2021 Ford Ranger Tremor First Drive | Capability at a competitive price

Joel Stocksdale
·5 min read


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While the United States is generally the truck capital of the planet, we’ve been missing out on one of the coolest pickups of the last couple years, the Ford Ranger Raptor. And the fact that it was a truck from one of our homegrown automakers added that extra bit of sting. To help make up for leaving us out of the dino party, Ford has put together a somewhat milder off-road Ranger in the form of the Tremor. Although it’s not a mini Baja machine, it still comes with some useful off-road baubles all while remaining a practical and comfortable truck with a competitive (if not cheap) price point and feature set.

The Tremor package’s big improvements come from its suspension and tires. It features a new set of springs and Fox 2.0 monotube dampers with external reservoirs at the rear. The anti-roll bars are less stiff, and hydraulic bump stops have been fitted. Add in the 32-inch General Grabber A/TX all-terrain tires, and the truck features 0.8 inch more ground clearance (9.7 total) over the standard Ranger. The approach, breakover and departure angles are also all improved, with totals of 30.9 degrees for approach (+2.2 degrees), 24.2 for breakover (+2.7 degrees), and 25.5 for departure (+0.1 degree).

There are some other extra Tremor goodies with the red-accented grille, wider fender flares, tube-steel side steps, additional skid plates, and a set of six built-in auxiliary switches for lights, winches and other accessories. And a set of flashy stripes is part of an optional graphics package for $750. The interior is treated to an upholstery combination of black leather and faux suede. The Tremor package also includes some bits from the FX4 package, notably the electronic rear differential locker, Trail Control (the low-speed off-roading version of cruise control), and Terrain Management with different traction control settings for different conditions.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor

We were able to try out this suite of off-road upgrades at Holly Oaks off-road park around an hour north of Detroit. And, at least as far as this relative amateur off-roader can tell, it was an adept dirt muncher on the slow trails. Well, snow muncher in the case of our day at the park. The suspension was quite impressive, keeping the body under control and not kicking or bouncing us around the cabin. The rear locker and traction settings were helpful for climbing the slippery hills around the park, and we avoided any scraping while cresting or coming off the different table tops and dips. We probably didn’t get the best idea of the grip afforded by the tires, though, because of all the snow. And besides the upgrades, the Ranger’s naturally small size and great outward visibility made it much easier to snake it up some of the tighter and tree-lined routes.

Back on pavement, what really impresses is that none of the changes to improve the off-road capability harms on-road livability. In fact, that new suspension set up offers a significantly improved ride over the stiff and bumpy FX4. It’s not quite soft, but it’s far more composed, staying steady over bumps and filtering out small imperfections. Also surprising are the tires. Despite the knobby design, they’re very quiet, as is the truck in general, with only some light wind noise. That’s supported by the engine that’s quite smooth and only makes a muted grumble at high rpm.

Speaking of the engine, it’s still a highlight of the Ranger, even though it hasn’t been touched on the Tremor. It makes 270 horsepower and 310 pound-feet of torque, and, if anything, it almost feels underrated. The turbo spools quickly, and the boost comes on smoothly. And if you still feel it needs a little more power, Ford Performance, as well as a variety of other aftermarket companies, sell engine computer calibrations to get more out of the four-cylinder.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor
2021 Ford Ranger Tremor

Really, there are only a couple of downsides to the Tremor. While the tires and suspension are great for off-road use and for ride quality, they do hamper handling. There’s not much grip compared with other Ranger models, so you’ll want to dial back your speed a bit more in the corners. There’s also more body roll, and steering is a little vague. These side effects are to be expected with the squishy, knobby tread and softer anti-roll bars. The 10-speed automatic transmission also can be lazy on downshifts, and sometimes hunts around, though it’s otherwise unobtrusive and not something specific to the Tremor. Finally, the brake pedal was oddly soft and lacking in feeling, which was frustrating on pavement, but also off-road where you may want some extra precision with braking. This may be a case with just this one test example, since we don’t remember the brakes being like this on other Rangers, and the brakes should theoretically be the same as other Rangers.

On its own, the Ranger Tremor makes a good case for itself, but it’s certainly not the only small off-road-oriented pickup truck on the market. Its two key competitors are the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro and the Chevy Colorado ZR2. Pricewise, the Ranger Tremor significantly undercuts the two with a base price of $41,900. That's despite coming standard with a crew cab (even the Chevy's extended cab is nearly $900 more expensive) and an automatic transmission (to get that in the Tacoma, you're looking at nearly $48,000). True, the Colorado has a few noteworthy off-roading upgrades Ford doesn't offer (locking diffs and spool-valve shocks), but it's basically a wash with the pricey Toyota. Away from the trail, the Ranger also has the best towing and payload capacity, making it arguably the best all-rounder.

The Ranger Tremor may not be the over-the-top Raptor enthusiasts hoped for, but it’s a compelling and competitive off-roader in its own right. It still provides loads of handy off-road equipment without compromising comfort or hauling ability of the standard Ranger. It even does so for a good price.

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