Grand Cherokee UpCountry Suspension Upgrade
By: Scott Mueller firstname.lastname@example.org
Jeep offers two basic suspension options on the Grand Cherokee ZJ models, a standard base suspension and an optional UpCountry suspension designed to improve performance in off-road driving. Because it is mainly touted for off-road use, I think that many who never drive their Grand Cherokee off-road have overlooked this suspension upgrade. After having a ’96 Orvis model (which came with UpCountry suspension as standard equipment), and comparing the ride and handling to other ZJs with the base suspension, I knew how much the UpCountry option improved the handling of the vehicle ON the road as well as off. For anybody ordering a Grand Cherokee new, I highly recommend you get the UpCountry suspension option, even if you NEVER intend on taking the vehicle off-road.
After realizing how much of an improvement the UpCountry suspension offered for ride and handling, I was disappointed to learn that I could not get the UpCountry package on the ’98 5.9 Limited I had ordered. Fortunately I figured out this problem can be easily rectified by purchasing the parts that make up the package over the counter, and installing them myself.
Even though I have no intentions of taking my GC off-road I installed the UpCountry suspension on my 5.9 Limited as in my testing it dramatically improves on-the-road as well as off-road handling. It also raises the truck about one inch overall as compared to the standard suspension, which helps in the deep winter snow we get here in Chicago plus it gives a slightly more commanding view of the road.
The stiffer springs and firmly damped shocks which are part of the UpCountry suspension group really improve both the ride and handling of the GC. My 5.9 Limited already had the factory skid plate and tow-hook package which is included as a part of the UpCountry Suspension group, but those parts do nothing for handling.
The factory UpCountry Suspension option includes slightly taller (and stiffer) springs, special Sachs-Boge German made gas shocks, thicker jounce bumpers (the bumpers and cups are the same, the only differences are small aluminum spacers are added between the cups and frame both front and rear), and special rear spring upper isolators.
From ’93 to ’95 the UpCountry (code AWE) suspension was available on both Limited and Laredo model Grand Cherokees. In ’96 it was available on the Laredo only, and not on the Limited. In ’97 and ’98 UpCountry was again available on the Limited. Exceptions to this are the Orvis models from ’95-’97 which included the UpCountry suspension as standard equipment, and the ’98 5.9 Limited, for which UpCountry was not available from the factory.
Chrysler makes a variety of springs for the GC. There are two main types, base and HD, and in each type category there are 5-10 different springs with different GVWR (Gross Vehicle Weight Rating) capabilities. The springs are denoted by a two digit code as well as a part number.
Higher GVWR springs from either the base or HD spring tables in the factory parts catalog are stiffer and also raise the vehicle slightly. The UpCountry (off-road) suspension option for the GC includes higher GVWR springs from the HD spring table.
In addition to whether the ZJ is equipped with standard or UpCountry(option code AWE) suspension as well as what other weight affectingoptions you got from the factory different springs are selected. For example if you have the trailer hitch or skid plate/tow hook package, for example, you also get stiffer springs in the rear to compensate for the weight of these items. These different springs insure that the vehicle remains at the proper slightly raked attitude. Note that the rear skid plate and trailer hitch together weigh nearly 100 lbs, and the weight is hung about as far rearward as possible, so the rear springs should be different for vehicles with or without them. When I removed these items from my GC for coating, the rear end rose nearly 3/4 of an inch!
In a similar fashion, the front springs installed by the factory are different whether the vehicle has the I6 or V8 engines again due to the great differences in weight on the front end. To end up with the proper vehicle attitude, both front and rear springs must be selected with the engine, towing, skid plate, and suspension (std. vs. UpCountry) package in mind.
In order to install the UpCountry package on my ’98 I needed to find a Limited with UpCountry to read the spring tags to know which springs the factory was installing. I failed to write them down from the ’96 Orvis I had, and the parts catalog lists several springs which could be used with UpCountry. I found a dealer with several UpCountry equipped GCs on the lot, (which is actually quite rare here in the Chicago area), and quickly found that all of the ’98 V8s with UpCountry that I saw (both Limited and Laredo V8s) used p/n 52088363 (code GN) springs in front and p/n 52089145 (code JJ) springs in the rear.
The GN/JJ front/rear springs are the firmest and tallest available from the factory. There is also a code GP front spring which according to the letter code some might believe are even stiffer/taller, but these are used only on 6cyl ZJs and are constructed of thinner gauge wire.
In my case I upgraded the springs in my ’98 to the highest GVWR rear spring (coded JJ) and the highest GVWR front spring (coded GN), since this is exactly what I observed factory installed on ZJs ordered with on the factory “UpCountry” package, V8 engine, as well as trailer tow. UpCountry also automatically includes tow hooks/skid plates as well, which were already factory installed on my vehicle. I observed that vehicles otherwise identically equipped EXCEPT for the trailer hitch, had a spring which was one code less (and therefore less GVWR) in the rear.
These are the stock non-UpCountry GC V8 springs WITH trailer tow:
Spring Code Dia.
Front FN .560
Rear JH .540
I measured the spring wire diameter with a micrometer. Note that a shorter (and possibly smaller diameter wire) JG spring is used in V8 rear w/o trailer tow.
Here are the springs used on a stock UpCountry suspension GC V8 with trailer tow:
Spring Code Dia. Increase
Front GN .600 32%
Rear JJ .560 16%
The thicker diameter wire indicates an increase in rate. The rate of a spring is proportional to the 4th power of the diameter, so even small differences in diameter make a substantial difference in rate. The UpCountry V8 “GN” code front springs are 32% stiffer than the stock “FN” code V8 springs that came on my vehicle originally, and interestingly enough the free length was actually slightly less although the overall installed compressed height is about 1″ more.
The rear spring code “JJ” UpCountry springs are 16% stiffer and also slightly taller in free as well as well as compressed length. These springs lifted my GC by about 1″ front and rear (exactly as specified in the factory brochure for the UpCountry suspension), plus made the ride significantly tighter and more controlled.
Bottom line: If you want to install the UpCountry spring package on a ’93-’98 ZJ, then these are the parts I recommend you get from your Jeep dealer:
Part # Description Net ea. Total
52088363 Code GN front springs $31.69 $63.38
52089145 Code JJ rear springs 36.37 72.74
52037555 Rear spring isolators 6.90 13.80
52005645 Front jounce bumper spacers 7.01 14.02
52087675 Rear jounce bumper spacers 5.59 11.18
Also included with UpCountry are special Sachs-Boge (made in Schweinfurt Germany) gas shocks, which are a high quality monotube high pressure gas shock with the unique feature of upside-down mounting. These are a tremendous improvement over the standard shocks included with the base suspension. Unlike conventional shocks, they are mounted with the body up and the rod end down, which helps improve handling by reducing unsprung weight. With this design most of the weight is attached to the vehicle chassis rather than the suspension. To protect the chrome steel hardaned rod from rock damage, it is covered by a high quality silicone rubber boot featuring drain holes to allow moisture to escape.
Another outstanding feature of the Sachs shock is the paint quality. Starting in ’97, Sachs adopted a 5-stage paint process resulting in a black colored shock (from ’93-’96 they were blue) that will withstand
over 1,000 hours of salt spray without corroding. Jeep engineers felt that this was an important feature since the shocks are so visible in the ZJ design.
The UpCountry shocks are available under the following part numbers:
Part # Description Net ea. Total
04741675 UpCountry front shocks $98.25 $196.50
52088202AC UpCountry rear shocks 72.00 144.00
Note that these prices are net discounted prices available from most dealers, the list price on the shocks alone is $454! If your dealer won’t give you discounted pricing, I recommend you contact Springdale Dodge (800-252-9686 or
As you can see, the shocks would be by far the most expensive part of the package. It is possible to substitute aftermarket shocks instead of the factory Sachs UpCountry versions, and this will save some
money. For aftermarket shocks I recommend Bilstein or Edelbrock. Both are a high quality shock, with the Edelbrock sporting unique valving and an upside down design similar to the UpCountry shocks. The Edelbrocks cost about $70 each net while the Bilsteins are about $60 each net. I tested both and found the Bilstein a bit firmer, and more to my liking. However, in my testing neither were as firmly valved as the UpCountry shocks, so it was worth it for me to spend the extra money.
Tow Hooks and Skid Plates:
Also included with the standard UpCountry suspension package are tow hooks and skid plates. These are not necessary for handling improvements, but would be considered essential if you ever did wish to go off-road. If you are adding tow hooks to the front you’ll need the kit sold by Jeep, as it includes the necessary brackets and hardware. I replaced the stock Jeep black front tow hooks with chrome ones from Reese (the hitch people) rated at 10,000 lbs. (note the stock tow hook brackets are only rated for 5,000 lbs.), and added stainless steel tow hook clips from JC Whitney. The stock setup does not include clips.
And finally, the piece de resistance
Part # Description Net ea. Total
5DL32MXW UpCountry Susp. Grp. sticker $13.48 $26.96
Of course these stickers don’t do a darn thing for the handling, but they sure do LOOK cool.
To augment the factory UpCountry parts, I have also installed Addco aftermarket swaybars front and rear. This results in a DRAMATIC improvement in on-road handling, and represents perhaps the best bang for the buck suspension improvement overall. Combined with UpCountry, the effect is awesome. I had the Addco bars on my ’96 Orvis with UpCountry, and that combination results in about the best handling SUV there is.
The 2nd design factory front bar used on the ’96-’98 ZJ is shaped differently to clear the lower radiator hose than the 1st design ’93-’95 bar. Addco offers a bar which matches this revised shape for the newer models. The stock bar used on the ’96-’98 models also uses special offset ball-jointed end links, in which the balljoint fits into a tapered machined hole in the bar. The earlier stock bar uses offset type end links with a conventional attachment to the bar, using rubber bushings where the link passes through the eye at the end of the bar. The Addco bar for the ’96-’98 ZJ uses the standard end link attachment and as such does not have the tapered hole of the stocker, so one must purchase the factory ’93-’95 type factory links to mount it.
The factory stock vs. Addco swaybar specifications are as follows:
Stock bar Addco bar Rate increase
Swaybar Diameter over stock
Front 26mm/1.024″ 28.6mm/1.125″ 46%
Rear 16mm/0.630″ 22.2mm/0.875″ 272%
The rate increase is based on the increase in diameter, just as with springs (a swaybar is a type of spring). Since the Addco bars have the exact same shape, length, and lever arm length as the stock bars,
there was no need to involve those factors in the relative rate calculations.
The only suggestion I can make (especially for ’96 and up owners) is to discard the poor quality installation hardware Addco includes and instead purchase and use the ’95 and earlier factory GC front swaybar end links (from your dealer). The Addco supplied front end links are extremely poor quality and use a convoluted bracket for installation. Unfortunately the stock ’96 and up factory end links will not work with the Addco bar due to differences in the holes in the ends of the bar, so you will need to order the ’93-95 factory end links for any Addco front bar installation no matter what year ZJ.
The rear Addco bar installed directly in the stock end links, the only difference is that I used urethane end link bushings in addition to the Energy Suspension center clamps and bushings.
I also recommend discarding the junk center bushings and clamps that are supplied by Addco for both the front and rear bars, and instead order pairs of Energy Suspension 1-1/8″ and 7/8″ greasable urethane center links from Summit Racing. Those are far better than the Addco supplied ones and the grease fittings mean you can lube them properly so they won’t squeak, bind or wear.
I had the cad-plated Energy Suspension center bushing clamps Jet Hot coated for corrosion resistance, and also had the cad-plated Addco bars Jet Hot coated as well. In addition to preventing corrosion, this coating looks great, will not chip, peel, or flake off, and the smooth surface allows the bar to rotate freely in the center bushings.
Air Lift bags:
The final suspension upgrade I made was to install Air Lift Co. airbags in the rear springs for leveling while towing. I normally keep them set to the minimum pressure (5lbs) except when towing, in which case they can be pressurized up to 35 psi in order to restore any rear ride height lost due to excessive tongue load or cargo in the rear compartment.
Even though they are kept at their minimum pressure for normal (non-towing) driving, they do seem to add somewhat to the rear spring rate even in that condition. I use the GC to tow a 2500 lb. trailer, and find these bags allow the vehicle to remain at the exact same attitude with the trailer as without, and by virtue of increasing the rear spring rate, offer more control when towing as well.
When you order the air lift bags, make sure you tell them you have an UpCountry equipped GC, as they will include spacers for the slightly taller springs. I mounted the air fitting in a pre-drilled hole just forward of the rear bumper on the LH (driver) side. All of the air lines run across the top of the axle (next to the brake lines) and through the unibody frame and are protected from damage. I wrapped them in black plastic convoluted tubing for additional protection.
So as you can see, for about $175 plus the cost of new shocks you can install the UpCountry suspension on any GC. If you spend a few hundred more and get the Addco swaybars and Air Lift rear spring bags you can make an even more dramatic improvement. Scott.