Ford F150 FX4 Offroad

Ford F150 FX4 Offroad

Does it have what it takes?

Every so often a new vehicle manufacturer comes up with a special version that makes you wonder if it's just a marketing hook with vinyl stickers and fancy badging designed to generate some extra excitement about an otherwise plain-vanilla production offering. Thankfully, that's not always the case. Since the Ford F-150 FX4 Off-Road edition has been a popular seller lately, we thought we'd find out whether the FX4 is merely a marketing ploy or something of real use on the trail.

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The FX4 Off-Road Package consists of a several upgrades (with even more on the way for the '04 model) designed for improved performance and functionality in off-pavement conditions. But, do you get some serious hardware? Let's start with the basic equipment list and see what we find out.

The Basics

For $860 extra, you get a 3.55 ratio limited-slip rear end, skid plates, Rancho shock absorbers, steering damper, FX4 decals, and 17-inch wheels shod with Goodyear Wrangler RT/S tires (265/70R17, standard load). Our initial reaction was that this is not some superficial sales approach to going off-road, since these additions do have practical value. The rear end is lower (numerically higher) for better climbing ability, something we verified for ourselves on a nasty trail with a steep incline. The skidplates came in handy when we had to negotiate some deep ruts. The heavier-duty Rancho shocks softened the jolts in these fairly rugged conditions. And we really didn't mind those big FX4 decals on the rear flanks of the bed so we looked like we belonged out there in the boonies.

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The only item we question is the all-terrain type tires. They're certainly better than street or all-season rubber, but all-terrain tires are just that, all-terrain. They're designed to give good overall performance in a wide variety of conditions, yet excel at none. They're usually heavy-duty tires with extra plies under the tread and in the sidewalls. Road noise is low, mileage is high and they do decent job in most off-road applications.

A Good Start

The utility of the FX4 package, and the tires specifically, will depend on your usage. For the farmer who has to head out to the pasture to check on his cows, this setup may be all that's ever needed. For more far-ranging off-road excursions, however, it's simply a good start. In that case, you'd likely want to consider installing tires with a knobbier tread and larger diameter (32 to 35 inches), which might require a suspension lift as well. And your shopping list of accessories would likely include brush guards, auxiliary lights, bumper winch, tow hitch, and the like.

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From Ford's perspective, it wouldn't make sense to include all those extra items in the FX4 package from the get-go, because not everybody needs (or would be willing to pay for) such a well-appointed vehicle. Besides, you'd probably rather personalize your F-150 by yourself, right? That way it's tailored exactly to your favorite off-road adventures. In addition, your customized truck will likely get even more attention.

Look for even more content in the FX4 group on the '04 F-150 (due out in the late summer of 2003), which is available in the Regular Cab, SuperCab, and SuperCrew body styles. You'll also get a choice of box configurations, 6 1/2-foot Styleside or Flareside, or the new 5 1/2-foot Styleside, depending on cab choice. The rims are even larger, 18-inch machined cast aluminum wheels, and other exterior cues include body-color bumpers, a distinctive grille and a new Dark Shadow Gray lower 2-tone paint treatment.

Inside, the '04 FX4 features unique "warm steel" accents on the instrument panel, center console, doors and steering wheel. There are also "carbon mesh" accents, chrome-ringed air registers, and aircraft-style instruments. Optional captain's chairs are available in either cloth or leather, and come with a flow-through center console with floor shifter. In view of this increasing attention given to the FX4 option, it's obvious this package has struck a nerve with F-150 customers. And that's not just because the vinyl stickers look nice.

F150 undercarriage
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