BILSTEIN SHOCK REVIEW, June 2019
Just over a year ago we contacted the Bilstein engineers at their North American Research and Development office in Southern California. We asked about performance shock products for our RAV4s in particular, with a possibility of some lifted applications as well. They told us there was talk in the hallways about that, but the first development efforts would be towards the Subarus. But they must have seen the interest we all have in our RAVs, and Bilstein just released their rear shocks, with a promise that the front struts are coming soon.
We have run Bilstein products on some of our other vehicles here at Northwoods, including our F150 parts chaser and tow vehicle, and even our motor home we take to the races. We have always been impressed with their damping capability and quality. So we couldn’t wait to try a set on our RAV4, and last week bolted up a set of the just-made-available rear shocks and pounded them through about 600 miles of testing.
The test vehicle was our 2015 XLE AWD RAV4, fitted with our Northwoods Performance spring lift kit. We have been running KYB Excel-G struts up front, and Monroe OE Spectrum shocks in the rear. Through testing we found the Monroe shocks to be slightly superior to the stock KYBs in damping quality, with slightly longer travel and an internal rebound bump stop to complement our Northwoods Performance rear lift springs. We had high hopes the Bilstein B4 OE Replacements would be another step up.
We tested on well graded gravel roads in the forest, that eventually deteriorated to rough, rocky dirt tracks as we reached the top of the mountain and the start of the hiking trail head at Roman Nose Lakes here in North Idaho. We also tackled a very rutted and muddy logging track up the Moyie River where the AWD kicked in to pull us through some of water holes. Then we ran the RAV pretty hard on our local 2 lanes highways, with hills and some tight curves as we dropped into Montana and the Yaak. We did this loop both empty, and with a full load of household goods piled in the back. Under all conditions I pushed pretty hard, up to the point where my co-driver told me in no unclear terms what would happen to me if I wrecked her baby. Fair enough, so we slowed down and got a good impression of the Bilstein shocks under saner speeds as well.
In short, Bilstein delivered. The overall damping capabilities are greatly improved under all conditions, but are not harsh during mild city driving or when the vehicle is lightly loaded. The compression damping feels progressive without being too rigid under slow speeds, but can also handle the big G-outs when travelling over the highway frost heaves at high speeds. In complement to our springs, we never bottomed out under any conditions.
Most impressive was the greatly improved rebound control. Before, when travelling over a speed bump or rough rail crossing, we would often get a bounce or two before the rear would settle out. With the Bilsteins, the rear would compress in a controlled manner, then smoothly rebound to normal ride height in a single fluid motion with no bounce or over travel. The rebound control also greatly improved ride and handling on gravel roads that often get washboard bumps, which are often the worst entering and exiting a turn. These can tend to max out some suspensions systems, with the wheels just chattering up and down over the stutter bump, often with the vehicle skipping sideways and losing controls. Instead, the Bilsteins complemented our performance springs and kept the rear of the RAV firmly planted. Spirited corner maneuvers could be executed with much greater confidence.
Look for a future engineering and technical review of rear shocks in general. But for now, this drive report gave us a good impression of the Bilstein rear shocks. They cost about 3 times what the KYB and Monroe shocks go for. Are they worth it? Let’s just say neither I nor my co-driver have any plans to take them back off, and we are enjoying the notable ride improvement, especially when pushed hard.
We have the Bilstein rear shocks in stock for both the Gen3 and Gen4 RAV4s at $85 each plus shipping here at Northwoods Performance. Give us a call to order, and we’ll have them posted up on our website next week for sale too.
Thanks for reviewing our drive report. Adventure on.