The Bilstein 5100 Leveling Kit – First Look
According to Bilstein, most spacer leveling kits are inferior to their new 5100 Series adjustable leveling shocks. Designed for truck and SUV applications, Bilstein’s 5100’s are meant to raise up the front end while avoiding the compromises that come with using spacer kits. Bilstein claims their kits offer 2 inches more of suspension up-travel while increasing ride height as much as 2.75″, without increasing coilover assembly length.
While we haven’t installed a set of these shocks on a truck yet, we have reviewed Bilstein’s literature and we have some notes for anyone considering buying this kit. First, however, before you can recognize the difference between Bilstein’s new adjustable height leveling kit and similar kits from ReadyLift, Truxxx, Low Range Off-Road, or Toytec, you’ve got to know a little bit about suspension lifts in general.
Suspension Lift Options
There are three common ways people raise the ride height of their pickups:
- A new coilover kit in the front, and new leafs or blocks in the back.
- A spacer kit in the front and new leafs (or more commonly) blocks in the back.
- A body lift, which doesn’t change the suspension at all, but makes the body sit higher on the frame.
First, a note about lifting the rear end of a pickup – you can either use a block or a new leaf spring. Most people go with a block, because new leafs are stiffer and really change the ride quality. Now, on to the front end…
The first option, a new coilover suspension kit, is the most effective way to increase the ride height of your truck’s front end. By replacing the factory coil assembly with a purpose-built adjustable unit, you will preserve or enhance the ride, travel, and durability of the factory suspension system. Unfortunately, coilover kits (like this one from ProComp) are one of the most expensive after market suspension options available, so they’re not necessarily a viable lift kit or leveling kit option for a lot of truck owners.
Next, we have spacer lift kits and/or leveling kits that are designed to raise the ride height of the vehicle in one of three ways:
- Increase the length of the front coil assembly
- Change the position of the spring perch and therefore increase the amount of pre-loaded tension in the coil springs, aka a “pre-load kit”
- A combination of both increased pre-load and additional length, aka a “combo kit”
Spacer kits are very common and typically very inexpensive ($200-$400 per kit), but they are an imperfect lift solution because:
- Increasing the length of the coil assembly adds lift, but at the expense of reduced up-travel when the suspension is about to bottom out. This means that the suspension could technically bottom out without ever hitting the bump-stop, causing damage to the shocks, springs, and possibly more.
- Increasing the amount of spring pre-load wil raise the truck’s front end, but it does so at the expense of ride quality, especially if the factory shock isn’t replaced with a new shock that’s designed for the new static spring rate.
Still, despite these issues, spacer lifts are perfectly acceptable for most truck owners in most applications.
Bilstein 5100 Adjustable Leveling Shocks
Bilstein’s 5100 series literature (pdf) does a great job of highlighting the limitations of traditional spacer lifts in great detail, but it seems to gloss over the fact that Bilstein’s new kit most-definitely relies upon spring pre-load to achieve lift. Bilstein’s literature states that pre-loading the spring is bad because:
A spring preload kit does not provide for more overall wheel travel. By lifting the vehicle in this manner, all you are doing is increasing the static ride height within the stock limited amount of wheel travel. The result of utilizing a spring preload kit is a loss of down-travel. For example, with the static ride height increased by 2″, droop has been decreased by 2″ causing the stock shock to top out sooner. Keep in mind, a certain amount of down travel *must* be maintained in order to maintain a decent ride quality. Vehicles with little or no down-travel deliver *extremely* poor ride characteristics.
We have two issues with this description:
1. Bilstein claims to overcome the “loss of down travel” issue by making their shock longer, but this doesn’t make any sense. The factory spring can only compress so much, and no change the length of the shock tube is going to change that number. When you rely upon spring pre-load, you reduce wheel travel. Period.
2. Bilstein makes it sound as if a spring pre-load kit makes your truck ride like a milk wagon, but that’s an exaggeration. ToyTec’s lift kits rely upon spring load, and it’s very hard to detect any change in ride quality when they’re installed.
However, to Bilstein’s credit, adding new shocks that are designed to compliment the new spring rate probably keeps the factory ride. Also, Bilstein makes it sound as if their shocks are designed to withstand being “bottomed out” without damage.
Should You Buy Bilstein’s Kit?
For years, we have recommended leveling kits from ToyTec and Low Range Off-Road, mostly because of their great quality, warranty, and customer service. However, there may be some good reasons to buy the new Bilstein kit instead:
- Bilstein’s kit includes new shocks which are designed to accommodate a stiffer static spring rate – they probably ride a little nicer than a straight pre-load kit.
- Bilstein’s kit is adjustable – you can set the new ride height by moving the spring seat to a different snap ring (see below).
- Bilstein’s kit is inexpensive – we’ve found the shocks for less than $100 a piece. At less than $200, they’re a little less expensive than most leveling kits.
- Lifetime warranty.
- Did we mention new shocks?
Reasons not to buy the Bilstein kit:
- It’s a leveling kit only, not a lift kit. If you want to go with 35″ tires, you’re going to need a 3″ lift kit with a 1″ rear spacer from Readylift, ToyTec, Low Range, Truxxx, etc.
- It’s a little harder to install the 5100 kit yourself because you need a spring compressor to get it done (most people don’t have one in the garage).
- It’s a good idea to replace shocks in sets of four, so the true cost might be a little higher than $200, which makes this leveling kit more expensive…but most of that cost is new shocks, so it’s not necessarily a negative.
We haven’t installed a Bilstein 5100 leveling kit (yet), but it looks like it would go on as easily as the lift and leveling kits from ToyTec that we’ve recommended in the past. Just like the ToyTec kit (see the ToyTec installation instructions), you’ll need a spring compressor to add Bilstein’s ajdustable height shock kit to your truck.
Considering the $200 price of the kit – new Bilstein shocks are almost $150 by themselves, and for an extra $50 you’ll get a level ride height - it’s hard not to give these serious considering if you need a leveling kit for your truck. While it’s not necessary to order a set of 5100 series shocks for the rear of the Tundra (which Bilstein claims provides a more ‘tuned’ driving feel), it’s a good idea to replace your shocks in sets of four…so the cost of this kit might be closer to $350 (plus labor). Still, a new set of premium shocks isn’t a bad thing, and there’s no arguing with Bilstein’s reputation for quality. We can’t wait to test a set and do a more formal review, but for now we have a hard time finding any issues with this leveling kit option.
Have you installed these on your truck? If so, please share your comments below!
**Special thanks to Reid for sending us a link to this product.
Filed Under: Tundra Leveling Kit