By Aaron Bragman
Ford's last performance pickup truck, the F-150 SVT Lightning, was a monster. The last generation sported a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8 engine pumping out 380 horsepower, pushed through the heavy-duty four-speed transmission used in the Super Duty pickups. It could easily keep up with late-1990s Mustang Cobras on race circuit tracks, but the last one rolled off the assembly line a decade ago. Since then Ford's Special Vehicle Team has focused its performance energy on the Raptor, an off-road, street-legal Baja racer that's fun in its own right, but it left the street-performance truck idea alone.
Until the advent of the 2014 F-150 Tremor, that is, which we had a good look at it earlier this year. Recently the opportunity to drive the Tremor on a drag strip presented itself. Who were we to pass it by?
While doing acceleration testing of heavy-duty pickups for our 2014 Ultimate Heavy-Duty Challenge at Milan Dragway in Milan, Mich., we slipped in a few runs in a new 2014 Tremor as well. OK, maybe more than just a few runs, but can you blame us? What would you do with your own drag strip for a day if you had a truck like this?
Conditions were just about perfect: 75 degrees and mostly sunny with a clean drag strip that got to about 114 degrees later in the day. Myself and Cars.com editor Joe Bruzek took turns throwing the twin-turbocharged Tremor down the track (sometimes against another truck that showed up — the $29,000, Hemi-powered Ram 1500 Express) just to see what she'll do.
Launching the Tremor is tricky. Leaving the traction control on means no brake-torqueing — any wheel slip will trigger the system, cutting engine power and bogging the launch. Switching the traction control off to brake-torque the transmission to build a little boost can result in overpowering everything, leading to massive axle hop and a scrubbed launch. I found the best technique was to switch off the traction control, switch on the electronic locking differential (which works only below 20 mph), brake-torque to about 2,000 rpm to build boost and use the brake like a clutch on launch to carefully but quickly pull away. That technique netted me my best time of 14.56 seconds at 93.5 mph, with a reaction time of 0.019. Not bad, but Bruzek thought he could do better — and he did.
He staged shallow, switched off the traction control and switched on the electronic locking rear differential, brake-torqued just a bit to build some boost — and just when he let off the brake, gave the gas a quick stab to settle the drivetrain and tighten everything up for the launch. The result was the best time of the day: 14.42 seconds at 94.5 mph.
Comparisons are going to be made with the old Lightning, and they are indeed interesting. The twin-turbo EcoBoost V-6 in the Tremor makes 365 hp, which is just 5 hp more than what the 1999 Lightning made at its debut, and 15 less than when it was discontinued in 2004. It outguns the Tremor in torque too, which makes 420 pounds-feet to the Lightning's more robust 450. The Lightning made do with a four-speed automatic, while the Tremor has a six-speed, but the Tremor's lower 4.10:1 rear-end gear is more aggressive than the Lightning's standard 3.55:1 gear. Most interesting: at 5,120 pounds, the two-wheel-drive Tremor is nearly 500 pounds heavier than the old Lightning, so its power-to-weight ratio is less favorable at 14.02 pounds per hp versus 12.24 for the Lightning. The Lightning typically ran the quarter mile in the mid-13-second range, proving that weight still remains a speed killer no matter how much boost you're running.
But how did the Tremor stack up against the Hemi V-8-powered Ram 1500 Express? The cheapest V-8-powered truck in America sported 30 more horsepower than the Tremor at 395 hp, but was down 10 pound-feet of torque. It also featured a six-speed automatic, but a 3.92:1 final drive ratio, better on the highway but a disadvantage in the quarter mile. At 4,729 pounds, it's nearly 400 pounds lighter than the Tremor — its power-to-weight ratio checks in at 11.97 pounds per hp. Approaching the traps at the end of the strip, however, the Tremor was still pulling strong while the Ram was breathing hard. Time and again, the Tremor outran the Ram down the drag strip — but just barely, never finishing more than three-quarters of a truck-length ahead of the Ram. And at nearly $14,000 less than the Tremor, you're left with a lot of coin left to spend on more go-fast parts or a nicer interior. Kind of explains why the Express is a crazy-popular package for the Ram 1500, while the Tremor remains fairly rare.
Ford's Tremor shows what's possible with a strong turbo engine in a "smaller" pickup. You can't get the EcoBoost engine in the short-wheelbase, short-bed, regular-cab model in any other trim configuration. But for $43,000 and change ($46,000-plus for the 4x4 model), one expects more to have been done. A sport exhaust would be nice or some more aggressive tuning on the turbochargers to play up that whooshing turbo glory. One also expects more amenities for this price, such as standard automatic climate control and power passenger seat. Whether you choose the Tremor or the sporty Ram competitor (with crank windows no less) will likely come down to whether you're cool with turbo whoosh or prefer a rumbling bass.
Cars.com images by Aaron Bragman, Evan Sears, Kent Sundling