I’m dubious of “off-road” option packages. Decals, chunky-tread tires and tow hooks usually are more about enhancing a vehicle’s profit margin than its performance, off-road or on. So when Ford said it was making available its classic FX4 off-road option package for the less-expensive Limited trim (about 50% of the retail mix) of the 2020 Expedition, my shoulder-shrug was visible from space. But then I drove the behemoth for a week – never once off-road, just like everyone else will use it – and I couldn’t stay away from it.
It was mostly due to the FX4’s specially-calibrated dampers, which seemed to work all kinds of dynamic magic. The on-pavement ride was taut without being buckboard-ish, yet severely craggy roads glided underneath without a twitch in the steering. That steering somehow also seemed more responsive and refined, though it doesn’t appear the steering has any hardware or software changes with FX4.
The $2,035 package brings a 3.73:1 rear axle (standard for 2WD is 3.15 and 3.31 for 4WD), that probably helped the 17.5-foot (5334-mm) Expedition feel more agile. The package also includes seven skid plates and 18-in all-terrain tires on sharky grey-painted rims. The 18-inchers are downsized from the 20s that are standard for the Limited, and I’m certain the ride is better for it.
All 4WD Expeditions get the driver-selectable Terrain Management System for off-road adventuring. The FX4 adds an electronic limited-slip rear differential, though I didn’t get much chance to evaluate the effectiveness of either. The FX4 choice is worth it on the outside, too. There’s a shorter chin spoiler that I think makes for a better-looking front than the standard Expedition’s. Rare are the tasteful (or actually useful) running boards, but the FX4 adds them as well.
Meanwhile, no six-cylinder powerplant should be up to the challenge of an Expedition 4X4’s 5,623 lb (2,551 kg), but the turbocharged 3.5-L V6’s strapping 470 lb-ft (637 Nm) and 370 hp (276 kW) erases any doubt, particularly when the brilliantly calibrated 10-speed automatic has the engine always ready to snap to attention. Maybe engineers didn’t intend for the FX4 hardware to bring such a change in the Expedition’s on-pavement dynamics, but I’m convinced this is one off-road package that’s got genuine merit. I don’t think $72,000 is a piddling amount to spend on any vehicle, but the FX4’s role in that MSRP is a stone-cold bargain. I wouldn’t have an Expedition without it.
2020 Ford Expedition
Base price: $66,470
As tested: $72,455
Highs: Driving dynamics with FX4 package; powertrain refinement
Lows: Unwieldy footprint; some cabin trim could be nicer; 22 mpg highway
Takeaway: With excellent FX4 upgrade, drives “smaller” than its size suggests