Breaking into the world of off-roading can be an intimidating journey for those more accustomed to freshly paved streets and well-maintained highways, but a new generation of off-road vehicles are making the process easier than ever. A quick survey of your local Ford dealer should go a long way in illustrating this trend as more and more automakers have been prioritizing off-road models, trims, and equipment packages in recent years, giving drivers lowering the barrier for off-road fun and allowing them to hit the trail with confidence. According to data from GMC, 19 percent of light-duty truck and crossover SUV drivers surveyed said that they regularly take their vehicle off-roading, while 22 percent expressed a desire for a vehicle that could hold its own in challenging off-road scenarios.
Of course, off-road performance isn’t the be-all and end-all for most drivers. While rugged styling and heavy-duty components are a nice bonus, any vehicle is ultimately going to be judged by the way it performs as a daily driver. The numbers back this up, with 67 percent of drivers in the aforementioned study saying that convenience and on-road comfort were also extremely important. When it comes to hitting the sweet spot between off-road performance and everyday driveability, Ford has the magic touch. The brand’s lineup of sturdy, dependable trucks and SUVs has earned the automaker a stellar reputation over its long history, but few drivers realize just how many off-road models and trims have rolled off the line at Detroit’s Big Blue Oval. We’re here to help, running down the best off-road guise for some of the top Ford models. From the legendary full-size F-150 Raptor to more compact options like the Ranger and Maverick and revived classics like the Bronco, Ford has not rested on its laurels when it comes to off-road innovation.
Now in its third generation, the F-150 Raptor is the undeniable king of the modern supertrucks. Basically a street-legal version of an off-road desert racing truck, the Raptor pulls out all the stops to create the most versatile––and powerful––F-150 in recent memory. Designed with a focus on off-road speed, the Raptor is wider, faster, and more torquey than much of the competition, with improved ground clearance and suspension travel making it a marked upgrade over every other F-150 trim.
Powered by a massive 450-hp twin-turbo 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 paired with a paddle-shifting ten-speed automatic transmission, the 2023 Raptor has enough power to speed from zero to 60 mph in 7.8 seconds; not bad when you consider the pickup’s 5,740 curb weight. If that sort of performance isn’t enough to make your hair stand on end, the 2023 Raptor R should certainly get you there. Powered by a 700-hp supercharged 5.2-liter V8 that it shares with the Shelby GT500, the ultra-high-performance Raptor R will rocket drivers from zero to 60 mph in just 3.6 seconds.
Speed is nice and all, but it’s not the biggest factor in off-roading. Comfort, control, and clearance are also important considerations, which is why the Raptor is built with an advanced Fox Live Valve suspension system. The Fox Live Valve system combines cutting-edge off-road racing shocks with a network of sensors and an onboard computer that can adjust the Raptor’s ride height as it senses terrain changes and responds to driver inputs. The pickup boasts 14 inches of front suspension travel (15 inches in the rear) as well as purpose-built off-road front seats that go a long way in absorbing some of the bumps and rattles that can come with trail driving. Combine this with the pickup’s 37-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A K02 tires that give the Raptor 13.1 inches of ground clearance, and you have a beast of an off-roader that can hold its own on the desert racing circuit.
The SCORE Baja 1000 has long been the preeminent testing ground for off-road vehicles of all shapes and sizes. The grueling, 1,000-plus-mile race served as the coming out party for the new second-generation F-150 Raptor in 2017, with the supertruck placing third in its category. In 2021 Ford announced plans to bring that same high-performance desert racing attitude to one of its newest offerings, the revived Bronco SUV, for 2023. Known as the Ford Bronco DR (“Desert Racer”), the SUV packs a 5.0-liter Ford Coyote V8 that produces some 400 horsepower across even the roughest terrain. Yes, it’s not technically a truck, but given its identical body-on-frame construction and host of off-road upgrades, we saw no reason to exclude the Bronco from the list.
The Bronco DR also comes with independent electronically locking front and rear differentials, large air intakes, a 65-gallon fuel tank, and Multimatic’s High-Performance Off-Road Stability Suspension (H.O.S.S.) system. Exclusive to Ford, the H.O.S.S. system sees the model loaded with Positional Selective DSSV Dampers and Multimatic-designed billet aluminum lower control arms, which help when it comes to improving directional stability, traction, and torque.
The Bronco DR has 55.1 percent more front suspension travel than the Badlands trim, allowing the SUV to surmount almost any terrain with ease. The Bronco DR has generous approach, departure, and breakover angles, measuring in at 47, 37, and 33 degrees, respectively, and gives drivers plenty of traction thanks to the standard 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM3 all-season tires featuring the brand’s proprietary Krawl-TEK off-road rubber compound. Safety should never be an afterthought when you’re off-roading, which is why Ford has built the Bronco DR with race seats and a Multimatic full safety cage with integrated OE ACCRA tubes to protect those in the two-passenger cabin.
There are two major caveats for any driver considering the Bronco DR. First off, it’s not street legal, with the pickup’s enormous exhaust headers loudly announcing to the world, “this truck is too fun for paved roads.” Second is the price. Starting at $295,000, the Bronco DR is a significant investment, though we would point out that the car could easily be financed simply by winning the Baja 1000’s $25,000 first-place prize 12 times.
Maverick XLT/Lariat Tremor
Unveiled in 2021, the Maverick is now the smallest pickup in the Ford lineup, slotting in just below the Ranger. While Ford does offer the FX4 off-road package for the Maverick––which includes skid plates, all-terrain tires, Hill Descent Control, and off-road driving modes––it’s the addition of the brand’s Tremor package that really transforms the Maverick into a true off-roader. Available on the XLT or luxurious Lariat trim, the Tremor Off-Road Package will set drivers back some $2,995. The package turns Ford’s spritely compact pickup into a real off-road contender, adding a comprehensive twin-clutch all-wheel drive system with a rear differential lock. As any off-roader worth their winch knows, traction is never an afterthought when you’re out on the trail, which is why the Maverick’s rear differential lock is such a big deal. With the ability to divert almost all of the rear axle torque to one wheel, the system might just be the pickup’s most important off-road feature.
The Maverick’s Tremor package also comes with customizable drive modes, upgraded springs and shocks, an improved approach angle, a one-inch lift, and Trail Control, a unique innovation from Ford that is almost like cruise control for off-road driving. Simply punch in your desired speed, and the Maverick will handle all the acceleration and braking duties, leaving drivers free to keep their eyes glued to the road ahead. Whether you choose the XLT or Lariat, both Maverick models come paired with a 2.0-liter EcoBoose turbocharged four-cylinder engine with 250 horsepower and 277 lb-ft of torque: more than enough power to find a little off-road success.
As Ford’s midsize pickup offering, the Ranger is an impressively adept off-roader from the word go. Smaller than the hulking F-150 and more powerful than the compact Maverick, the Ranger hits the sweet spot when it comes to off-roading thanks to its clever combination of size, maneuverability, and performance. This reputation for off-road performance is only improved with the addition of the Tremor package––a comprehensive suite of hardy off-road components that allows the Ranger to boldly go where few trucks have gone before.
Introduced in 2021, the Ranger’s $4,290 Tremor package is available on the Ranger’s XLT and Lariat trims equipped with the SuperCrew 4×4 configuration. So what do drivers get for their money? It all starts with a modified heavy suspension with off-road-tuned FOX 2.0 monotube dampers, which allow the pickup to absorb all the bumps and ruts that come with off-road driving while also giving the Ranger a 0.8-inch lift over stock models. The Tremor package also adds front coil-over shocks and rear leaf springs, two vital components that give the Ranger 6.5 and 8.1 inches of front and rear wheel travel, respectively. Combine this with the pickup’s 32-inch Continental General Grabber A/TX all-terrain tires on 17-inch Magnetic-painted wheels, and you’ll have around 9.7 inches of ground clearance to play with––a vital feature on any off-road vehicle.
The Ranger Tremor comes with some generous off-road dimensions, including a 30.9-degree approach angle––2.2 degrees better than the base Ranger––25.5-degree departure angle and 24.2-degree breakover angle that marks a 2.7-degree improvement over the stock version. The Tremor package has all the heavy-duty parts one would expect from an off-road trim, including steel front bash plates, underbody skid plates, recovery hooks, and a rear-locking differential, but it’s the pickup’s Terrain Management System that really sets it apart. With four custom drive modes and the aforementioned Trail Control system, the Ranger Tremor comes packed with all the off-road equipment you need to be a true trailblazer. In a move that maximizes the Ranger’s customization potential, Ford has also seen fit to include a six-switch auxiliary power pack that allows drivers to control aftermarket accessories like light bars, winches, and air compressors right from the comfort of the cabin.
Ford Pushes the Limits of Off-Road Capability
As you can see, there are plenty of options when it comes to outfitting your next Ford truck (or SUV) with a comprehensive off-road package. While some of these offerings might be out of reach for those who don’t have a quarter-million to drop on a bona fide desert racing trophy vehicle, the Ford lineup is full of far more affordable off-road packages that put the joy of off-roading well within reach of the average driver. With the exception of the Bronco DR, these Ford trucks come with the added benefit of performing just as well on-road as they do when they leave the pavement behind. Ford has never lost sight of the fact that, regardless of their best mud-slinging, rock-crawling intentions, most trucks spend the majority of their time on the road, which means that comfort and convenience should never be treated as an afterthought. The automaker has managed to strike the perfect balance, creating a lineup of well-rounded off-roaders that are just as at home on city streets as they are on dusty off-road trails.