Updated: Sep 16
How big should I lift my Subaru? What company should I go with? Do I need trailing arm spacers? These are the questions asked when lifting a Subaru, so I have put together the ultimate lifting guide to answer all your questions!
So first off, this guide is aimed at the Macpherson strut model Subaru’s which include:
Subaru Forester 1997-2007
Subaru Impreza 1992-2007
Subaru Liberty/Outback/Legacy 1989-1999
As this guide is based on my own experience, as I have owned multiple subies with the Macpherson strut system, so this is the suspension setup I know the best, hence why I am focusing on this suspension type.
Please remember this is a guide only, and while I am trying to provide the best detail and accuracy to my ability, the following article is based on my knowledge and opinions. For expert advice please consult one of the lift kit manufacturers listed in this article for better advice.
Why should I lift my Subaru?
Well this comes down to what you intend to use your Subaru for. There are a range of lifting options from a tame 1 inch lift all the way to a wild 6 inch lift and beyond!
Benefits of lifting your Subaru include:
· Increased ground clearance
· Increased diff clearance
· Increased approach/departure angles
· Ability to fit larger tyres
Downsides of lifting a Subaru include:
· Increased drag
· Possible increased in fuel consumption
· Possibility of conflict with local regulations
· Increased CV wear
Now as mentioned above the benefits outweigh the downsides of lifting your Subaru and a lift provides a lot more capability to your ride!
What types of lift kits are available?
There are multiple ways you can lift a Subaru with Macpherson struts, which include:
· Strut Top Lift
· Raised Springs
· Lower Lift Brackets
· Custom Long-Travel Coilovers
Strut top Lifts
Strut top lift kits are the most common type of lift for a Subaru and the concept is that you place a spacer on top of your existing strut top to increase the ride height of the vehicle. These are great as you aren’t altering any moving suspension components, so your ride quality is not affected, but your ride height is increased. A good strut top lift will also have camber and caster offset built into the spacer, so you can keep the alignment to factory specifications.
Raised Springs are another common modification to improve ride height as the standard spring is replaced with one that is taller and usually a little bit stiffer then factory. Being a stiffer spring, the raised springs help to improve on-road handling and helps keep the car level when adding extra load to the vehicle.
The downsides to the raised springs however are that they generally only offer a 1 inch lift to the vehicle as that is all the standard struts can provide. This also means that raised spring are forcing the strut piston to sit in the topped-out position, meaning there is a lot of stress added to the strut and the ride can be much harsher when going over bumps.
In my experience using raised springs, this resulted in a loud bang every time I went over a bump and the strut topped-out. Raised Springs also provide no camber/caster offset and combined with a 1 inch strut top spacer may throw your alignment out. This was a combination I used on my first lift and I had to buy additional camber/caster offset strut-tops to bring the alignment specs back to factory specifications.
Lower Lift Brackets
Lower lift brackets aren’t as common as the first two options partly because there is only one manufacturer who provides them and a lack of caster adjustment.
These work by adding brackets between the hub assembly and the strut to provide extra lift to the strut. This is the same principle as the strut top spacers but fitted to the bottom of the strut instead.
The biggest benefit to these is the ability to fit larger tyres as a major limit on Subaru’s is the height of the spring perch. By extending the height of the strut from the base, the spring perch is there for higher up and provides more room for larger tyres.
On the negative there is no caster offset built into them, you need to run wheel spacers (If using high offset wheels) and grind the struts to fit them properly.
Custom Long Travel Coilovers
The last and best option for raising a Subaru is with custom long travel coilovers. Now this is the option for those who want the absolute best off-road performance!
Being a custom option, this means you can adjust the height, travel and spring stiffness to suit your needs.
Having narrower springs this also means there is no spring perch to limit your tyre size like there is on the factory struts.
The negatives are however that the cost of the cheapest long travel coilover is about four times as much as a 2 inch lift kit and this even doesn’t include the subframe drops you will also need.
What size lift should I get?
Your lift size comes down to your intentions with the car. So here is a guide for lift size and application:
I daily my car and do light off-roading – 1 inch lift kit
So you drive the car every day, take it out on the occasional camping trip and don’t drive on any difficult trails. Here a 1 inch lift kit is best as they are a basic, budget conscious kit to improve your ride height.
I daily my car but frequently off road – 1.5 to 2 inch lift
You want to keep good handling characteristics and keep the car reliable.
Here is where the smaller lift kits shine. 1.5-2 inch lift kits are ideal in this situation as they give you that little bit of extra ground clearance to get over that terrain you couldn’t before.
The lift still keeps your car low enough that the car isn’t top heavy, has camber and caster offset so it handles great on road, and the CV angles are still comfortable and shouldn’t give you any issues.
I want to tackle more difficult tracks without subframe drops – 2.5 inch lift
Now we are starting to get more serious, and you want to tackle those trails that are a little more difficult. This is where the 2.5 inch lift shines, mainly because you have now reached the maximum lift your CV’s can take and you have reached maximum diff clearance. This means that your Subaru now has better diff clearance then most standard 4wds! Combined with the 2.5 inch front you can also add a 3 inch rear lift (as the rear can take a little more) for the best possible clearance. One thing to keep in mind with this setup is that this is the maximum lift the CV’s can handle so there may be more stress on the CV’s.
I want to push my Subaru to its limits – 4 inch lift and beyond!
So you want to have the most capable Subaru out there and you want to keep up with the big boys on the toughest trails. This is where the big lifts come into play. Now as I mentioned before 2.5 inches is the maximum the CV’s can take, so you will need to add subframe drops to keep lifting. This means your driveline stays at a height that the CV’s can handle, but the body is lifted so you now have even better approach and departure angles! The things to keep in mind is that your now at the serious end and subframe drops combined with big strut-top spacers are going to get expensive. On top of this, depending on where you live, your local authorities may not appreciate the lift and you may end up in a little trouble. In Australia for example, we cannot have a vehicle lifted above 50mm or 2 inches (some states allow total of 75mm lift) and need to have this larger lift approved by a registered engineer to use on public roads, so this is something to consider.
How big can I lift my Subaru?
As mentioned above, the CV’s (constant velocity joint) can take a maximum of 2.5 inch lift on the front and 3 inch lift on the rear. After this the angle is too great and you can say goodbye to your CV’s. After this you will need to add subframe spacers to increase your ride height, so you will be increasing the height of the body but no longer increasing driveline clearance.
If you’re after more diff clearance now the only option is to add larger tyres.
One mistake I see time and time again is people combining raised springs and strut top spacers to achieve better height and going over the total height limit the CV’s can take, so make sure the total combined lift never exceeds 2.5 inches or you will be running into trouble.
How do I keep factory alignment?
There are multiple ways to keep factory alignment when lifting a Subaru. If you buy good quality strut top spacers they should have camber and caster offsets built into them, so when you take your subie in for an alignment, the shop will be able to set the alignment back to factory specifications.
One thing to note with every lift kit is that camber and caster offset strut tops are only available for the front, so you
will need adjustable camber bolts for the rear. Subaru from factory have no adjustable camber bolts in the rear suspension so by adding them you should be able to correct the alignment.
The caster in the rear is corrected by the trailing arm spacers which should be supplied in any lift kit. These are not adjustable but should match the lift height to keep the factory caster alignment.
If you don’t have camber/caster offset in the front lift, i.e., from raised springs or a 1 inch spacer, then you can buy additional strut tops that have additional camber and caster built into them. These are designed for motorsport applications to achieve extra camber/caster but on the lifted subies, provides enough offset for your local shop to get the alignment right.
Do I need trailing arm spacers?
Unless your swapping trailing arms from other models to make up for the height difference then yes! The rule I go by is to match your trailing arm spacer height to your rear lift height. Trailing arm spacers aren’t the most important part of a lift, but they do keep your rear wheels nice and central and keep the caster in good alignment. If you don’t run trailing arm spacers your wheels will be pushed forward and are more likely to rub on the wheel arches.
I just want to fix the sag in the rear?
Sag in the rear of the Subaru’s is very common and there are multiple ways to fix this. Most lift companies will sell 1 inch or ½ inch strut top spacers you can install in the rear to compensate. This can also be added to your bigger lift, such as if you want a 2 inch lift, you can order a 2.5 inch lift for the rear to help reduce the sag and level out the car.
You can also use stiffer spring like standard height heavy duty or raised springs to combat that rear sag.
Standard height in a heavy duty is great as the springs can take more weight if you load up the back, but they don’t add the stress to the struts like the raised springs do.
Should I disconnect my sway bar?
Sway bars are a major component in the suspension system and reduces body roll while cornering and/or over road irregularities. In an off-road application however, the sway bars limit the articulation in the suspension, therefor increasing the likelihood of lifting a wheel on uneven terrain and loosing traction.
For those who want to keep their sway bars for best road handling, but have a lift kit, the sway bars will be under extra stress from the lift so adjustable sway bar end-links are a great way to ensure the sway bar sits in a position with no added stress. Another option for the rear, is to install a sway bar disconnect kit, where you can easily disconnect the rear sway bar from the end-link and tuck it away when you hit the trails. That way you can enjoy the benefits of more articulation off road and as well as keeping that on road handling.
The final option is to remove all sway bars for maximum articulation off road. This is the cheapest mod to do however you will sacrifice on road handling, and in some states removal of sway bars may be illegal. I have driven my forester with all sway bars disconnected for multiple years now and find that the handling is still reasonable because of the low centre of gravity that the boxer engine provides.
Can I swap struts to lift my car?
Yes! A common and cheap mod is to install SG Forester (2003-2006) struts into the older Foresters/Impreza/Liberty to increase ride height and spring perch clearance. When comparing the SG struts to the early Impreza struts, there can be up to 2 inches of extra travel and spring perch clearance, which means this is the most budget friendly way to lift your older subie.
You will still need trailing arm spacers to align the rear, however the late 90’s Subaru Outback had factory lift kits in them, so you can use the taller trailing arms and sway bar mounts from the outback to correct alignment.
The SG forester struts are a direct bolt in for the 2002-2007 Impreza and 1997-2002 forester, however on other early models of Liberty/Impreza the rear strut tops are different so you will have to either re-drill the pattern in the strut mount on the chassis or swap the original rear top hat onto the SG Strut and shock assembly. Purchasing the later SG XT struts (From the turbo model) means the setup is also a little stiffer if you want that better handling!
What brand lift is best?
This can be a heated debate, but my suggestion is to use a well-known quality kit and avoid anything cheap and nasty.
Reputable Lift Kit Companies include:
· SJR Lift
When looking for a lift, make sure it has/is:
· Built in Camber/caster offset
· Properly braced and made of strong materials
· Engineered and proven to withstand an off-road environment.
· All the components you need in the kit.
Buying local is good, but my biggest suggestion is to do your research, read some reviews and remember that you ‘get what you pay for,’ so the more expensive the kits are, the better the quality.
What size tyre can I run?
Adding larger tyres is a fantastic way of increasing diff clearance and opens up the selection of off-road tyres you can use. Things to keep in mind however are that too large a tyre will add load to the engine and stress to the driveline, as well as decreasing the crawl ability. Any change to tyre size may also throw out your speedo reading.
Subaru’s are also limited in tyre size by the spring perch (Use lower offset wheels/spacers to overcome this) and the front strut location. The front strut assembly sits to close to the firewall so adding bigger tyres often means the wheels will rub on the firewall and many overcome this by bashing the wall with a hammer to create more clearance. This is not ideal so choosing the right size with limited rubbing is important.
Click here for a tyre size guide for your lifted Subaru.
I hope this guide helps anyone looking to lift their Subaru and answers all your questions. This information should also be useful for those with newer Subaru’s with some slight differences in the rear end with the multilink rear suspension.
Remember basic modifications like a lift, skid plate and off-road tyres will make all the difference next time you want to hit the trails and make sure to read up on your local regulations to make sure your lift is legal to use.
Have fun on the trails!
This is a guide only that I have put together to help the off-roading community. Always read up on your local regulations to make sure parts and modifications are legal to use. The Author of this Article "Mitre A" will not be held accountable for modifications you have done to your vehicle, your conflicts with the law or parts you have purchased.