There’s a lot of disparaging comments made about spacer lifts or “leveling kits” on the internet in the 4×4 community. Some of them are warranted and others, not so much. I actually believe that a spacer lift is more than enough for a Subaru since they allow most drivers to install a tire that’s plenty big enough. But what about suspension lifts? How do they compare and is it something you should invest in?
There are four popular suspension lifts currently available for all Subaru models. Suspension lifts are usually the best option since they provide better performance and more suspension travel for off-road capability. Since Subarus have four wheel independent suspension, longer suspension travel can help make them keep up with 4×4’s that have solid axles.
In this article I want to go over some of the biggest differences between these two types of platforms that you may want to consider as you select your Subaru’s next lift kit. I’ll also share a few of my top picks for suspension lift kits that I think are good options for Subarus.
Before we jump into suspension lifts, I want to first talk about what a spacer lift is and what the biggest advantages are to using these lift kits. These types of spacers are usually steel or HDPE blocks that get bolted on top of your struts and space your suspension further away from the vehicle’s unibody. Some spacers are built better than others, but the concept is generally the same – you’ll use strut top spacers and then rear sub frame or multi link spacers to correct suspension geometry.
For what most Subaru owners are going to do with their cars, spacer lifts are the most cost-effective way to lift. For a very reasonable price, a spacer lift allows for the maximum tire size that a Subaru can realistically handle drivetrain-wise. This style of lift kit is also very reliable. With essentially no moving parts and a steel construction, it is hard to damage these lifts.
The biggest downside to using a spacer lift on a Subaru is that is doesn’t provide any change in spring rate or any additional suspension travel. Why are either of these important? I’m glad you asked. When you lift a vehicle, you are raising the center of gravity and creating more body roll. Body roll occurs when centrifugal force is applied to the vehicle during turning maneuvers. You may feel a leaning sensation as a your car tilts or “rolls” towards the outside of a turn as you drive around a curve – this is what we refer to as body roll. In order to offset this issue in a lifted Subaru, a set of overload springs can be installed to help stiffen up the vehicle’s suspension. Or you can install a suspension lift that solves this issue right out of the gate.
What about suspension travel? When a driver is offroad and they encounter sections of a trail where the surface is very uneven, their Subaru’s wheel might lift off the ground as they climb whatever obstacle they’re attempting. If your tire isn’t touching the ground, it’s not providing any traction. Since we don’t have straight axles in our Subarus, we are prone to experiencing wheel lift. Although spacer lifts give a bit more ground clearance, they don’t increase the actual suspension travel that would be needed to keep all 4 tires on the ground in tricky situations. This is where suspension lifts really shine in my opinion.
My opinion on spacer lift kits for Subarus – for the overwhelming majority of drivers, they offer more than enough lift and capability. Our cars aren’t rock crawlers and don’t typically need to be lifted much more than 2 inches. A spacer lift does everything that most Subaru owners will need. I personally use a spacer lift and have had no issues still keeping up with folks who have more capable suspension set ups.
If you’d like to explore some of my favorite Subaru spacer lifts, check out this article that has some great lift kits.
To recap, here are the main pros and cons of running spacer lifts on a Subaru:
- Very affordable
- Easy to install
- Usually come with everything to lift the vehicle
- Provide enough room to fit larger tires
- Very reliable and durable
- This lift kit design has been perfected to provide great suspension geometry out of the box
You’ll notice how the spacer bolts to the top of the factory suspension. For the record, we recommend inspecting and fully cleaning your suspension before installation. This strut assembly was cleaned prior to reinstallation.
I know I just spent a lot of time speaking kindly of spacer lifts and it may seem like I don’t think anyone should spend extra money on a suspension lift. On the contrary, I am in the process of installing aftermarket springs on my Subaru and may even consider a full suspension upgrade in the future.
Suspension lifts come in a few variations – lift springs, extended strut and spring combo lifts, and long travel coilovers. There are also kits that incorporate springs and spacers, such as the Primitive Racing lift kits that I happen to like a lot. Lift springs replace your factory springs and are usually stiffer while providing additional height. There are also some companies producing longer strut and spring combos that replace your entire strut assembly. Then there are long travel coilovers that are a similar concept to longer struts, but they are typically adjustable via a threaded collar that can be rotated to change the height.
Suspension lifts can improve your spring rate and allow you to carry heavier loads in your vehicle without experiencing rear sag. For people who carry a full size spare tire on their rear hitch, or anyone using a roof top tent, this is vital to making sure the suspension doesn’t sag and that the car doesn’t have excessive body roll.
Let’s briefly look at the three types of suspension lifts available for Subarus.
Spring lifts: Lift springs on their own typically don’t provide a lot of lift. However, this type of lift kit is great for someone who is planning to tow or carry a lot of heavy equipment. Rear tire carriers and steel bumpers are a great reason to install lift springs on your Subaru. I have a heavy tube bumper on my Forester and recently purchased some springs from Primitive Racing to help offset the sagging caused by adding that much weight to the front of the car.
Most people won’t run only a lift spring but will add a set of spacers for a full 1-2 inch lift. This allows for a person to offset extra body roll while still getting additional ground clearance. This type of lift is one of the most reliable suspension lifts but it won’t add a ton of suspension travel – it may provide some, but not a stark amount.
Extended struts and spring lifts: These lift kits are great because they provide an option that gives lift and a better spring rate without strut top spacers. Companies like Ironman 4×4 and Rough Country are now offering longer strut assemblies. While these provide lift, more suspension travel, and usually a stiffer spring rate, if one of the struts needs to be replaced, it has to be special ordered. A custom strut can’t simply be purchased at your local auto parts store and you may be forced to wait while a new one arrives. This is one of the only major downsides to this kind of system.
Long travel coilovers: Up until recently, long travel coilovers for Subarus were very expensive (we’re talking 5 figures in some cases) and typically only purchased for rally use. A few years back a couple of brands tried offering some LTC’s for Subarus at a more affordable price point but they weren’t very reliable. Many of the early adopters would complain about having to constantly send them back in for service and having them break regularly. Today, the off-road coilover options are actually very reliable and well built. The surge in the popularity of off-road Subarus has incentivized new entrepreneurs and well established manufacturers to enter the market and provide a great product. There are a wide range of great off-road coilovers for all current Subaru models from companies like Raceworks and Flatout Suspension.
Long travel coilovers provide a wide range of customization options and offroad performance benefits. They allow for adjustable ride height, different dampening settings, and can even be purchased with custom spring rates from the factory to fit your exact needs. There are different levels of coilovers available, but even the entry level options provide better suspension travel for maximum traction.
Despite being more affordable now than they were a few years ago, long travel coilovers are still one of the most expensive ways to lift your Subaru. This may deter some people, but they can be a good option for others.
To recap, here are some pros and cons to using a suspension lift:
- Improved spring rate to offset body roll
- This style of lift usually provides more suspension travel
- Customizable and can be a great way to get the exact ride quality you need
- Can be great for towing
- Suspension lifts usually cost more than a spacer lift…a lot more
- Coilovers usually require installation to be performed by a professional with knowledge setting up coilovers properly
- If one of the shocks breaks or wears out, it will usually have to be special ordered
If you load your car up with extra equipment and are looking for the “best of the best,” then a suspension lift may be the right choice for you. A suspension lift is also a good option for someone who’s factory suspension is already worn out. If your stock suspension needs to be replaced, an upgraded suspension lift might not cost much more than the price of factory parts.
Below is a visual representation of what each suspension lift will look like generally. You’ll notice that the spring lift contains a bunch of extra pieces. Some spring lifts can be purchased with just springs, but many people will purchase spacer blocks to go with them for extra lift. The aftermarket strut and spring combo may not look much different from a stock suspension assembly, but they are typically about 2 inches taller than stock. These don’t require strut top spacers, but they do require rear subframe (or multi-link) spacers as pictured below.
Now that we’ve explored some of the different types of suspension lifts, we’ll look at some of the most popular suspension lifts that are available for Subarus.
Primitive Racing Spring & Spacer Lifts
Primitive Racing is one of the most popular and well respected companies offering lift kits for Subarus. They offer basic spacer lift kits as well as full upgrade kits that can replace your stock springs with an overload option. You can purchase just the springs, or springs with spacers. They even offer kits that come with brand new OEM quality struts if your suspension is due for replacement. These fully assembled kits make installation a breeze.
I own their yellow overload springs and will be installing them soon to offset the added weight from my heavy off-road bumpers. This is what I would recommend to anyone with a rooftop tent, rear tire carrier, or off-road bumpers. Even if you are loading your car down with heavy camping gear, this is a great way to cut down body roll and maintain good drivability.
One of my favorite things about the Primitive kits is the reliability. They utilize OEM parts that allow you to quickly and easily replace parts in the off chance that you break something. For example, my struts are getting old and tired but I can easily buy a new set at my local auto parts store without having to wait weeks for a new assembly to arrive. Then I can swap my Primitive parts right over with no issues. Not to mention, Primitive designs their kits with stage rally in mind. They’re built to withstand severe demands.
In my opinion, this is the most reliable suspension lift available. They have a decades-long track record of outfitting Subarus with some of the best suspension parts on the market.
Ironman 4x4 Extended Strut & Spring Lift
Ironman 4×4 has rocketed to the forefront of everyone’s mind in the lifted Subaru community in recent years. They’ve been one of the first companies to offer a full strut/spring combo lift for our cars. Their kits offer 2 inches of lift and are surprisingly good quality.
We recently installed the ATS kit on a friends Outback in my garage and I have to admit I was pretty impressed with the completeness and overall fit and finish of the product. The coating on the struts appears to be solid and didn’t easily chip as we accidentally bumped them around during install. The kit also came with the necessary items to correct the rear suspension geometry – multilink spacers and all the needed hardware. Each piece of the spacer kit looked very well made, powder coated, and precisely machined.
While these are fantastic suspension lifts, there is one thing to keep in mind. If you need to replace one of the struts, it won’t be as simple as going to the auto parts store and grabbing new ones off the shelf. You will have to order them from Ironman and there may be some downtime during the shipping process. If you’re a person who needs their Subaru every day and doesn’t have a second car, plan for this before you go this route.
This suspension lift kit is a good option for someone who likes to participate in mild trail runs and spirited driving in the forest. The shocks may not be up to the task for those planning to participate in rallycross or stage rally events.
Flatout Suspension Long Travel Coilovers
Flatout Suspension got its start in the rally/overland Subaru industry but has since exploded in popularity among a wide range of enthusiasts. You’ll find their coilovers on Porsches, Broncos, Toyotas, and more.
I’ve spoken with a lot of folks who’ve run these suspension lifts and have heard nothing but good things. Our good friend Ryan is using their suspension to lift his 2019 Outback 3 inches and absolutely loves it.
Flatout offers three different options to choose from: The GR Lite, GR Plus, and the GR40. Each of these is progressively more heavy duty and capable. For most off-road Subarus, the GR Lite is perfectly fine. But anyone looking to take their build above and beyond may want to use one of their higher level options as they provide more adjustability, more lift, and more travel.
These coilovers can be purchased for almost every Subaru year, model, and trim level. So if you own something newer or something from the 90’s, they should have an option for you.
As with any custom suspension assembly, keep in mind that in the rare case you manage to damage one of the coilovers, a replacement unit will not be an over the counter piece of equipment. You may have to wait for a new one to ship to you. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s something to consider if you daily drive your Subaru and wouldn’t be able to go more than a couple of days without your vehicle.
Raceworks Long Travel Coilovers
Raceworks is a brand quickly growing in the lifted Subaru community. Renowned for its commitment to helping you get the most out of your driving experience through innovative suspension solutions, Raceworks is fast becoming an industry leader. Their product lineup includes the Overland, a customizable hand-built lift coilover designed for everyday cars, and the GZ, a more aggressive off-road lift suspension tailored for heavier duty projects. With a focus on enhancing performance while retaining the essence of Subaru’s motorsports character, Raceworks delivers cutting-edge suspension systems that cater to a wide range of driving preferences and applications.
The Overland coilover, purpose-built for outdoor enthusiasts, offers a versatile lift range of up to 2 inches (or up to 4 inches with the optional C2 Performance Upgrade). This suspension system is meticulously engineered with unique valving for rough terrain, anti-corrosion features, and ample shock travel to absorb substantial bumps. It’s the perfect choice for those who love to explore the great outdoors.
On the other hand, the GZ lift suspension is specifically designed for more versatility, offering an impressive lift range of 2 to 6 inches, making it suitable for a wide spectrum of projects (please be aware that if you want to lift past two inches, it’s recommended that you reach out to Raceworks prior to ordering.) This suspension is not just a lift; it’s a complete coilover system that replaces your stock suspension, promising an exceptional driving experience. The GZ features long travel struts, Swift Springs known for their quality and performance, high-quality helper springs, and specially designed mounting points that prioritize strength and durability. The chrome-plated shock body prevents rust and corrosion while housing a larger piston for improved performance.
Both the Overland and GZ suspension systems are characterized by their adjustability, offering the freedom to fine-tune your ride to perfection. From damping adjustability to camber adjustment and independent height adjustment, Raceworks ensures that every user can tailor their suspension setup to their precise requirements. Furthermore, their commitment to quality is reflected in their fully rebuildable and serviceable designs, backed by warranties for peace of mind.
Whether you’re seeking a suspension upgrade for daily driving, off-road adventures, or high-level rally competitions, Raceworks provides a range of options to cater to your needs. Their dedication to performance, durability, and customization sets them apart as a brand that enthusiasts can trust, ensuring that you’ll never look back once you experience the Raceworks difference.
In conclusion, I believe that a suspension lift provides a lot of great benefits for those of us who want to drive our Subarus off-road. They offer extra suspension travel which means better tire contact and capability. They can also allow off-roaders and overlanders to carry more equipment without sacrificing handling. If you feel comfortable working with aftermarket suspension or have a great shop that can assist, I think that suspension lift kits are a good option for Subaru owners. Just be prepared to spend a little more money up front.