Bilstein vs KYB Shocks: Here’s The Difference
Mileage and time got to your OEM shocks or struts, and now you’re looking for a replacement.
Are both KYB and Bilstein a solid choice?
How do they actually compare to each other?
Now that’s a question you can’t answer in just a few sentences. Only the struts are a straightforward decision – KYB strut assemblies all the way, just because Bilstein focus on shocks, instead of struts.
As far as shocks go, I’ll cover both brands’ most famous series: Bilstein 4600 and 5100, and KYB Monomax plus Gas-A-Just.
Let me try to summarize things before I expand on my detailed analysis:
The Big Question:
KYB Monomax vs Bilstein 4600 or Bilstein 5100?
The answer to this question is actually way simpler than you’d expect.
In fact, I’m not sure why people decided to compare either the Monomax or Bilstein 4600 to the 5100 series. Seriously.
Why? Because the 5100 shocks come with lifted vehicle support and the customized valving and dampening to accommodate that. This is a shock designed for modded vehicles and heavier off-road purposes.
Which is why you’ll see it loved by various 4WD crowds: from Ford F350 owners with their sets to people who go off the beaten path with their Tacoma, Jeep etc.
In short: The 5100 is not a shock emulating OEM-style performance! It’s made for exploring the extreme.
It’s a tough steel beast with zinc plating that protects the monotube body from cracking and extreme terrain stress. Firm, but not stiff – and allowing for superior control on uneven surfaces.
Now, if we look at the 4600 series and KYB’s Monomax…that’s where things get heated.
Both of these aim to deliver OEM performance and are mostly targeted at more casual SUV/truck owners. By casual I mean people who mainly drive on the streets, but also go for the occasional off-road adventure from time to time.
I won’t lie to you – both shocks are very close in terms of performance in general situations. However, there are a few important differences to note:
- If you’re going to drive a half-loaded vehicle or plan to do some towing, Bilstein 4600 is a better choice.
On a full load, the Monomax makes more sense.
However – if you plan to do more offroading, just stick to Bilsteins. Way better dampening/durability.
If you’re a hardcore OEM ride fan, KYB has always made the OEM replacement shocks.
What’s that about half-loads?
Well, Monomaxes are stiff. Seriously – they’re probably twice the stiffness of how smooth the 4600s ride. Some people prefer firmer control, but on a half-load a set of Monomax shocks can just get uncomfortable.
They do have the coolest looks among the mid-range shocks, though:
Both the 4600 and 5100 series from Bilstein come with a digressive piston design. What this really means is that they’re specifically designed to cope with uneven patches and provide superior dampening if you go through rougher roads.
This will not only provide a smoother ride but in the end it’ll keep your shocks intact for longer too.
If you see someone complaining that their Monomax shocks busted after 3 years – yeah, that guy’s done a fair bit of off-road driving. Bilsteins cope better in such environment.
Perfect for street driving and light offroad action. Smoother than KYB Monomax on half-loaded SUVs.
Firmer, OEM-like performance. Looks cool, drives cool. Just don't install them on lower loads.
Shocks for Sedans & Strut Assemblies
OK, so let’s end with the SUV/trucks category.
What about sedans and, you know, just your ordinary daily commuting? Well, in this case you don’t really need to shell out that much cash. Bilstein shocks will be a financial overkill.
KYB’s Gas-A-Just is your best option here.
First reason: Compared to the Monomax or any Bilstein shock, they drive smoother. Not to mention that they’re significantly cheaper too.
Second reason: KYB is probably the best suspension manufacturer for Asian cars. The company has deals with leading car makers like Toyota.
Gas-A-Justs are nothing else than an improved OEM with better control, better cornerning and better shock life.
➥➥Struts & Strus Assemblies: KYB all the way
If you’re looking for something close to OEM rides, the KYB strut assemblies are your best choice.
Remember that struts differ from shocks by having a secondary role: they also serve as structural support to your car’s suspensions and keep your tires aligned.
To be honest, Bilstein don’t really focus on quick strut assemblies due to their target market of SUVs and pickups.
Now, KYB offers two different strut lines: Excel-G gas struts or Gas-A-Just struts.
Go for the Excel G. Gas-A-Justs can be way too stiff as struts and will send you into a whiplash if you hit a pothole or anything bumpy. Sure, Excel-G are twintubes and might feel like older tech, but they are smoother on the road.
Or better yet – just go with a complete corner unit assembly like this one:
Best performance for the price, exact fitment from the leading OEM manufacturer. Superior cornering.
To summarize things:
➥➥ Bilstein shocks are overall more durable and better for off-road driving.
➥➥ KYB shocks are a bit better with cornering. Their corner strut assemblies are a bargain too.
➥➥ KYB are definitely stiffer – with Bilstein you will experiences a smoother, more comfortable ride overall. This is due to their digressive piston design which deals better with road uneveness and damping.
➥➥ Bilstein for heavy duty/4×4/SUV and KYB for lighter vehicles/Asian cars is a good rule of thumb.
In any case, you should pick shocks with a monotube design as they allow for better vehicle handling. I’ll explain why this matters so much a bit further into this article.
KYB vs Bilstein:
Are there manufacture differences?
If by manufacture differences you mean cheap Made in China ‘quality’, rest easy.
Both companies conduct rigorous testing on their shocks absorbers.
KYB gets the recognition of Japanese-born production. Let’s be honest, there’s a reason why Japan has dominated the automobile industry. They put out affordable, yet efficient and quality cars based on their culture of handcrafted manufacture even to this day.
KYB does the same with shocks.
On the other hand, Bilstein come from another land of auto traditions: Germany. Some people say German people have a strange sense of humor…well, Bilstein accept no jokes with how they manufacture their shocks!
In both cases, there will be nocheap outsourcing. Bilstein live up to their slightly higher price with better manufacture, however.
Also, for their higher-grade shocks – like the 5160 or 6112 shocks, they shift the manufacture to American soil.
What does better mean anyways?
There are exactly 3 things I care about when it comes to shock absorber replacements:
➥➥ Quality manufacture so I know that I won’t be changing them in 3-4 years.
➥➥ Good, firm control over the vehicle.
➥➥ Versatility: I want them to perform well in, say, off-road conditions on top of city roads.
Do both KYB and Bilstein shocks tick all the boxes?
Yes, they do. However, a pair of KYB shocks will generally stay with you for 5 years or so. Bilsteins can work as new for well over a decade if you take care of them properly.
Yes, Bilstein shocks run more expensive. However, they also last longer, provide overall increased performance, and a tighter grip on how your vehicle behaves. Especially in more extreme conditions.
A note on the technology used
As I mentioned, KYBs drive significantly stiffer compared to the smoother Bilsteins. I know some people prefer this stiffness, but generally gentler absorbers are more easy to run miles on.
The bigger difference between these two brands lies in the technology.
I spoke about the monotube design, but what does it look like?
Well, Bilstein’s 5100 Series has a typical monotube design like all Bilstein shocks.
Monotube shocks have self-adjusting, digressive valving and run on high pressure. They are an updated version over standard low pressure twin tube shocks that run on velocity sensitive valving.
Generally, monotubes help with better vehicle handling and improved responsiveness to changes in road conditions!
Bilstein shocks are usually monotube. KYB usually stick to twin tubes, with the exception of Monomax and Gas A Justs – which is why I recommended them.
Stick to Bilstein if you’re driving off-road. KYBs are an amazing, yet somewhat limited upgrade over OEMs here. Bilstein raises the bar higher. Think of them as a premium improvement that fares well with dirt roads and bumps/obstacles.
As I pointed out earlier, KYBs fare very well with cars from different Asian manufacturers. Gas A Justs are a favorite of Hyundai Elantra or any Toyota owners, for example.
Both brands will give you a better shocks experience if you compare it with hard, only semi-responsive OEMs. But there’s no doubt that Bilsteins are the more premium choice – especially for car owners who are looking into off-road driving or sports driving.
KYBs are a good choice for people on a budget who own a Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai…Just make sure you stick to their monotube designed shocks so you’re on the edge of technology. Because with better technology comes better control and performance, after all.