fitments, the bread and butter platform belongs to the Jeep Wrangler. Starting with the TJ, but really solidifying its reputation with the JK, it was extremely important for the company to get the JL right. We first saw AEV's JL offerings at the 2018 SEMA show, and more recently were invited to join the AEV team in Moab to finally get behind the wheel of the company's two- and four-door JLs, showcasing the company's next-generation parts.
At the heart of the drive was the new AEV 2.5-inch DualSport RT suspension on both a two- and four-door Rubicon sporting identical 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM3s mounted on AEV's JL-specific wheels. While 2.5-inches might not sound like much, it is enough on an otherwise stock Rubicon to stuff 37-inch tires, while taking advantage of the JLs lower roll center and giving owners a lower center of gravity. That inch could also be the difference between getting your JL in a standard garage with a roof rack and not.
The comprehensive system, which can be installed in just a few hours with the proper tools, includes frequency-tuned triple-rate 2.5-inch lift coils and passenger shims, 46mm AEV-tuned Bilstein 5100 monotube shocks, control arm geometry correction brackets, rear trackbar tower, front and rear bumpstop extensions, front and rear sway bar endlinks, JL jack base, and a ProCal SNAP for easy speedometer recalibration. Due to the system's lower lift height, there is no need to swap out any of the OE track bars, control arms, or steering components. The result is a simplified Wrangler lift with a stock-like rake, stanced for load carrying, and a whole lot more capability.
AEV tells us that they approached the new JL a little differently than most suspension manufacturers, and even Jeep itself. With the JK, Jeep tuned the springs firm and the shocks soft, while that philosophy was flipped on the JL, tuning the springs soft and the shocks firm. AEV figured that they had a certain feel and capability its customers were used to, so why not approach the JL suspension with the same philosophy of its highly successful JK suspension. With triple-rate coils and a more compliant shock tune, AEV was able to give its customers a refined ride without trading away load carrying capacity, and still providing improved off-road articulation and bottom-out performance.
AEV's system optimizes the Jeep Wrangler JL's geometry throughout the entire range of motion, resulting in what AEV calls "responsive, sporty handling characteristics", which we can't argue with. In fact, what sets AEV apart from other suspensions we've sampled, is how stunningly good the Jeeps handle on the pavement, even with aggressive tires. These are Jeeps your grandma could drive and would find nothing to protest or nit-pick. Road manners are fantastic, with a firm and stable ride that offers good compliance and very flat cornering. These are Jeeps you can take up a mountain road on the way to the trailhead and not feel like you are squealing around every corner, flirting with the limit of understeer. The Jeeps on our trip handled predictably, comfortably, and we actually thought that the ride and handling was an improvement over a stock JL Rubicon. We even sawed at the wheel a few times at speed to feel how the vehicles would respond and we concluded that wouldn't have any worries about finding ourselves in an emergency avoidance maneuver.
To be clear, we aren't saying this kit was made for the highway, with some compromise that caused watered down off-road ability. It's just that we were so impressed with the highway manners, it's hard not to gush. The reality is that this system is just as impressive on the trail. It is shockingly capable in the boulders with fantastic flex, limited head toss, and no squeaks or rattles. With the Bilstein shocks, you can carry a fair amount of speed through open terrain, and the shocks have a high amount of resistance to fade, and as we said before, bottoming out. We were also impressed with how quickly the chassis settles after hitting an event that disrupts a speedier flow, like a Jeep-gobbling pothole or cross ditch. For those of you who are looking for a little more, stay tuned, because we hear there are some additional shock options on the way. Overlanders and go-fast desert runners alike will be able to spec the right setup through AEV.
With this system, AEV has designed a dual-purpose suspension that is perfect for the daily driver that needs enough capability to hang with Jeeps sporting more aggressive setups, or more importantly, can enjoy taking the longer backcountry route to work, whenever they want. Either way, the new AEV DualSport RT suspension is everything fans of the brand were hoping an AEV JL product would be; well engineered, extremely capable, and meeting the high standards that are expected of products sporting the bison logo. After a fun and impressive day on the trail, we'd say that AEV hit this one out of the proverbial off-road park.