mele design firm strut brace in hand

Using A Strut Tower Brace On My Lifted Subaru To Cut Down On Unibody Flex

Last updated on November 19th, 2023

Recently, I added the Subaru Strut Tower Brace from MeLe Design Firm to my lifted Subaru Forester. I do a lot of trails that involve having one or more wheels off the ground at a time. This introduces the risk of tweaking the unibody of the car. You’ve maybe heard of people being stuck off-road and then opening their door to use the winch only to find that their door doesn’t close correctly anymore. I really wanted a strut brace that would be 100% rigid and help offset some of the twisting that can occur while off-roading.

In addition to minimizing unibody flex, I’m also always looking for ways to improve the on-road manners of my lifted Forester. After removing both sway bars for more suspension travel, I noticed a significant increase in body roll when turning. Strut braces have long been used for their ability to help eliminate sloppy steering in track settings but now many off-roaders are catching on to the benefits.

As soon as MeLe Design Firm announced their one piece strut tower brace, I knew I had to get one. I use their battery mounts and have been impressed with their US-made quality. I messaged MeLe and was the first customer to purchase the strut brace from them upon release. After installation I’ve experienced a noticeable improvement in my car’s handling and overall stability. In this review, I’ll share my thoughts on this brace and show how easy it is to install.

Spoiler alert: I liked my first one so much that I actually bought a second red one for my daily driver to tighten up the steering and dress up the engine bay. As you scroll through this article you may see photos of both the black and red braces. But they are both indeed mine and I really enjoy them.

red subaru strut brace mele

Features:

The strut brace from MeLe Design Firm has several key features that are important to me.

  • One piece construction for superior rigidity
  • CNC machined mounting points and nuts create a SECURE, precise connection to your chassis
  • High quality powder coating and welds
  • Engraved logo plate that can be reversed

They’re a one piece (twin tubes stitch welded together) steel design that leaves zero room for flex throughout the bar. I needed something that was going to be absolutely solid enough to hold up to the hard trail days I put on the car. The conical nut design also helps completely secure the brace instead of just having a flat base plate with some holes drilled into it. The way that these are shaped actually helps to hold it in place during the most aggressive corners even at higher speeds.

The build quality is top-notch, and it feels sturdy and durable. When I picked it up out of the box, I was pleasantly surprised by how solid and heavy it felt (in a good way.) I immediately knew it was made from quality materials. Upon closer inspection, I also noticed that the welds were all clean and proper.

subaru strut brace logo plackard
red mele design subaru strut brace

The small details always make a huge impact with me. Small details like the powder coat finish on these braces is great. I like how the texture feels – it’s grainy, but still glossy. It has also held up great to tools and anything I’ve scratched against it. There’s also a reversible name plate that has either the MeLe logo or a really cool boxer engine diagram. You can flip it really easily with an allen wrench. I have the MeLe logo showing on one of my cars and the engine graphic on the other. I absolutely love small details like this.

I spoke with Mitch Meadows, the owner of MeLe, and asked if there were any special features I may be missing and he sent over this helpful diagram. Feel free to screenshot it and save it for future reference as you shop.

Performance:

While my biggest motivation for installing a strut brace was simply stiffening up the front end to protect the unibody, I was actually blown away by how much more responsive the car felt in corners. While taking my lifted Subaru for a drive with the strut tower brace installed, I immediately noticed a reduction in body roll that I had become accustomed to after removing the sway bars. The car felt more planted, and the steering response was noticeably crisper. Whether on winding roads or during everyday driving, the improvement in stability is much more apparent than I expected.

While I don’t have a concrete way to measure how much better the car handles, I can say that it just feels more like a normal unmodified car again despite being lifted 2 inches, running huge mud terrain tires, and having no sway bars. It feels like I could safely make quick turns at higher speeds without risking a loss of traction or control over the vehicle. Keep in mind that this car also has old worn out struts that are scheduled to be replaced within the next few months.

mele strut bar installed on subaru animation
conical cup on strut brace

Stiffening The Unibody Off-Road:

Off-roading with the MeLe strut brace has brought a noticeable improvement. It enhanced the car’s performance by providing extra rigidity to the unibody and I’ll explain how.

This increased rigidity ensured better contact between the wheels and the ground, improving traction on rough surfaces. During moderate speed drives off-road, the strut tower brace minimizes chassis flex. This contributed to more responsive and predictable handling, preventing the body from twisting excessively. It provided a steady performance, especially through challenging turns and rough patches.

The MeLe strut tower brace isn’t just for on-road improvements; it significantly enhances off-road durability. It’s a practical upgrade that adds stability and control, making it a valuable addition to both of my Subarus and those who enjoy spirited driving.

In a practical test, I used ramps in my garage to create an uneven surface trying to mimic off-road conditions. I drove the front tires of the car up on the ramps one at a time, then opened the front doors and hood to check for any misalignment or difficulty in closure. Despite the car being on uneven ground, the doors and hood closed much more easily than in the past. The strut brace seems to genuinely help with maintaining structural integrity in the unibody.

Installation:

subaru legacy with a strut tower brace installed

Installing the strut tower brace was straightforward and easy. The average person should be able to install it within 10-15 minutes. Even someone with minimal mechanical knowledge could do this install at home with a few tools like a set of metric sockets (preferably deep well.) Install simply involves removing four nuts and putting the brace over the strut top studs before torquing the new nuts to about 18 ft/lbs.

One thing that stood out was the precision fit – every bolt aligned perfectly without issue. It took no effort to fit the bolts up through the brace mounts correctly. Since each unit is vehicle-specific to fit my Subaru correctly, there weren’t any problems with fitment at all.

Closing Thoughts On Strut Braces:

Here are a few thoughts to consider if you’re planning to purchase a strut tower brace based off of my experience.

  • Don’t cheap out. Buy a quality one-piece design brace the first time. These braces are many steps above any of the older “JDM style” ones I’ve had in the past.
  • While the brace will provide more structural integrity across the board those with a lifted Subaru or are planning to partake in very aggressive driving will benefit the most from a strut brace.
  • The only downside that I have found so far is that the brace has to come off in order to remove certain parts of the intake. But I rarely need to do this and it takes roughly 5 minutes to remove and reinstall once you know how to do it.
  • Don’t be afraid to buy one for cosmetic reasons. These look great under the hood and there’s nothing wrong with engine bay dress up!

To expound on my second point a little, since I installed one of these braces on both a lifted Subaru and a lowered one, I can say that I felt the most improvement in my lifted Subaru. The added unibody rigidity is always a good thing but these braces do a great job of eliminating sloppy steering and handling by bringing it up to 100%. If your suspension setup already eliminates body roll, you will still benefit from a strut brace. However, your “butt dyno” won’t detect it as much. This may not be a good analogy, but I like to think of it like supplementation for health. We can take vitamins to help optimize our health and then continue to utilize the benefit of taking them even if we feel good. But the process of going from 50% health to 100% is most notable. You’ll still receive benefit once you’re at 100% but it will just feel “normal.” Additionally, if you are an athlete who’s physical demands are high, the small things like good nutrition are even more critical to keep you competitive and healthy. Installing certain aftermarket parts like a strut bar is the same general idea.

To wrap it up, I am really happy that I installed this brace. I think they look great and I feel that both of my vehicles now handle much better than before – especially my lifted 2006 Subaru Forester. The car’s handling almost feels stock again!

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