Portal Gear Lifts vs Traditional Lift Kits for SXS

Portal Gear Lifts vs Traditional Lift Kits for SXS - Goats Trail Off-Road Apparel Company

Pros and Cons: Traditional or Portal Lift?

If you're looking to upgrade your UTV or side-by-side capabilities with a performance lift kit, you'll need to decide between a traditional lift kit or a portal gear lift kit. Both options provide huge benefits over a stock vehicle, but they work in different ways and have distinct pros and cons. Let’s take a closer look at both!

What are traditional lift kits?

Traditional lift kits raise the ride height of a UTV or side-by-side vehicle by replacing key suspension components like control arms, shocks, springs, etc. with extended length versions. These longer components allow the axles, wheels, and frame to all sit higher off the ground. 

Traditional lift kits come in a range of heights:

  • 2-3 inch lifts: These entry-level kits typically just use taller coil spacers or taller shock bodies to achieve a modest 2-3 inch lift height. They are the easiest to install.
  • 4-6 inch lifts: Considered a medium-lift height, these kits replace the upper and lower control arms, brake lines, and other components with longer versions to raise the vehicle 4-6 inches.
  • 6+ inch lifts: For maximum lift heights over 6 inches, these comprehensive kits replace virtually every suspension component including axles, knuckles, control arms, etc. with heavy-duty extended length parts.

What are portal gear lifts?

Rather than extending the existing suspension components, portal gear lift kits utilize a gearbox "portal" at each front and rear wheel hub location. This portal contains an offset gear set that relocates the axle pumpkin and wheel mounting point outwards and upwards compared to the stock location.

The portal boxes bolt into the factory mounting points but simultaneously provide an integrated 4, 6, or even 8+ inch lift at each wheel. In addition to the lift height, the portal boxes include additional gearing for improved low-speed traction and obstacle-clearing ability.

This unique design raises the entire drivetrain and chassis rather than just extending the suspension components. It provides additional ground clearance under the front/rear axles rather than higher fender clearance like a traditional lift kit.

Portal versus traditional lift kits pros and cons

Pros of Traditional Lift Kits

  • Customizable Lift Height - With traditional lift kits, you can typically choose from various lift heights like 2, 4, 6 inches based on your desired look and performance needs. This allows you to get a moderate low-clearance look or go for a high-clearance aggressive stance.
  • Established Product Range - Traditional lift kits come in a wide variety of options from basic entry-level kits up to complex high-clearance kits. There are kits available at different price points through a range of quality levels.
  • Swappable Parts - Since the individual components like control arms and shocks are swapped out, you can upgrade or replace just certain elements over time as your needs change.

Cons of Traditional Lift Kits

  • Geometry Issues - Lifting a vehicle higher means disrupting the designed geometry, which can negatively impact handling, tire wear, vibration, etc. The higher the lift height, the more problematic this can become.
  • Travel Limitations - Despite swapping out suspension/drivetrain parts, there are still clearance limitations based on the travel of the axles and CV joint angles at full articulation.
  • Maintenance/Replacement - With many wear parts replaced, maintenance schedules and part replacement requirements go up versus stock.

Pros of Portal Gear Lifts 

  • Axle Clearance - The portal gearbox design provides massive clearance under the front/rear axles, where clearance is often most limited on kitted vehicles.
  • Low-Speed Traction - The gear reduction built into the portal boxes provides significantly increased low-speed traction and crawling capability.
  • Low-Maintenance - Compared to a replaced suspension/drivetrain, the portal box units are relatively low-maintenance and just require periodic fluid changes.

Cons of Portal Gear Lifts

  • Cost - Due to the extensive engineering and gear sets involved, portal box kit prices are very high versus traditional kits.
  • Top Speed Limitations - The gearing required for optimal crawling and obstacle clearance reduces maximum top speed capability somewhat.
  • Limited Customizability - Since they are optimized for specific kits, the options for changing tire sizes, gear ratios etc. are more limited with portal kits.

How to Choose the Right Lift Kit for Your Rig

With the pros and cons laid out, how do you decide if a traditional lift kit or portal gear lift is the better option for your side-by-side or UTV? Here are some key considerations:

Your Riding Style

If you spend most of your time trail riding on established paths, fire roads, or doing modest off-roading, a traditional lift kit in the 2-4 inch range could be a great option. It gives you a bit more ground clearance and the ability to fit larger tires without breaking the bank.

However, if rock crawling, mudding, or conquering extreme terrain is your primary mission, then portal gear lifts make more sense. The added ground clearance and low-speed traction/control gives you the capability to get over obstacles and through sticky situations that traditional lifts can struggle with.

Your Budget

There's no getting around the fact that portal gear lifts represent a bigger investment upfront compared to traditional lift kits. Quality kits can cost $2,500-$5,000 or more. Traditional lift kits, on the other hand, can be had for $500-$3,000 depending on the height and components.

If you're working with a limited budget, you may want to start with a traditional 2-3 inch lift kit. You can gain some modest clearance and traction benefits, while saving up for a potential portal kit upgrade down the road.

Mechanical Ability

Portal gear lift kits are generally easier and more straightforward to install compared to some complex multi-component traditional lifts. However, both still require basic mechanical aptitude.

If you have limited automotive technical skills, sticking with lower lift heights or even having a shop do the installation may be a wise choice until you build more experience.

Vehicle Usage

How you use your side-by-side or UTV should also factor into your lift kit decision. If it primarily serves as a hunting rig, farm vehicle, or is trailered between locations, the higher center of gravity from an aggressive portal lift could potentially be a downside.

However, if your machine spends most of its life on dedicated off-road trails where slow technical driving is the norm, then the tradeoffs of a portal box kit make more sense.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to enhancing your side-by-side or UTV's off-road capabilities and increasing ground clearance, you've got two main pathways: traditional lift kits or advanced portal gear lifts. Each has its own pros and cons – whether it’s the added height, power gains or increased stability.

Choosing the right option for you may take some trial and error – so don’t be afraid to do your research and consult with others in the community. You never know what you might find fits your style best!

While you’re at it, head over to Goats Trail Apparel and stock up on the latest tips, insights, and offroading gear for your next adventure. 

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