Kevin's Quest for the Best Suspension
Kevin, a.k.a gtguy on the i-club forums, has been a great resource for suspension tips as he's had various setups and may have finally settled on something. After one of his latest observational posts, i told him that he really should write down his experiences and let others know about them. Here is his response. Thanks Kevin!
Okay, you asked for it:
I was a humble Legacy GT wagon owner, who wanted his car to handle and look (yes, Im vain) better than the stock configuration which truth to tell, is pretty good. My needs were: fast road, and auto-x. No rallies or rally cross were planned. It also had to work well in the snow, and be comfortable with a plus-one wheel/tire configuration. Seems easy, right? Read on
First up was a 19mm swaybar from a Legacy Turbo wagon, that was fantastic. It made the car very neutral with the stock suspension, but oversteer could be dialed up for the frisky. Nice.
Came across a deal on KYB AGX struts for $325 shipped to my door, and grabbed em. Eibach springs were and still are the choice for this setup, so Eibach Legacy springs it was. The Legacy GT uses the same KYB AGX part numbers as the Impreza.
Except, there were problems
When installed, the Eibachs lowered the car 1.6" in the front, and 1.75 in the rear. It wasnt quite slammed, but it was LOW.
How did it handle? Fantastic! Smooth, and the damping settings of 2f/4r were well matched to the rate of the Eibach springs. Sharp bumps would unsettle the car a bit however, and Id get some bump steer if something came up in mid-corner.
The ride was also quite compliant, and the looks were killer. I tried some spring coil boosters to gain some ride height, but after finally wrestling them in, they felt a bit squishy to me, and seemed like a Rube Goldberg improvisation to a problem. I was also worried about the AGX blowing because the car was too low, since KYB says that you shouldnt lower the car any more than 1.5".
So, the Eibachs came off, and SPD Tuning was kind enough to accept the return. Apparently, there are Prodrive Eibach Legacy springs which arent made any more, and Prp Kit Eibach Legacy springs, which give the big drops that Legacy owners have been reporting with some consistency.
I was searching for springs, and Dale Teague at Teagues Auto reported excellent results with Whiteline springs, so I ordered a set of those.
Meanwhile, I ran the AGX with the stock GT springs, and got the standard overdamped feeling. The ride was very stiff, uncomfortably bouncy over rough roads, and the handling was fairly uncertain, since the springs didnt know how to deal with the "unreasonable" demands of the struts. What was also interesting was the cars tendency toward oversteer. I flung it through a familiar curve, and the back end kept trying to step out.
After some time waiting for the Whiteline springs to show up, TRi Tuning put their Tein HA coilovers from their Legacy GT on the block. The price was right, and I grabbed em. These came with the pillow ball mounts, by the way.
Installation was a piece of cake, and my initial impressions were that they were fast and noisy! The ride quality is about where it was with the AGX/stock Legacy GT spring combo, that is slightly on the hard side, with the Teins set at 6F/8R (of 20 clicks).
The pillow mounts definitely let you know they're working on rough roads, with that odd sort of knocking sound they made, but I was absolutely thrilled with them. The Teins come with a linear main spring, and a short helper spring, which functions as a progressive spring of sorts to soak up the little bumps.
With the Teins, we settled on an ultimate ride height that was 7/8" below stock, and I noticed a number of things. The Teins got substantially more compliant, which is attributable to the fact that when the car was higher, the springs were compressed more, hence more pre-loaded. Interesting.
The pillow ball clunking from the front seemed lessened also, though the liberal amounts of lithium grease might have had something to do with that, as well. We also tightened up the rears, which also ameliorated the noise factor. After an alignment, it was truly a killer ride.
In terms of damping, higher settings worked the magic. I settled on 11f and 13r as a final setting, which was comfortable, and downright plush on most road surfaces. It soaked up bumps quite well, and did well with potholes, too.
Our final measurements, from the ground to the top of the wheel arch were 26 1/4 for the front, and 25 1/2 for the rear, which also maintained the 3/4" variance between front and rear that the stock struts and springs have.
Those who want to keep the nice, quiet Legacy cabin should eschew the pillow ball mounts. Yes, they work fantastically, but they do rattle on bad roads. When the road is smooth you don't hear a darned thing, however.
With the Teins, I could dial up a nice, plush setting, with the only limitation being that the car, at stock ride height, is somewhat oversprung because of the pre-loading mentioned earlier. You don't get the "bounce, bounce" though, so it really isn't that bad.
Should you decide to go for a set, you will most emphatically not be sorry. When you factor in the height adjustability, and the complete, integrated design, it's katy bar the door. The Teins are also completely rebuildable, and I believe that if you get them new, you can spec a spring rate softer than the stock 6 and 8kg/mm for front and rear, if you like.
Teins also passed the IKEA Test, hauling tail with four bookcases in the back of the wagon while still handling fiendishly. But, the wife didnt dig the pillow ball noise, so the Teins had to go.
What was interesting, was that I was thinking my Teins were kind of harsh over those sharp little bumps, then I was riding in a Saturn SL-2, and it was harsher than my Legacy! The Teins could be dialed up to a more comfortable setting than the Eibach/AGX combo, which might have had something to do with the lowness of the Eibach/AGX and the struts dramatically shortened stroke. The AGX initial recommended setting is 2/4. This is firm, but somehow not as compliant as the Teins.
I can also tell you that the handling is markedly better than its previous peak, with the Eibach/AGX combo. I can corner as hard with the Teins on snow tires as I could on the Eibach/AGX setup with Pirelli P7000s.
I'm not going to lie to you and say that the Teins feel just like the stock car over bumps. That level of handling comes with a penalty. But it isn't that much stiffer or jarring. But as an example for comparison (in case you've ever ridden in a P1 suspension-equipped car), a guy who has a P1 setup, said that my car, with the Teins at 7/9, was softer than his car.
Settings of something like 5/6 or 6/8 approximate stock, we found, though it was oversprung, as mentioned earlier.
About that pillow ball sound. The noise is something like a very gentle clunking. It was greatly ameliorated with the caps, padding, and strut tower covers in. You can barely make it out. After a while, it becomes part of the noise your car makes when its working.
The Teins have a pair of collars on the lower perch. The bottom one locks everything down, so when you snug it down, yeah, you need the spanners. We're could get at the fronts with the wheels on, just by turning them to extreme right or left, dependent upon which side is being tweaked.
Next up on the hit parade, based on reports and reviews on the iClub, was a set of DMS Golds. The 50mm set was a bit hardcore for me, because they are inverted 50mm shafts with a HUGE piston. Stiff, stiff, stiff, but fantastic for rallying. A bit intense for street driving, though.
I settled on the DMS for a couple of reasons: You never see them used, which is good. And the springs are double progressive, beginning and ending with progressive coil windings. The 40mm Gold is also inverted, and built with the same chrome-moly body as its big brothers in the DMS family. And thanks to the new WRX, which uses the same top hats as our MY 95-99 Legacies, theres a DMS that fits our cars. The Golds are $1800 by the way, plus shipping, which will come out to about $120 from Australia. Mine arrived in three days via DHL. Not bad.
Installation was smooth as silk, with nothing odd to report except that the left side front camber bolts have to be installed in the reverse of how they come out. This is because DMS fronts are made on the same jig, since front struts arent directional like the rears.
The DMS brake clips are these lovely metal jobbies which bolt to the strut body. As with the Teins, everything went right on neatly. Since we were using the existing Legacy GT top hats, everything bolted right up nice and easy.
Had to buy a jack, since my installation buds aren't going to be around when I fuss with 'em. The damping adjustments, because of their inverted design, is on the bottom. This means that you have to lift the car to get at the rears, unless you want to do the snake thang underneath your ride. Not for me, thanks.
You have to pull the back wheels to change height at the rears, but surprise, surprise. That was also true of the Teins. With the front wheels, you can just crank the steering wheel to get at everything.
Clicks were clearly defined, and build quality was reassuring. And hey, even though I got the Golds, they looked just like the 50mms with the blue. Perhaps DMS gave up on the gold scheme.
We set the car down, and it was too low. Hose head here used Impreza suggested starting measurements so we wound up with 26" from ground to fender well in the front, and 24 3/4 in the rear. This differed from the Teins height of 26 1/4 front, and 25.5 rear. I adjusted the fronts and rears, but then when the rears re-settled, we wound up at about 25" for the rear.
No rubbing issues at all. The collars are way above the tire and all that jazz, and we got the front camber pretty good. I'm going in for an alignment on Monday, but the car felt good, and tracked straight. I recall having a pretty major NASCAR stagger when the Teins were on, thanks to their top adjustable camber.
A quick jaunt through the neighborhood was sweeeet. Beautifully composed and compliant as the dickens. Just as stiff as the Teins, but in a different way (more about that later). DMS recommends a starting point at 12 clicks backed off from full hard as I understood the directions, and this feels really good, though I went to 14 clicks. Turn-in is fabulous, and response, even with Blizzaks is wonderful.
No funny noise, clangs or bangs as some others have reported, I am happy to report.
Fast! Highway sweepers were inspiring, though the added compliance as diffentiated from the Teins takes some getting used to. They just don't feel like they're working, or that they are as tight as they are. Someone described the DMS Gold ride as a "gooey" kind of stiff, and this is very accurate.
No bounciness or choppiness, and at 90 mph, you can just move the car around, just like I could with the Teins. I went looking for rough roads, and inadverdently bashed the heck out of a pothole. The Golds just soaked it up.
Finalized ride height to 26" in the front, and 25.5 in the rear, measured from the ground. The only minor issue to report is that for some reason, on the driver's side rear assembly, when you turned the collar to raise the car, the spring would shift a bit on the collar. I put a panicked call in to Dave Clark which he can now ignore, since a wee love tap with a hammer re-seated everything just fine, and I set the height on that side with no further problems, thanks to liberal application of Corrosion Pro spray grease/anti-corrosive. It all slides nice and easy now.
I left the damping settings where they were, and took it for a drive, just to see how things felt. For the unfamiliar, I'm running 17" Prodrive P1s with Dunlop 9000s.
Warmed the car up, and OH...MY...LORD. I'm happy that I only have 165 horsepower. With any more, and this level of handling, I'd be dead or in prison. Indeed the ride isn't as cush as it was with the Blizzaks, but duh. Moving from a 55 snow tire to a 45 max perf tire will do things to ride comfort.
But it was certainly quite comfy, more so than my memory tells me the Eibach/AGX/Pirelli P7000 combo were. And that was a stock size. Turn-in is immediate, and I went looking for a few potholes, and everything is nice and solid.
We arrived at some pretty hinky post-install alignment settings in the front, of -1.0 driver's side and -2.4 passenger side. These were the "best we could do" said my local Firestone. I bonded with the ever-helpful Dave Clark, who talked to Jamie Drummond after another guy got weird alignment settings with his 50mm DMS. We decided that it wasn't the struts, since one side was fine and both were made on the same jig. And the car wasn't bent or anything, since the same mounts aligned fine with the AGX struts. So....
At this point, it should be noted that when you reach this level of suspension tuning, places like Firestone are almost worthless, just because it isn't in their best interest to go the extra mile for your car, unless you find that rare tech who will.
Took it to the dealer, who wound up subletting the job to the shop that I should have in the first place: Duxler Tire in Evanston. Everything's nice and set up now. The final figures are -1.2 camber (+/- .2 deg), 0 toe on the front, and 0 toe/camber in the rear. I don't know how they did it, and I don't WANNA know how they did it, except to say that they actually worked with the car to make it right.
It feels fantastic, sort of like it's mounted on a pivot. People who have a really good, dialed in suspension (the Teins felt the same way) know how this feels. When you move the car, it just does it. Goes where you want immediately without a hint of fuss or bother. A taxicab did the kamikaze thing on the road (what's frightening is that I KNEW he would), and at about 35 mph, I just flicked the car around him without a hint of bother or loss of composure. It was almost a Skip Barber-style "lane toss" for those who have taken the course.
Returning from a concert late Wednesday night, I decided to see how things felt in a fast corner. There's a kink that comes up as I'm heading into Evanston, that with all my previous suspensions (though I never drove them with anything other than the P7000s) I could take at about 40 mph. On this night, I got scared at 45. The car was fine though, and could have gone faster.
For lack of a better descriptive, you have to tend to the car a bit more, which is more the effect of the wider, stiffer tires. With the snows on, you could just roll along like the rest of the world if you chose, with that lazy one-handed steering style.
I hit a pothole just for the hell of it, and got a muted "thunk" from the driver's side front as the suspension recovered. Found a big expansion hump and drove at the same speed over that (30 mph), and there was the sound again from that same corner, slight and instantaneous, but there nonetheless. All else was quiet. I'll have the guys at Duxler re-torque everything at that corner.
Also keep in mind that this constitutes abuse. On bumpy roads, over speed humps and stuff like that, they're dead quiet. And bumpy corners are revelatory! It just turns, without getting upset or out of balance.
Do it. Just do it. A friend of mine ordered a set for his WRX almost immediately after riding in and driving my car. I wish I had the Teins to compare these to on the Dunlop 9000/P1 combo. The Teins were an excellent setup, that had me travelling at insane velocities on snow tires, ferchrissakes! But I don't really have an A/B test that I can refer to.
Yes they're pricey, at $1800 before shipping. But the build quality is reassuring, and they're a breeze to work with except for changing damping, which requires a reach-under, since the struts are inverted.
Those who have followed my suspension saga know how many setups I've tried (AGX/Eibach, AGX/stock springs, Teins w/pillow balls, DMS Gold). I'm happy to report that I'm done.
Hope this helps someone who might be looking for that ultimate ride. I regret never having had the chance to try the Whiteline springs, which lower the car about 3/4", like the Prodrive Legacy springs. Dale Teague says those are a fine match with the AGX.
Its also nice to know that we Legacy folks have almost the same level of suspension tuning available to us as the RS gang, and I should know!
The cars balance is also worth noting with the various suspension setups, in a concise fashion.
Eibach/AGX-Tight and composed, with the ever so slightest hint of tail-happiness. Bumps were tightly damped and controlled.
AGX/GT springs-Overdamped and harsh, with a tendency towards oversteering that was fun, as long as you knew to expect it, and how to instigate it. But the ride quality wasnt much to write home about.
Teins-Fast and noisy. Neutral and composed, though bumpy corners tended to upset the car because of the stiffer spring rates. The helper springs helped (no pun intended) a lot, however, as did higher damping settings.
DMS-Faster than the Teins, more comfortable, and quieter, since they dont have the pillow ball mounts. Just as neutral, and bumps dont upset the cars composure at all.
At the end of it all, I now have a Legacy that can handle with anything on the streets. The level of confidence in the car is very high, and I can recommend either Teins or DMS with confidence to Legacy owners. If you can find some of the Prodrive Eibach Legacy springs, or the Whitelines from Dale Teague, this will prove to be a cost-effective, great riding setup.
Kevin Williams (gtguy on the iClub).
p.s. my email is firstname.lastname@example.org if anyone has any questions.