Pickup trucks are hugely popular, and so is the rugged outdoorsy, off-roading image that comes with them. You'll commonly see trucks with huge stickers portraying alphanumeric monikers followed by the words "Off-Road Package."
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But there's less awareness among consumers about what these stickers actually mean when it comes to hardware and features. For instance, how exactly do TRD, FX4 and Z71 packages differ? And are off-road packages worth the money?
We've selected three popular pickup trucks as examples to help you understand what you need to know if you're shopping for a pickup with an off-road package. These are midsize trucks, but full-size pickups also offer off-road packages that are similar to the ones detailed here.
2019 CHEVROLET COLORADO'S Z71
Chevrolet's Z71 package is the second-to-the-top trim level available for the Colorado. It includes upgraded hardware to help it better cope with rough roads, including a suspension revised with stouter springs and dampers, all-terrain tires, an automatically locking rear differential, and a skid plate that softens the blow of errant impacts to the underside of the truck's transfer case.
The premium for the Z71 varies depending on configuration. In our example, a four-wheel-drive Z71 crew cab with the short bed and V6 engine costs $2,700 more than a comparable truck in the LT trim. For this price increase, Chevy does throw in some creature comforts that don't necessarily have anything to do with off-road driving, such as a damped tailgate, automatic climate control, wireless smartphone charging and a heated steering wheel.
Unlike the off-road packages found in the other trucks here, the Z71 package does not include two potentially useful off-road enhancements: a selectable traction control interface or a driver-controlled differential lock.
2019 FORD RANGER'S FX4
Ford's approach to the Ranger's FX4 Off-Road package is more straightforward. Rather than a trim level, this $1,295 stand-alone option is available even on the base trim level Ranger. The contents of the FX4 package are focused exclusively on bolstering off-road capability.
This package includes revised springs and dampers, rugged all-terrain tires, three skid plates, exposed front tow hooks, an electronically locking rear differential as well as the Terrain Management System. It is an interface that allows the driver to select among four different types of terrain modes. Each mode has preset mappings of throttle sensitivity, transmission shift strategy and traction control calibration.
The FX4 package also adds Trail Control, a low-speed cruise control system that manipulates the throttle and brakes to maintain a driver-selectable speed of up to 20 mph regardless of how rough the trail gets.
2019 TOYOTA TACOMA'S TRD
With the Tacoma TRD Off-Road, Toyota splits the difference between the approaches taken by Chevrolet and Ford. The TRD Off-Road is a trim level of the Tacoma pickup that sits near the middle of the range and includes several pieces of hardware and software, plus an array of features unrelated to improving its trail-worthiness.
As with the Colorado Z71, the TRD Off-Road's price varies depending on configuration. A four-wheel-drive TRD Off-Road crew cab with the short bed and V6 engine costs $1,775 more than a comparable Tacoma SR5 truck, for example. Upgrades include beefed-up springs and dampers, all-terrain tires, an electronically locking rear differential, and a few cosmetic items such as black plastic fender arch overlays.
The TRD Off-Road also includes Multi-Terrain Select, a driver-selectable terrain response interface with five discrete terrain settings. Like Ford's system, this one allows for varying degrees of tire slip to maximize low-speed traction on different surfaces. Crawl Control is Toyota's version of off-road cruise control and provides for five preset speeds.
EDMUNDS SAYS: Aside from the price of entry, off-road packages generally do not introduce much compromise. Their more rugged tires are still civilized in terms of noise, and their suspension tuning takes care to maintain an agreeable ride on pavement. If you have any plans to venture away from the tarmac in your next pickup truck, an off-road package is a smart, guilt-free choice.
This story was provided to The Associated Press by the automotive website Edmunds. Jason Kavanagh is a senior vehicle test engineer at Edmunds.
— 2019 Edmunds Truck Comparison Video: https://youtu.be/w-giWYOeLFk
— 2019 Chevrolet Colorado review: https://edmu.in/2TTieIg
— 2019 Ford Ranger review: https://edmu.in/2Tqrnmp
— 2019 Toyota Tacoma review: https://edmu.in/2HMWzKM