Here’s a question common to the Jeep World, “Who makes the best on-road handling JK suspension lift?” It almost doesn’t matter who you ask, AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) consistently tops the list. Top selling points include drive-ability and ease of handling, even during hard braking (anti-dive, or no front end diving), and emergency maneuvers (minimal body roll.) I know shops that can’t sell AEV products, (AEV only allows so many authorized dealers in a certain mile radius), that still recommend AEV suspension lifts to customers building multipurpose, or daily driver type rigs. That’s saying something! And have you seen their high-speed road course video??
But what’s AEV’s secret? Is it their “frequency tuned” coil springs? The Drop down brackets, which maintain all important factory driveshaft and caster angles? The “JK tuned” Bilstein shocks? It’s like the formula for Coca-Cola, or the recipe for Hunt’s beans. Only a select few know, and you used to have to buy the whole kit to find out. When it comes to major suspension components (ok, the springs and brackets), AEV traditionally hasn’t offered them a la carte.
AEV is one of those companies some people love, and some people love to hate. Though you have to admire the company’s history and rise. It’s a classic, true American success story. (Now let’s just hope they stay true to their roots.) Anyway, I rode shotgun in a 2012 Arctic edition JK Unlimited, with a 4.5″ AEV Dual Sport Lift, and 37″ Iroks for a full day of trail riding and rock crawling at Rausch Creek Off Road Park, and that Jeep went everywhere the owner pointed. We wheeled extreme terrain. I can tell you first hand, that Jeep kicked ass. I was also at OK Auto & 4WD when Metalcloak rolled-in on it’s cross country CTI tour, and I saw a beautiful 2014 JK Unlimited, with 3.5″ AEV Dual Sport lift, and 35″ BFG KM2s score a 700 on the CTI. AEV lifts can flex. AEV lifts can wheel. Don’t believe anyone who tries to tell you otherwise. (Just to be clear, I’m not saying AEV offers the best suspension for hard core off-road use. Nor am I saying that AEV offers the best bang for the buck – but again, they can absolutely wheel.)
That said, the Achilles’ heel of AEV suspension systems is that even their high-end systems lack upgraded control arms. AEV re-uses the factory control arms, which isn’t a great long-term solution. The fact of the matter is, if you wheel long enough, you will find the limits of the factory control arms. Wheel hard enough, and you’ll find those limits sooner rather than later. Aside from their lack of strength, factory control arms don’t allow for any adjustment, so you can’t regain that little bit of wheelbase lost to the the lift. Nor can you fine tune your caster and/or driveshaft angles beyond what drop brackets provide.
But has AEV just let part of the cat out of the bag?
Thumbing through my latest Quadratec catalog, I noticed, for the first time, AEV’s “Geometry Correction Front Control Arm Brackets” available a la carte, for around $100 a pair. This is potentially big news. Rubicon Express and Rancho, other major players in the Jeep suspension business, offer similar brackets, for around the same price point. All tout similar “daily driver” friendly benefits, like anti-dive and improved operating angles, control arm angles, caster and driveshaft angles, for better overall handling and drive-ability.
So, you can now combine [ed: a potentially major] part of AEV’s secret to such fantastic on-road ride quality, with your favorite aftermarket, adjustable control arms – and there are plenty to choose from. It’s a high-class problem to have and potentially, the best of both worlds.
So again, it begs the question, what’s AEV’s secret sauce when it comes to on-road handling? Is it the springs? Or is it the drop down brackets??
Personally, I suspect the brackets have lot to do with it, and their priced reasonably enough that if you’re not happy with the on-road performance of your brand X aftermarket list, you can give ’em try.