Best 4x2 or 4x4 Prerunner Package: Staff’s Picks
Pickup, Jeep, Bronco, Toyota, SUV, or other
What is a Prerunner? A question a child might ask, but not a childish question. In actuality, what a "real-world" prerunner is and what an OE prerunner package is are two very different things. The term prerunner came from the world of desert racing, where teams would go run the race course prior to the actual race to scout out terrain, make turns, dial in maps, plan fuel stops, and take care of other logistical concerns. Using a prerunner instead of the actual race truck saves wear and tear on the race vehicle's engine, suspension, chassis and other components, but also, a prerunner often isn't limited to some of the same class restrictions as the race vehicle. Where the race vehicle might need to stay within the confines of a certain amount of wheeltravel or limit horsepower or require a specific wheelbase or width limitation, prerunners are built with no restrictions whatsoever. Furthermore, they often sport niceties like working air-conditioning, sound systems, and other amenities that the race truck does without in the interests of weight savings and class stipulations. So in terms of power, speed, and comfort, a prerunner might actually outperform the race vehicle it is supporting.
Today, the phrase "prerunner" has come to universally stand for extreme off-road performance. And naturally, where there's interest to be capitalized upon, new-vehicle manufacturers will begin to cater to the needs, wants, and desires of buyers. At first, "prerunner" packages were little more than an upgraded set of shocks, some fancy stickers, and perhaps a traction device in axle(s). Over time, as buyers' expectations and OE technological understanding and abilities of creating factory-capable off-road go-fast performance increased, so too did the level of equipment and correspondingly, the off-road abilities of these "prerunner" packages. Now more than ever, we've got so many really solid packages to select from that it's hard to keep them all straight. But whether 4x2 or 4x4, the team at the Four Wheeler Network has driven pretty much all of them. So here's our take on what the best prerunner package is that you can go buy today, as well as the best factory prerunner package that's ever been available.
Ken Brubaker Best NEW Prerunner Package: Ford F-150 Raptor
For me it came down to the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, Ford Raptor, Jeep Gladiator Mojave, or the Chevy Colorado ZR2. All are more than capable of blasting across the desert in adrenalized high-speed fashion and have underpinnings that ensure they'll do so in a controlled way. In the end though, I have to choose the Ford Raptor. I dig those luscious internal bypass Fox live-valve monotube shocks that keep the truck composed at speed. And speaking of speed, the Raptor sports that hyper 3.5L twin-turbo EcoBoost engine that cranks out a stunning 450hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. For me, that satisfying power is part of what made me choose the Raptor over the other trucks. All of this prerunning goodness is wrapped in a broad-shouldered, drop-dead-cool package that turns heads wherever it goes. It's my opinion that every Raptor built is destined to be a collector's item years from now—and for good reason.
Ken Brubaker Best EVER Prerunner Package: 2010 Ford F-150 Raptor
Again, the Raptor is my choice. I'd love to blast across the desert in a 2010 Raptor, which was the first year for the nameplate. To say the Raptor rocked the truck world is an understatement. In a time when most off-road packages consisted of a mild shock upgrade, a few doodads, and some stickers, the Raptor sauntered out with a mind-boggling number of functional mods and grabbed everyone's attention. The 2010 Raptor was like the super buff dude who takes his shirt off at the beach and then confidently dominates the sand volleyball game, jumping around without breaking a sweat. The 2020 Raptor is far different than the 2010 Raptor, but the 2010 is no slouch. It boasts more than 11 inches of usable wheel travel, a rear locker, Fox internal triple-bypass shocks, SVT bumpstops, and more. I'd try to find one of the 401hp, 434 lb-ft 6.2L-powered trucks, which were late availability, because among other things it benefited from some improved chassis tuning to handle the heavier engine.
Jason Gonderman Best NEW Prerunner Package: Ford F-150 Raptor
Oh boy, now we're speaking my language. If you've read any of my work over the past decade, you'd know that I'm a desert racing fan—and that I own a pretty stout prerunner. I also recently wrote a piece about what exactly a "prerunner" is (and isn't). Technical definition aside, if we were to bend it a bit to fit the description of a go-fast off-roader (as opposed to say a rock crawler) then Ford's F-150 Raptor reigns supreme. The Raptor arguably created the segment of factory desert trucks when it launched in 2009. The current generation has about 13 inches of front wheeltravel and 14 inches of rear ("normal" trucks have about 6 to 8 inches of wheel travel). The Raptor also rocks 3-inch diameter Fox internal-bypass shocks, 35-inch tires, and a load of other goodies. The downside, however, is the price tag. The going rate for a 2020 F-150 Raptor is about $72,000, and they can price up to $80,000.
Jason Gonderman Best EVER Prerunner Package: Tie, Ford F-150 Raptor and Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro
OK, selecting a used prerunner package gets a bit trickier. So, for the sake of this, let's eliminate the idea of building a truck (for that I'd recommend buying a 2006-2011 Ford Ranger), and let's put aside the Toyota Tacoma Prerunner (a two-wheel drive variant offered from 1998-2014). Instead, what is the best used factory go-fast off-road truck? My choice would be either a used first-gen Raptor (2010-2014) or a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro. Either choice will set you back about $30K and will be comfortable in the desert. The Raptor has more of everything, but the TRD Pro will be a fair bit nimbler. You might find a Colorado ZR2 available used, but there are far fewer of them in circulation. Of course, if you really want a true prerunner, it's best to save your pennies and buy someone's project off Craigslist or Race-Dezert on the cheap.
Christian Hazel Best NEW Prerunner Package: Ford F-150 Raptor
Listen, I might be more of a rock crawler than anybody on staff with the exception of Verne Simons, but that doesn't mean I've got rocks in my head. And to select any vehicle other than the F-150 Raptor as the best factory-offered prerunner package on the market today would mean I've got rocks in my head. Although I've seen in person, but not driven the Gladiator Mojave, I can't see where it can realistically match the performance of the Raptor off-road. The Mojave tires are smaller; the engine makes over 150 less horsepower, and it's got less wheeltravel. Right there, the advantage goes to the Raptor. Although the Toyota TRD packages are nice, if you step out of a Raptor and into the TRD, the Toyota vehicles just feel like a plastic, underpowered toy (no pun intended). Colorado ZR2 tries to come to the go-fast party, but that's really more an all-around off-road package that doesn't offer the gooey, sweet desert filling to the Prerunner cupcake that Raptor does. Raptor really is super-sweet in the dirt. It's got power, smoothness, capability, and offers performance in any terrain in spades. My only gripe is the electronic nannies are quite difficult to figure out how to defeat for a true driver-to-terrain analog experience. But once you figure out how to hit "A three times, X, X,
, Fire" like some pre-teen video gamer to defeat the ESP and traction control, the Raptor is a complete blast.
Christian Hazel Best EVER Prerunner Package: Ford F-150 Raptor
The question is, "what is the best prerunner package EVER?" We're not asking what is the best used prerunner package. And I've got to maintain that the new Ford Raptor is simply the best go-fast factory off-road package to hit the market in the history of the internal combustion engine. With an easy 450 horsepower on tap, 13 and 14 inches of wheeltravel front-and-rear, 35-inch tires, and a very nice interior, it's the standard by which all others are measured.
Jered Korfhage Best NEW Prerunner Package: Nissan Frontier Desert Runner
I'd walk into a dealership today and take home Nissan's Frontier Desert Runner. In true prerunner fashion, I'd be sacrificing the 4x4 capabilities of the company's Pro-4X model; however, the frame rigidity and Bilstein shocks carry over. Best part? I could make this purchase for at or around $30,000, leaving some change left over for future modifications, like the locking rear diff the truck needs.
Jered Korfhage Best EVER Prerunner Package:
If a prerunner is any vehicle used to drive a race course before the race, my choice is a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited (LJ). The LJ could get through just about everything a desert course could toss at me and still get back onto the highway afterwards. Why the LJ? It's inherently cool and has a bit more space for tools and gear out back than the usual TJ. This is prerunning, so I don't need a nuclear reactor of power under the hood, as long as the Jeep and its 4.0 can hold up to long bouts of super-rough trails. Four-wheel drive is important, however, because I don't enjoy shoveling out after parking on deep sand, I'd also avoid the Rubicon package to maintain the transfer case low-range ratio of 2.72:1, instead of the 4.0:1 offered in the Rubicon.
Verne Simons Best NEW Prerunner Package: Ford F-150 Raptor
My nod for best new pre-runner has to go to the Ford Raptor, basically because I think it's the only real factory truck that can soak up bumps like a custom built prerunner. Sure, the Toyota Tacoma and Tundra are pretty good in the dirt at speed, and so is the Chevy/GMC Colorado/Canyon ZR-2. Ram's Rebel isn't too shabby, but those rigs seem to be more aimed at all-around off-road performance and less about the wide, aggressive stance of a prerunner. I could see myself heading out to Glamis in a Raptor for a weekend's fun, but I have a harder time envisioning the payments.
Verne Simons Best EVER Prerunner Package: Ford Ranger
I think the best used platform to build a prerunner is almost certainly the extended cab 1983-2012 Ford Ranger. Countless numbers of these trucks have been chopped up, beefed up, rebuilt, re-powered, and slathered in tube work and fiberglass to become kings of the desert. Heck, even I have driven a heavily breathed-on 4.0L-powered 7200 class race truck. I kept it slow, so I didn't run out of talent in a hurry, but it was potent and nimble. With hoop scissors, high-revving Ford engines, and 8.8 axles, there's a reason everyone builds a Ranger.