There are two main reasons for upgrading your Toyota’s suspension system when preparing it for the Australian off-roads – to allow owners to fit larger tyres, and to fit parts that improve the vehicle’s overall performance off the beaten trail. Many people knock those who install Toyota lift kits for the sole purpose of fitting larger tyres, but can you really blame them for wanting their vehicle to look cooler? Everyone’s driving needs and preferences are different, so as long as you go about installing the Toyota lift kit properly, you’ll hopefully get both a performance upgrade and the ability to install larger tyres at the same time. So, what makes for a good off-road suspension system in the first place?
There’s a misconception that a beefed-up suspension will stiffen the ride and make you bounce all over the road. While that may have been the case just several years ago, nowadays, off-road Toyota lift kits are designed using performance trickling and off-road racing technology. That being said, off-road suspension lift kits allow your vehicle to soak up smaller rocks, bumps and washboard, as well as maintain a decent contact patch for your tyres. If your tyres are bouncing all over, you won’t get enough traction to make it up over those rocks or blast over the whoops in a safe manner. However, the suspension must rebound fast enough to maintain enough suspension travel in order to soak up the next bump.
There’s a huge difference between using your Toyota to explore some light Overlanding and mild fire roads, and wanting to go through whoops at 100 km/h and climbing up rock walls that you can barely climb by foot, let alone your Toyota. Many people underestimate what a stock 4×4 Toyota can do, but a Toyota that’s equipped with the right aftermarket accessories and a suspension lift kit will definitely have an easier time performing. So besides fitting larger tyres and performing better off the beaten trail, how else would a suspension lift kit benefit your Toyota? Before I get into that, it’s worth noting that every modification you perform on your Toyota will have some effect on other areas, with varying levels of severity based on what you modify and to what extent.
The first thing you get with an upgraded suspension is higher ground clearance. Lately, the off-road industry has started steering away from sky-high lifts, and the goal is to strike the perfect balance between fitting as larger tyres as possible while lifting the vehicle as least as possible. That makes perfect sense, as lifting your vehicle and adding larger tyres will change its center of gravity, and depending on how you drive, it can be dangerous. Personally, I like this trend, as not only is it more aesthetically appealing, but it’s more practical, safer and helps with the fuel economy.
While a suspension lift kit will improve your ground clearance in terms of break-over, approach and departure angles, fitting larger tyres do the same, plus, they provide more clearance under the axles. So you should look to fit as large tyres as you can, within reason, of course. Furthermore, the larger your tyres are, the obstacles “become” smaller. Imagine hitting a pebble while riding a skateboard or scooter versus running it over on a mountain bike – you might fall off the skateboard or scooter, but with the larger diameter of mountain bike tyres, you won’t even feel it.
When lifting your vehicle, you’re still going to need to put the power down to the wheels, since you’ll be changing the angle of the CV axle joint or driveshaft to drive the wheels. If the angle is too sharp, you’re going to prematurely wear these parts. When you combine the sharper angle with heavier, larger tyres, you get a recipe for turning the driveshaft into a pretzel or snapping the axle. Most lift kits that can cause this recommend or include ways to deal with these issues, at an increased price, of course. Further, you have to take into account that larger tyres will impact the vehicle’s ability to put the power down onto the road. Not only are they heavier and need more power to overcome the weight to start rolling, but the larger diameter also changes the final drive ratio. The final drive ratio is the sum of all gearing between the tyres and the flywheel.
In other words, when installing larger tyres, you’re lowering the final drive ratio, meaning that your engine will be running at a lower RPM at any given speed. While the lower drive ratio can benefit your fuel economy, having large tyres isn’t the best way to go about it. Having larger tyres basically means it will need to make fewer RPM to go the same distance as smaller tyres. In other words, your acceleration will take a hit, and you’ll find yourself having to give it more juice to maintain the same speed as you used to.