Posted by Jason Locke on 7/6/2019 to Before you Buy
It's not exactly a secret that we have a long-standing lover affair with our friends over at ICON Vehicle Dynamics and their lineup of utterly badass and high-quality suspension components. Just head to our YouTube channel and watch us gush. As much as we love ICON, we're well aware that they're myriad of options for coilovers, shocks, and packages can be a bit overwhelming if you're not sure exactly what you're looking for. Thus, we decided to put together this breakdown of ICON's staged suspension packages for the F150s and talk a bit about what you get, but more importantly, why you should choose one package over another. We're also only going to be looking at 2009-2019 F150 ICON Systems, any other vehicles will have different components and Stage breakdowns. This is going to get a bit long, so prepare thy body.
F150 ICON Stage 1 Packages: ICON's Stage 1 Packages for the F150s is their entry level system and comes with a pair of ICON Internal Reservoir 2.5 Front Coilovers and a pair of ICON 2.0 Aluminum Series Rear Shocks that replace your F150's stock front coilover assemblies and factory rear shocks. While these kits are "entry-level" in the vacuum of solely looking at ICON at the moment, their performance and build quality are anything but. The 2.5 coilovers give your truck excellent levels of control and can handle much more punishment off-road than stock, aftermarket strut assemblies, and even 2.0 coilover systems. The rear shocks provide vastly improved rear-end stability over the factory shocks and are less prone to fade thanks to their large diameters and aluminum bodies that radiate heat more effectively than stock. The coilovers also add a nice bit of leveling out of the box, which reduces your stock rake and gets you some extra clearance for bigger tires. The ICON Stage 1 systems are for the F150 owner that knows their truck is going to see a good amount of dirt and off-road use, but either doesn't have the budget for a higher-tier system or isn't going to push the truck all that hard off-road. The Stage 1 System is also a good choice if you're not looking for extra travel or if you're planning on reducing the coilovers' ride heights down to stock or near-stock levels. The only real downside for the Stage 1 Systems is that you don't get an upper control arm (UCA). Now, that may not sound like a huge deal, but frankly, if you're looking at ICON 2.5s at all, you're likely going to need a UCA or you're heading into overkill territory. If you're primarily using your F150 on the street and only occasionally getting it dirty, then you probably don't need to jump into an ICON system at all. If you're going to be using the ICON coilovers and rear shocks to their full potential, then a UCA upgrade is definitely recommended, since your stock ball joint won't handle that sort of abuse forever. Now, I'm not saying that the Stage 1 Systems are necessarily bad upgrades. They're just for really specific applications, if you're hurting in the ol' budget department, or if you already have a different aftermarket UCA. More general applications and aggressive off-road dirvers would definitely be served better by an ICON Stage 2 System.
F150 ICON Stage 2 Packages: Speaking of which, ICON's Stage 2 Packages contains the same 2.5 coilovers and 2.0 rear shocks as the Stage 1 System, but also comes with an ICON Tubular Delta Joint Upper Control Arm. The control arm helps eek out a smidge of extra travel, but more importantly, has an arm design that avoid contacting the spring during maximum travel and has a unique ball joint design that's far stronger than factory ball joints. The ICON Stage 2 System is arguably (and I tend to agree) the best bang-for-your-buck option when it comes to ICON's "Staged" systems. The Stage 2 Kit offers up the same handling and off-road performance benefits of the Stage 1 kit, but the inclusion of the UCA means one of the weak points of the stock front suspension is taken care of. The ICON Stage 2 System has made its way onto a couple of our very own project trucks with excellent results. The ICON Stage 2 Kits for the F150s can handle all but the most aggressive and fast trail rides, and is a great choice for trucks that see consistent off-road use and need a suspension system that won't let you down. If you have a general-purpose truck that needs more performance strength than a set of 2.0 coilovers or more basic replacement strut assemblies. The only downside to the Stage 2 System is that there's a pretty extensive price difference between the Stage 1 and Stage 2 Systems, which can be a bit off-putting. However, we make the argument that it's well worth it if you really want to use the 2.5 coilovers included in this kit to their full potential. The only minor downside is that this kit does still come with 2.0 rear shocks, instead of more powerful 2.5s, but that's where the Stage 3 System comes in.
F150 ICON Stage 3 Packages: Now things are getting cereal. The ICON Stage 3 Systems replace the 2.0 Aluminum Series Rear Shocks with a pair of powerful ICON 2.5 piggyback rear shocks, which means you can have 2.5" dampers on all four corners of your truck along with a UCA. The ICON 2.5 rear shocks offer even better handling and suspension performance than the 2.0s of the Stage 1 and Stage 2 packages so that you can really push your F150 to the limit off-road. The 2.5 rear shocks' piggyback reservoirs provide awesome levels of cooling and won't suffer from fade when you're pushing your truck hard. The ICON Stage 3 Packages are a great choice for anyone who's going to really going to push their truck hard off-road. The 2.5 front coilovers and 2.5 rear shocks will soak up extremely hard hits while still keeping low levels of fade. The Stage 3 system is a nice step up from the Stage 2 Packages, though there is a pretty big price jump. There are a few reasons why you may not want to jump up to a Stage 3 Package or even skip the Stage 3 system and jump to a Stage 4 kit. Since the Stage 3 Package comes with a 2.5 shock, the ride will be a little stiffer in the rear than the lower-tier kits that come with 2.0 rears. Jumping up to 2.5s is also pretty much total overkill for any truck that doesn't ever see dirt. On the opposite end, you may want to skip a Stage 3 Package and jump to a Stage 4 system if you're going to be really ripping your truck around off-road, since the Stage 4 System comes with remote reservoir coilovers and isn't that much more expensive (comparatively) than the Stage 3 package.
F150 ICON Stage 4 Packages: The ICON Stage 4 Package takes your truck to a new level of off-road performance thanks to ICON swapping out the standard 2.5 coilovers for a set of 2.5 Remote Reservoir Coilovers that add big-time fade reduction to the already powerful 2.5 front coilovers so that you can really fly down those trails at borderline crazy speeds. The remote reservoir coilovers and piggyback reservoir rear shocks resist fade under even the most violent and consistent articulation and this package is purpose-built for aggressive off-roading. Aside from the obvious downside of price (and let's face it, the Stage 4 Packages are a pretty big hit to the wallet), the biggest problem with the Stage 4 Kits is the overkill factory. The Stage 4 Kit is just a bit much for any truck that's stays on the street and even trucks that only see the occasional off-road excursion. This is a powerful and expensive system that's probably only left to the folks that are going to use it to their full potential.
F150 ICON Stage 5 Packages: The ICON Stage 5 Packages are the highest available for the 2009-2019 F150s with 4WD. While this kit doesn't offer much in the way of extra handling performance or off-road capability over the Stage 4 Kit, what it does give you is adjustable compression. The ICON Stage 5 Kits swap out the standard ICON 2.5 Remote Reservoir Coilovers and 2.5 Piggyback Rear Shocks with versions that include ICON's Compression Damping Control Valves on the reservoirs, which allow you to dial in the amount of compression on each coilover and rear shock independently. The CDCV valves allow you to have a fairly soft and smooth ride on the street, but then dial up their stiffness so that they can handle big hits at high speed off-road. One of the best parts about the ICON Stage 5 System and its CDCV-equipped 2.5s is that on its lower settings, the street ride of both the coilovers and rear shocks are noticeably less stiff than ICON's standard 2.5 coilovers and shocks. 2.5 shocks and coilovers tend to be a bit stiff just as a matter of course, but ICON's 2.5s are stiffer than most other options thanks to their digressive valving and fairly heavy coilover springs. The CDCV valves let you adjust the compression of the dampers enough that some of that stiffness gets alleviated, and the Stage 5 system is a good choice if you're concerned about the street ride of your truck. On their highest settings, the CDCV valves make the coilovers and shocks even stiffer than the out-of-the-box valving of the standard 2.5s and shocks which gives you a little extra if you're really ripping around off-road. Again, the primary downside of the Stage 5 System is price. However, there's also the question of what you're actually getting for the increased price. The Stage 5 System gives you adjustability, but not much in the way of off-road performance over the Stage 4 System. If you also don't really mind a stiffer ride (and the F150s are known to be a bit squishy in stock form), then the Stage 5 system probably isn't going to do much for you. Granted, it's tough to know what kind of ride you're going to enjoy before you take the plunge.
In the end, you really can't go wrong with an ICON system. You'll just have to know what you want and have a plan of where you want to take your truck and how you're planning on using your F150.