Some would say the trend toward overlanding is, in part, a reaction to the sometimes ridiculously-low stance movement—a philosophical response to rubbing and scraping and driving slow and being perpetually challenged by driveways and speed bumps. Fair enough; we definitely see how people could come to that conclusion. We also get how car owners who have just one vehicle to do everything in life—one set of wheels to get to and from work/school, to take you out at night and on weekends, to cover the odds and ends of existence—might want a little additional flexibility in how that car can be used. You spent all this money on your daily to look good and go fast; wouldn't it be nice if, with a little bit of work, you could also take it off-roading?
One of the very first partners to jump on board our GR-chassis Subaru WRX overland build was RS-R USA, the North American arm of the highly-respected Japanese suspension tuning firm by the same name (without the USA, of course). Like many of the best suspension companies in the world, RS-R earned its stripes in motorsport—its red-and-white livery is iconic among J brands that get into racing—but its bread and butter is serving the average enthusiast like you and me. When we approached them, they admitted from the start they were already looking at the emerging overland market, and in fact have product for the Japan-only AWD version of the Toyota C-HR. They've seen automakers seemingly warming up to the outdoor automotive pastime, and even outfitted photographer Larry Chen's Corolla camera car that debuted at the 2018 SEMA Show with a custom overland-styled setup that helps the 5-door hatchback mitigate all the extra weight from the large boom mounted to its roof.
As we've understood from the beginning, overlanding is by no means rock-crawling kind of off-roading, but a vehicle built for it does have to be able to deal with road surfaces besides asphalt and concrete, and bumps. With RS-R seeing all kinds of potential from the new car hobby, they decided to give us a hand with our WRX project, for which we are immeasurably grateful. While they do not currently have an off-the-shelf solution for the GR WRX, they were willing to customize a set, and even volunteered a couple of their engineers from Japan to install the system for us (talk about a dream come true). With the enthusiast in mind who only has one car to do it everything in life, RS-R brains came up with a virtual do-it-all setup that can both raise AND lower the Subaru.
Your eyes do not deceive you; you read that right. RS-R fashioned for us a multi-functional suspension system that can take our car from sporty and street-able to buff and ready for the gravel fire roads, the switchover all in a span under an hour. Basically, one product that does it all.
While we stress these are completely one-off coilovers, Ben Chong from RS-R did confirm that in terms of functionality the dampers are similar to the company's Best-i line. Best-i's feature set includes a monotube design using RS-R's proprietary oil and damping force adjustment via dial on the unit (depending on the application, some are at the top—like ours—and some at the bottom); additionally, the front struts offer a pillowball upper mount with an aluminum upper plate that's center section is enshrouded in a rubber bushing (for max comfort, minimized NVH). The coilovers also sports Ti2000 springs that are synonymous with RS-R, ours featuring spring rates of 7k (392 lb./in.) for the front and 5k (280 lb./in.) for the rear.
RS-R obviously has recommendations about its parts, and it advises raising the vehicle with this setup no more than 30mm, or just shy of 1.2 inches; in the other direction, they suggest dropping the hatch no more than 10mm, or about 0.4 inches. That's not to say these things are not capable of more (if we're being transparent, this suspension can actually go higher); the range is modest, but any higher or lower and we exceed RS-R's recommended "sweet spot," or that range of height for maximum ride comfort. And once off road, the suspension company suggests keeping vehicle speeds restrained, as again these are not meant for any kind of extreme driving.
We arrived at RS-R USA to find Development Department Manager, Noriaki Sugahara, and his Section Chief, Takeshi Yokoyama, ready to install the suspension. They put our Subaru hatchback on the lift, yanked the wheels, and got to work on the fronts first. This process always starts with unbolting brake and ABS lines from the damper bodies, and then removing the two bolts that connect the bottom of the strut to the knuckle. Then the three top bolts securing the top hat to the strut tower were removed, the tech holding onto the factory suspension in the process as it is essentially free after those fasteners are removed and entirely possible it could damage an axle boot if it hit it just right. Installation is in the reverse order.
For the rears, again we started by detaching lines for brakes and ABS off the old, and then to help the process go more smoothly, Noriaki and Takeshi disconnected the anti-sway bar end links and pulled out the bolts that tie the arm to the knuckle, which allows the lower control arm to drop more freely and thereby gives the installer more room to pull out the old, insert the new. The bolt that connects the bottom of the shock to the LCA put up a fight, though.
Topside, crawling into the hatch, we pulled back the trunk mat on both driver and passenger sides to expose plastic covers, under which were the nuts that secure the suspension to the chassis. Those came off, and at this point the OEM stuff can come out—the techs basically pulled down on the rear LCAs and the suspension dropped out of its home. Do the steps in reverse order for installation, and most sources we looked at seemed to agree a jack under the LCA (or maybe even a second set of hands, if you can swing it) helps putting it all back together go much more smoothly.
Here then are the all-important before and after photos, the befores on top, the afters on bottom (please excuse the harsh midafternoon sun and shadows on the afters). We can't quite put into words what we felt when RS-R returned the WRX to us lifted. It was a little mind blowing. We were giddy and awestruck and grateful and besides-ourselves happy—it was a little like Christmas morning, times a thousand. Suddenly the whole overlanding thing made absolute, irrefutable sense.
The first good sign this suspension was the right call for our project was the driveway test—with this new setup, absolutely nothing was scraping, which we couldn't say about 99 percent of the driveways we pulled into on STOCK suspension. The ride on paved surfaces was buttery smooth, and with some adjustment of the damping, nearly as flawless off the beaten path, although admittedly we have to do a lot more driving on dirt and gravel with this setup.
While we're happy RS-R's suspension gets us where we want to be as far as ride height for our overlanding ambitions, we would be remiss if we did not illustrate that yes, indeed, these things can also lower the car. Yes, you can go from raised to lowered in about an hour (we did it in 40 minutes, but we also had a lift), and the process was fairly straightforward. With the car in the air and wheels off, we measured the gap between the spring perch and the lower ring, this lower threaded ring being what controls ride height; in no situation should the perch or top ring ever be adjusted, as that's partly how RS-R sets spring rate. From its recommended ride height, we went as far as we could in the other direction, about 1.5 inches down, which meant actually manhandling the upper spring/threaded collar part of the coilover so it threads into the lower cup about 1.5 inches. Cleaning off the threads beforehand with a wire brush, shop towel, and some penetrating oil helps a ton in moving the coilovers up and down, and at least in the front we benefited from the roller bearing integrated into the top of the front struts, something RS-R does for all of its MacPherson strut applications.
We cannot thank RS-R USA enough for the huge assist with Project Overland GR WRX. Since we started working on this story, the suspension company has been ramping up its options for customers looking to overland, and while there are no plans yet to mass produce something for any WRX platform, product is in the pipeline for the Subaru's current-gen. Crosstrek, Forester, and Outback, in addition to the current Toyota RAV4. The suspensions will carry the Best-i Jouge name, a new line for RS-R that targets the grom-level off roader and is derived from the Japanese expression for "up and down" (not coincidentally, jouge is also related to the word "touge").
The last little bit of Part 3 involves running gear, and for this we purposely matched an all-terrain tire with a rally-looking wheel to go for that classic Subaru "gravel crew" appeal. Longtime Super Street partners in crime Konig wheels pitched in with a set of its 16-inch, 10-spoke Konig Runlites in apropos gold, and then we went to Tire Rack for help with a set of Yokohama Geolander All-Terrain tires in 215/60R 16; tire sizing was a bit of a challenge, as we wanted to stick with a 16-inch wheel to get as much tire as possible but most all-terrain tire makers rarely ventured into rim diameters much smaller than 17s. We finished off the corners with a set of Super Street limited-edition lug nuts to secure the Konig Runlites, and now the ricing of our overland project is complete.
Up next—Project Overland GR WRX gets outfitted with a lighting bar from Rally Innovations, roof rack, tent, and overlanding goodies from THULE, mud flaps from Rally Armor, and more! Don't miss it!