Product Review

Old Man Emu 1.5-inch suspension lift from Rocky Road Outfitters

Nov. 01, 2005 By ORC STAFF

The 1996-1998 Suzuki X-90 is built on the short-wheelbase Suzuki Sidekick chassis and uses the same proven drive train components as its platform-mate. However, its low sales numbers and cute image have made the X-90 a rare sight in the off-road world despite its trail-worthy design. By installing a lift kit and more aggressive tires, we took our first steps in transforming the look and attitude of this Suzuki from cute to brawny, while making significant improvements in its performance on the road and off.

Although the X-90 has all the right ingredients to make a true off-road vehicle, the designers clearly intended it for sporty on-road use. Its tiny P195/60-15 street tires severely limit off-road traction and ground clearance in order to give the truck tight handling on the pavement. Although this X-90 is used as a daily driver, it is also a weekend off-road toy. We wanted to make substantial gains in off-road prowess while improving the on-road ride, so not just any suspension kit would do.


Proven in Australia's Outback and in rallies all over the world, Old Man Emu's suspensions have earned a reputation for being the best on Earth. Their soft-riding, long-travel suspension kits provide enough lift to fit larger tires without making compromises to the vehicles' street performance. Old Man Emu (a subsidiary of the well-known ARB Corporation) makes suspensions for a vast selection of 4x4's, tailoring the components specifically to each vehicle and offering multiple choices for a precise suspension tuning to meet the driver's needs.

x90ome03.jpg (24497 bytes)Old Man Emu's springs and Nitrocharger shocks are matched to each other and to their intended vehicle to provide the best suspension performance. The springs are shot-peened for a longer life and are fully tested to ensure that they meet quality and durability standards. When matched to the specially valve coded Nitrocharger shock absorbers, the increased suspension travel yields an improved off-road performance, better towing and load-carrying capabilities and enhanced ride and handling characteristics

The shocks are designed with a Teflon-impregnated piston-rod guide and a Teflon-banded piston to eliminate metal-to-metal contact within the piston tube and to reduce bore wear, friction and heat. The air in the Nitrocharger's reservoir is replaced with pressurized nitrogen gas to help to eliminate foaming and subsequent fading. Additionally, the oil capacity is increased for further heat resistance. Multi-stage valving allows the suspension to float over small bumps while still providing tight control over large bumps. The shocks also have a large bore and shaft for additional strength and long-term durability.

We knew that we wanted the Old Man Emu components on our X-90, but in order to determine which would be the best kit for the X-90, we spoke with the suspension experts at Rocky Road Outfitters. Since the X-90 is a 2-seater that does not see any heavy hauling duties, our best choice was Old Man Emu's standard-duty 1.5-inch lift components for the short-wheelbase Suzuki Sidekick. We were told that this kit would provide us with the smoothest ride possible, increase the suspension's articulation, and open up enough room in the fenders to fit the tires we wanted. The components arrived promptly so we immediately went to work on installing them.

Rear Installation

x90ome04.jpg (31857 bytes)Installation of the rear suspension components is simple, requiring nothing more than basic hand tools and about an hour for an inexperienced mechanic.

Step 1: Set the parking brake, block the tires, and carefully lift the rear of the vehicle onto jack stands with a floor jack.

x90ome052.jpg (30322 bytes)Step 2: Remove the wheels to gain access to the suspension.

Step 3: Supporting the axle with the floor jack, remove the old shock absorbers.

x90ome053a.jpg (34011 bytes) x90ome053b.jpg (32569 bytes) x90ome053c.jpg (28468 bytes) x90ome053d.jpg (27968 bytes)

Step 4: Lower the axle with the jack, relieving tension on the springs. Push the axle down far enough to allow the springs to be removed.

x90ome054.jpg (28938 bytes)

Step 5: Slide the new springs into place, making sure that the coils are properly seated in the contour of the lower spring pads as the axle is raised back up.

x90ome055a.jpg (30607 bytes) x90ome055b.jpg (33701 bytes)

Step 6: Install the new shock absorbers with their included bushings.

x90ome056.jpg (28587 bytes)

Step 7: Reinstall the wheels, double-check all nuts and bolts, and then carefully lower the rear of the vehicle back onto the ground.

x90ome06.jpg (29983 bytes)

Front Installation

x90ome09.jpg (35397 bytes)Installation of the front suspension components is more complex and time-consuming than the rear, but it is still a simple procedure and requires nothing more than basic hand tools. Installation time should be no more than an hour and a half per side. Immediately after installing the suspension, a front alignment must be performed to ensure proper handling and minimized tire wear.

Step 1: Set the parking brake, block the tires, and carefully lift the front of the vehicle onto jack stands with a floor jack.

x90ome102.jpg (28463 bytes)Step 2: Remove the wheels to gain access to the suspension.

Step 3: Slide the brake line clips off of the struts to allow the brake hose to hang freely.

x90ome103a.jpg (25694 bytes) x90ome103b.jpg (27289 bytes)

Step 4: Remove the bolts that attach the anti-sway bar to the suspension on each side of the truck, freeing each side to move independently.

Step 5: Support the lower A-arms with the floor jack to relieve the downward pull on the struts. Notice that the driver's-side strut is readily accessible under the hood, but the passenger's-side strut is partially blocked by a bracket. We found that a box wrench worked to remove the nut from the top of the strut, but if necessary the bracket could have been removed.

x90ome105a.jpg (34251 bytes) x90ome105b.jpg (26264 bytes)

x90ome106.jpg (33749 bytes)Step 6: Remove the two lower bolts from each strut. If a lot of rust has formed, some penetrating oil and the tapping from a hammer should knock them right out.

Step 7: Remove the jack from beneath each A-arm. Lowering the A-arms enough to slide the old springs out and to fit the longer new springs in their place may require a bit of muscle. In order to get the A-arms low enough to install the coil springs, we had to unbolt the axle shaft from the differential on driver's-side, and slide the axle out on its splines on the passenger's-side. To simplify this step of the installation, a coil spring compression tool could be used. Ensure that the new coil springs are properly seated in their lower spring pads before jacking the A-arms back up.

x90ome107a.jpg (27896 bytes) x90ome107b.jpg (32890 bytes) x90ome107c.jpg (33462 bytes)

Step 8: Bolt the new struts into place and slide the brake line retainer clips into place on the struts.

x90ome108a.jpg (31662 bytes) x90ome108b.jpg (16486 bytes)

Step 9: Reattach sway bar and then double-check all nuts and bolts before reinstalling the wheels and lowering the vehicle back onto the ground.

Initial Impressions

Driving on the same small tires as before the lift, we were able to distinguish the changes made by the suspension from the changes later made by the new tires. The Old Man Emu suspension makes for an immediately noticeable improvement in ride quality. On the road, there is a much smoother ride yet body sway is not perceptibly increased because we retained the factory sway bar. The ride height increased by about 1.5 inches and opened up a lot of room in the wheel wells. We immediately took the X-90 in to a shop to have the front end aligned and the new tires installed.


Although the X-90 shares its chassis and drive train with the 2-door Sidekick, their bodies couldn't be any more different. One of these differences is the size of the openings in the fenders for the tires. On a Sidekick, the Old Man Emu kit provides enough lift to fit tires up to a 29-inch diameter within the wheel wells, but the X-90's more restrictive openings limit tires to around 27 inches, which is still a significant gain from the stock 24-inch tires.

When installing a new suspension, the vehicle's on- and off-road performance is affected not only by the springs and shocks, but also by the new tires. The wrong set of tires can negate any gains made by the suspension upgrades, but a proper set of tires will compliment the suspension and maximize the gains in ride quality and traction. We knew which tires we wanted, we just needed the Old Man Emu suspension in order to fit them.

x90ome13.jpg (37764 bytes)We have been so pleased with the on- and off-road performance of the 32x11.50-15 Yokohama Geolandar AT's on our 1985 Toyota Land Cruiser and the 255/70-16's on our 1998 Jeep Grand Cherokee 5.9 Limited that we made that tire our choice again for the Suzuki. We ordered a set of 225/70-15's from America's Tire in San Mateo, California. With a diameter of 27.6 inches and a 7.0-inch width, they fit well on the attractive stock alloy wheels, and the fenders only needed very minor trimming of plastic to eliminate tire rub at full articulation.


x90ome23.jpg (23136 bytes)Just as we have found in the past, these tires perform flawlessly on the road. They grip well on dry pavement, handle predictably in corners, and are much less prone to hydroplaning than the previous tires despite their additional width. Although their tread pattern is aggressive, the noise level is admirably low. Plus, their increased size over stock has allowed for a decrease in air pressure, further smoothing out the ride. These tires have complimented the Old Man Emu suspension perfectly.

x90ome24.jpg (41441 bytes)Around town, the suspension and tires have taken a significant edge off of potholes, expansion joints, driveway curbs, and miscellaneous bumps. Passengers can still feel the bumps because of the X-90's short wheelbase, but there is much less of the "hobby-horse" pitching front-to-rear than there was with the stock suspension. Cornering has not been adversely affected by the softer spring rate and higher center of gravity because of the body control afforded by the shocks and the stock anti-sway bar.


x90ome25.jpg (23844 bytes)The Old Man Emu suspension provides maximum articulation and tire size from the minimum required lift height, keeping the vehicle's center of gravity low and the suspension's complexity down. We have not measured the gain in wheel travel, but the increase is clearly evident, especially in the rear. Because we retained the anti-sway bar in front, front-end articulation is limited, but that is a tradeoff we are willing to make for better on-road performance.

x90ome26.jpg (46632 bytes)Traction and control are also profoundly improved off the pavement. The aggressive tread pattern finds traction where the old tires were worthless, and the wider footprint spreads out the vehicle's weight, increasing floatation in deep snow and sand. The suspension's height, complimented by the increased tire diameter, has raised the chassis ground clearance by over 3 inches. High speeds over rough terrain are not only smoother for the passengers, but the tires stay in better contact with the ground because of the proper valving of the shocks.


x90ome27.jpg (49335 bytes)The Old Man Emu suspension provides the optimal balance between on-road comfort and off-road performance. Installation is simple and the parts are affordably priced and much more durable than the factory components.

x90ome28.jpg (52101 bytes)Even if our X-90 never left the pavement, the OME suspension would still be a worthwhile upgrade due to its improved ride, the larger tires it allows for, and the Suzuki's tough new look. Factor in the gains made off-road in ride, traction, and ground clearance and we couldn't be more pleased. Old Man Emu's suspension is highly recommended.

--Geoff Beasley Newsletter
Join our Weekly Newsletter to get the latest off-road news, reviews, events, and alerts!