Off-Road Sport/Utes
Designated off-road packages aren't as popular for SUVs as they are for pickups, but for loading kayaks, tents, and bikes, the number is likely to increase. On many import SUVs, much of the contents of an off-road package, such as a limited-slip differential and skidplates, are standard on any 4WD, and a few come with a larger engine than 2WD versions. Specialty vehicles, like Land Rovers, Hummers, and the Mercedes-Benz G-class, are good trail vehicles to begin with, and though they don't offer off-road packages, any number of dealer-added items (winches, tires, tube accessories) may be added at purchase and warranted with the vehicle.

The Chevy Blazer ZR2 package (4WD two-door only) comes with a different frame, so you can't bolt these parts on yourself. Almost 4 in. wider and a few in. taller, the ZR2 includes 31-in. BFG All-Terrains, Bilstein shocks, stronger axles and wheel bearings, larger rear differential and front anti-roll bar, specific spring rates, rear Panhard rod, and skidplates. A lot of stuff for $2000, but it requires $1200-$2300 in other options for a base Blazer.

In larger Chevys, the Suburban 2500 offers only skidplates and a limited-slip--$350 for the pair. The 1⁄2-ton Suburban and Tahoe Z71 package comes with good shocks and firmer spring rates, five 265/70-17s, trailer package, skidplates, fender flares, side steps, extra transmission cooler, limited-slip, OnStar, and color-coordinated trim. On the Tahoe, this is $3100, requires the $700 5.3L V-8, and you can't get a third seat with it.

Dodge's Durango has no package, with skidplates and a limited-slip a bit over $400. Larger 265/70-16 tires are part of a sport package for about $1000.

Ford's Escape and Explorer, all-independent rear suspension, have no off-road package, and the SportTrac and Explorer Sport offer a (relatively expensive) limited-slip at $355 and a premium sport group that includes alloy wheels, 255/70-16s, side steps, tow hooks, and foglights for $700.

The new Expedition will also offer an FX4 4x4 package. The Excursion, the last leaf-sprung solid front-axle design, the SUV standard for years, has no off-road package, just a limited-slip for $250. Tires and shocks are easy to find and all it needs.

The GMC Envoy offers a Professional Towing and Off-Road package. On the SLE ($750) it includes skidplates (with steering-linkage protection), 245/65-17 all-season tires, AM/FM/ CD/cassette, 3.73 gears, and a limited-slip. On the SLT ($1550), it includes the SLE equipment, plus a 275-watt Bose DSP sound system, heated front seats, and an eight-way power front passenger seat--not the stuff we professionals think about for off-road work.

The GMC Yukon Z71 option is $620 for LT265/75R16C tires, good shocks, firmer springs, and skidplates, but requires $200 alloy wheels and $700 5.3L options.

The Infiniti QX4 has a good 4WD system, but a limited-slip is optional only when bundled with heated seats ($900) and a required package that includes 245/65-17s and driver-memory system for $600.

Although Jeep is known for building off-road vehicles, only one current model comes with a standard off-road package: the top-line $37,000 Grand Cherokee Overland. Other Grand Cherokee models can get the Up-Country suspension group for $290, with 1-in.-higher springs, shocks, rear anti-roll bar, and 235/65-17s. However, you can't get Up-Country with a sunroof, trailer tow package, or a V-8 (except in the Overland).

The new Liberty offers an off-road group with skidplates, 235/70-16s, limited-slip, tow hooks, and HD cooling. It's $520 on Limiteds (plus $1100 for required tires and V-6) and $765 on Sports (plus $2500-$2800 in required options).

The best Wrangler off-road package is the 2003 Rubicon model, with locking differentials front and rear and a 4:1 low-range, but pricing is not available (figure a few grand for parts to make those changes yourself). The Canyon Tire and Wheel group, $360-$850, depending on trim and other options, adds 3.7:1 gears, 15x8 alloys, gas shocks, full-size spare, and 30x9.50-15 Goodyear Wrangler (of course) ATs. A limited-slip is $285, and some models could get a Dana 44 rear axle for $600.

Nissan's Pathfinder offers just a limited-slip for $250, but the Xterra 4WD Enthusiast package brings a first-aid kit, extra tie-downs, tilt wheel, variable intermittent wipers, fog and map lights, tow hook, limited-slip, rubber floormats, and manual-locking hubs for $700. Xterra 2WD V-6s can get a sport package of foglights, tow hook, and limited-slip for $300 you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate yourself.

The smallest Toyota, the RAV4, has the most expensive limited-slip we've found--$390. The Sequoia has no package, and neither does the Land Cruiser. The 4Runner has no off-road package, but it does have upgrade packages that include 265/70-16s, larger brakes, and 4.10 gears as part of the $700-$890 package.