Straight up, we still love solid front axles here at Red Dirt Diary, and we always will. Hell, Dan swapped an old HiLux front end under his Surf in his driveway a few years back and with the eleventy 4WDs Dex has owned, only one (that he can remember) has been IFS. But the game is changing. Gone are the days when a solid front diff signified you were in a “real” 4X4. The future is here folks, and its name is IFS.
Don’t believe me? Have a read over the following reasons why the mighty beam axle is a goner and tell me I’m wrong.
1. Go back a decade or two. LandCruisers, Patrols, Luxies, Land Rovers, Jeeps, Sierras – all had rigid front ends, and we loved them for it. But these days only a handful of beam axles remain. Manufacturers are moving more towards ride comfort and handling. These days only Wranglers, Sierras, F-Trucks, RAMs and 70 Series Cruisers have them.
2. Traditionally IFS was a pain in the ring gear for modifiers. They were difficult to lift, quickly maxing out CV angles and often were built using easily-broken components. However, these days the aftermarket has upgrades for just about every model’s weak points. Everything from big lifts to upgraded half-shafts and steering rods are readily available.
3. And then there’s legit long-travel IFS kits that are fast gaining popularity. We’re talking full replacement axles, upper and lower control arms and everything else needed to get solid-axle-rivalling travel without losing out on any IFS advantages. They’re not cheap (yet), but you CAN have your flex cake and eat it too.
4. Look, when it comes to hardcore crawling, rigid axles still rule the roost. We’re not arguing that they don’t. But realistically for a tourer a well-sorted independent front end will drive 99.9% of the tracks in this country and do it with a whole lot more comfort. Let’s be honest, flex is overrated anyway, and if off-road races like the King of the Hammers have been won by (admittedly top dollar) IFS rigs, then the old “IFS doesn’t work in the hard stuff” argument is fast becoming invalid.
5. Ever wondered why IFS handles better than beam axles? There are a few reasons but one of the big ones is that unsprung weight is much higher on a solid front diff. With IFS the heavy differentials and driveshafts are supported by the suspension. Not so on your old GU Patrol. Weight is the enemy, and solid axles weigh a lot – most of which is unsupported by the springs and shocks.
6. Let’s talk about tuneability too. IFS can be tweaked for optimum handling way more than a rigid diff can. They can really only have castor and wheel offset fiddled with – there are a lot more variables with IFS and if you know what you’re doing, that’s a good thing.
7. If you’ve spent much time at just about any major off-road destination in the country then you’ve probably come across a few corrugated roads. Driving these on a well-tuned rigid front end and on well-tuned IFS is chalk and cheese. IFS wins here too I’m afraid folks.
8. At the end of the day, what we do to our vehicles trickles down from the top. What prestige vehicle manufacturers are doing, what the top competition teams are playing with – the former have millions in R&D and teams of engineers working for them and the latter have plenty of coin to make a solid axle work as well as it possibly can. So ask yourself why most of them are leaving beam axles behind and going with independent front ends? The reality is, as much as we love them, that those big lumps of metal with a steering knuckle on either end are slowly but surely becoming obsolete.
I say if you can’t beat `em, join `em. So raise your glass to the rigid front diff and join us as we try and work out how to fit long-travel upper and lower control arms to our old GU…
…nah, we still love the old solid front end, we don’t care if they’re not cool anymore!