2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Brings New Off-Road Tech to an Old Truck

·4 min read
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

From Car and Driver

While we wait for Ford to introduce the next generation of its Ranger mid-size pickup—and hopefully with it a new Raptor variant designed for hard-core off-roading—the Blue Oval continues to tweak the current Ranger with increasing levels of capability. For the 2021 model year, a new moderately fortified Tremor package brings meaningful enhancements to the trail performance of Ford's aging small truck.

First, some background: The current-gen Ranger has been sold in other parts of the world for more than a decade yet only entered the United States market for 2019. An all-new version is around the corner. Ford's Tremor setup first debuted on the latest F-series Super Duty and recently filtered down to the F-150. Think of it as a halfway step to full Raptor capability, which should be more than sufficient for many buyers. In the Ranger, the crew-cab-only Tremor package includes all-terrain tires, an upgraded suspension, an electronically locking rear differential, skid plates, fixed metal side steps, Tremor graphics, and six auxiliary power switches for accessories. Separately, Ford Performance will sell you three levels of upgrades for the Ranger that increase horsepower and add even more serious off-road equipment.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

The Ranger Tremor's suspension features stronger upper and lower front control arms separated by a revised knuckle plus 2.0-inch Fox dampers at all four corners. The rear dampers feature external reservoirs. Ground clearance amounts to a decent 9.7 inches, which is 0.8-inch more than the standard truck's. Unlike the upcoming Ranger, which we've already spied with a coil-spring rear suspension, the Tremor retains the current model's rear leaf springs, although they're specifically tuned for the Tremor. Rolling stock consists of 17-inch wheels wrapped with 32-inch General Grabber A/TX tires, which don't have as aggressive a tread pattern as the BFGoodrich All-Terrain KO2s found on the F-150 Raptor, yet they do allow for a quieter ride on the street.

Navigating Southeastern Michigan's Holly Oaks off-road park, the Ranger Tremor feels tranquil and composed as it traverses the area's many icy, snow-covered hills and trails. Activating the rear locking differential helps provide solid traction over slick, broken terrain, and the additional ground clearance allows us to carry more momentum over obstacles and up steep inclines. Front and rear suspension travel—6.5 and 8.1 inches, respectively—are up slightly over regular four-wheel-drive Rangers, as are maximum angles of approach (30.9 degrees), departure (25.5), and breakover (24.2). The Tremor's Trail Control system, which acts as an off-road cruise-control function, makes short work of creeping through tight, uneven spaces with deep ruts. Novice off-roaders will appreciate its assistance, but experienced trail junkies won't find it necessary, and we had more fun managing the truck's engine and brakes ourselves. Four drive modes (Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts, and Sand) are included as part of Ford's trail-management system.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

Over Holly Oaks's rough ground, we often craved more power from the Ranger's standard turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder, which suffers from noticeable turbo lag and emits a low-pitched thrum at cruising speeds. Output is the same 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque as in the lesser model's, as is the tuning for the standard 10-speed automatic transmission. On the surrounding roads, the thrust from the Ranger powertrain feels more adequate and the truck itself exhibits better comfort and stability than an all-solid-axle Jeep Gladiator. The addition of the Tremor package doesn't hurt the Ranger's towing capabilities; every model can tug up to 7500 pounds with the Trailer Tow package. However, in comparison to the non-Tremor four-wheel-drive SuperCrew, the payload decreases by 130 pounds to 1430. More significant, the Tremor's taller profile and bigger tires drop its EPA combined estimate to 19 mpg, which is 3 mpg less than for the standard four-wheel-drive Ranger.

The Ranger's Tremor package is an attractive upgrade for an old-school truck that's still saddled with an uninspired interior and a key fob with a flip-out physical key. Pricing is listed at $4290 on XLT and Lariat models, yet the Tremor also bundles several other options that increase its upcharge further. Still, its $41,400 entry point is lower than that of a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro or a top-spec Gladiator, both of which start at more than $45K and offer similar equipment. While the Tremor may be most effective at getting us excited for the prospect of a new, North American-market Ranger Raptor, it succeeds in making Ford's current mid-size pickup far more entertaining to drive when the pavement ends.

Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver
Photo credit: Michael Simari - Car and Driver

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