For years, placing a check mark next to the "Off-Road Equipment Group" usually meant you'd get stiffer springs, shocks, larger wheels/tires, skidplates, and a decal. The result nearly guaranteed a bone-jarring ride that really wasn't really suited for off-roading anyway. Well, the engineers at Ford listened. For 2002, the Ranger (and big brother F-150) are available with the FX4 off-road package, which includes all the usual upgraded components, but specifically tuned for hard-core off-roading.

Based on a 4.0L XLT 4X4 SuperCab, the package adds a Torsen limited-slip differential, 31X10.5 BFG All Terrain T/A KO tires mounted on 15-in. Alcoa rims, Bilstein Shocks, sport bucket seats with additional side bolstering, stainless-steel tow hooks, A-pillar assist handles, and a full complement of skidplates.

On-road, the moderate spring/soft-shock combination allows the truck to wallow a bit over highway expansion joints, and body roll is more than we're used to in a Ranger. But what it lacks on-road, it clearly makes up for in off-road: Take this Ranger off pavement, introduce it to a sluicebox of rocks, and it'll climb over nearly everything in its path. Want to tackle rutted sand washes? It'll float right over 'em. Steep, shale-covered trails? Doesn't faze this baby. If off-roading is your passion, this is your truck.

Our dislikes are few: While Ford clearly developed this package for the hard-core rock tracker, we wish the truckmaker included a clutch-starter lockout switch on manual-transmission FX4's for covering nasty terrain. Also, the transfer case shift lever is too tall and angled toward the driver (easy to slam right knee into shift ball on rugged trails). The FX4 package is clearly a step above the competition, and a must for the off-road enthusiast.--S.M.

Price $24,830-$27,525
Vehicle layout Front engine, 4WD, 4-pass
Engine 4.0L V-6
On sale in U.S. Currently