Being Independent of IFS
I have always been a Jeep owner at heart. Rock crawling and heavy articulation run through my veins, but a few years ago I set that aside and said goodbye to Jeeps and decided that a more highway, family-friendly off-roader was required to suit my changing needs and I purchased a fifth generation Toyota 4Runner.
While this 4Runner was not my first foray into Independent Front Suspension, it was the one that I spent the most time with and modified the most. This new double-wishbone suspension was filled with limitless opportunities of comfort and daydreams of blasting through the desert that was a mere 2000 miles away from my home. Yes, this was the pinnacle of engineering and technology. Or was it?
I started running into issues when I attempted to outline how to best reach my goals. I thought at the time that it was fairly simple: 35-inch tires with minimal suspension lift and 12 inches of vertical travel. As it turns out, this was actually a fairly large order. The challenges I faced were wheel arches and wells that were not quite big enough to house the size and girth of a 35×12.50 tire, the driveline components were not quite up to the task of enduring those tires’ strain, and the stock suspension geometry did not permit travel past 7.5 inches.
Under normal conditions with a Jeep Wrangler, this is a simple task. The solid front axle is cheap and easy to lift, and the gargantuan wheel arches means that really nothing more than a two-inch spacer lift is needed to fit 35-inch tires with acceptable clearance, and a simple shock change to a longer shock is all that’s needed to expand vertical travel. With the 4Runner, what should have been a simple venture turned out to be an extremely complex and expensive one. To accomplish these same goals, essentially the entire front suspension would need to be re-worked with custom, long-travel components and reinforcements made to the driveline. The dollar signs continued to add up at this point. Suddenly the prospect of effectively running 35’s went from a goal to a pipe dream. Within an instant, this project’s total cost for a do-it-yourselfer was north of $7,500 in just parts.
Suddenly my dreams becoming deflated, I realized the limitations of the increasingly complex independent front suspension and was never really able to address its expensive shortcomings. It was not but a few years later, the 4Runner went onto a new home and a new solid front axle vehicle took its place. Once again, Chrysler adorned my driveway in the form of a ‘17 RAM Power Wagon which as happy to accept 37-inch tires in stock form. While this may sound like a victory chant, I was spoiled by the competency and finesse the IFS offered from the 4Runner, and coming back to a solid front axle felt underwhelming. The Saginaw-style steering box is not as tight as a rack and pinion, and road irregularities do not feel quite as managed. While I was able to reach my goals while retaining an all OEM suspension and driveline—which is a huge win—it won’t quite ever be like an IFS.
When it comes down to it, solid axles are on their way out and independents reign will continue and only strengthen, but that does not mean they are best for every scenario. Complexity is always an expensive endeavor to overcome. The off-road vehicles of the future will ship with independent front ends that are built from the get-go with long travel and robustness not previously seen, and will herald in a new era of performance.