2021 Ford Ranger Tremor First Drive: Is This the Baddest Ranger You Can Buy in America?

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor in the Snow

Cars.com photo

By Aaron Bragman

Behold the most capable off-road Ford Ranger you can buy in the USA. No, it’s not the Ranger Raptor you keep asking Ford for — Ford keeps telling you no, and it’s not coming to the U.S. until the Ranger gets a full redesign that’s at least a couple of years away. Like other current Tremors, the Ranger Tremor is designed to offer more off-road ability than the FX4 Off-Road Package, but without losing payload or towing ability. But it’s still meant to be a top-notch off-road vehicle, and we wanted to see how it does in the dirt, but we’re in Michigan, and it’s February so we don’t have any dirt, we have snow. We have plenty of snow, and an off-road park to explore how well the Ranger Tremor works off-road in the snow.

More Than the Sum of Its Parts

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Tire

Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The Tremor Off-Road Package adds a bunch of off-road features to a crew-cab Ranger XLT or Ranger Lariat 4x4 that brings a thorough redo to the Ranger’s suspension, more than you might expect. The changes start with the adoption of Fox 2.0 shocks front and rear, with the rears getting piggyback remote reservoirs. The front coil-over and rear leaf springs are thoroughly reworked, adding to a nearly 1-inch lift for the truck overall. The track is an inch wider too thanks to revised control arms, which means you also get mild fender flares to cover the wheels and tires. Those wheels are 17-inch alloys in Magnetic gray, and they’re wearing 32-inch Continental General Grabber all-terrain tires. 

Related: Should You Get a Performance Pack for Your Ford Ranger or Wait for the Tremor?

You might not expect an off-road truck like this, meant for running through the dirt and down muddy trails, to do well in super-low-friction environments like deep snow and ice, but the Ranger Tremor actually performs beautifully in such situations. Part of the credit goes to the General Grabber all-terrain rubber that’s blocky like a rock-and-mud tire, but it’s also siped like an all-weather tire, meaning it has enough grip to get you down icy streets and over powdery fields. The other component of the Ranger Tremor’s excellent traction is its electronic Terrain Management System. You can select from a number of different drive modes that change aspects of the throttle, traction control, stability control, and engine and transmission computers to select the environment you’re trying to roll through. For conditions like these, the Mud/Ruts/Snow setting worked very well for maximum traction, but the Sand setting was the one that turned out to be the most fun in the snow at Holly Oaks Off-Road Vehicle Park in Holly, Mich. With the computer keeping the transmission in a lower gear and the revs boosted toward the upper limits, I could throw the Tremor around like a Baja racer over the snow-covered moguls.

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Regardless of terrain, what you feel in the cabin is an exceptionally well-damped ride. Over bumps, ruts and furrows that would have your teeth chattering in a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, the Ranger Tremor just sails along with its suspension doing its thing to keep cabin occupants calm and comfortable. Part of the changes to the suspension have accounted for increased suspension travel over a Ranger FX4, according to Ford’s engineers, and the Fox 2.0 shocks with remote reservoirs help in keeping the shock absorber fluid cool for better performance during punishing use. The anti-roll bars have actually seen their stiffness decreased in order to improve compliance and soak up bumps. 

The Tremor package turns the Ranger from a capable off-road truck with the FX4 package into a truly impressive off-road machine that can rival the likes of the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 or Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro when you decide to leave the pavement. And unlike those competitors, the Tremor package is designed to not compromise the main reasons you bought the truck: The Ranger retains its 1,430-pound maximum payload capacity and 7,500-pound maximum towing capacity. 

The powertrain is unchanged from the rest of the Ranger lineup, meaning you get the powerful turbocharged 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine that’s also present in the Ford Mustang and Ford Explorer. It pumps out 270 horsepower and 310 pounds-feet of torque on premium fuel, routed through a 10-speed automatic transmission. The transfer case is a part-time four-wheel-drive setup, so you only engage it when you’re on terrain that offers some slip; there’s no 4-Auto like you can get in the new GMC Canyon AT4. The Tremor package comes with an electronic locking rear differential that can be engaged in any mode, even two-wheel drive, according to Ford engineers. 

Ranger Tremor Vs. Ranger Performance Packages

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Auxiliary Switch Bank

Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

There are three dealer-installed Ford Performance packages for the Ranger, but they approach the upfitting task a little differently. First of all, the Tremor package is a much more integrated experience, according to Ford. Engineers massaged a lot more parts on the Ranger Tremor in order to make sure everything is optimized to work as a system. The Fox 2.0 shocks are different than the ones you can get with the Ford Performance packages (the Tremor’s have remote reservoirs), but they also benefit from new front coil-over and rear leaf springs. Whereas the Ford Performance Level 1, 2 and 3 packages use a leveling kit to change the ride height of the truck, the Tremor’s lift is a combination of the suspension tweaks and different shocks. The Tremor also has a 1-inch wider track than the Performance Packs provide, due to different control arms, which are again part of that system approach to performance that the Tremor provides. You don’t get the winch-ready bumper on the Tremor, like you would on the top Performance Pack Level 3, but you do get the hard-wired six-unit auxiliary switch bank and special embroidered seats. 

What do we miss from the Performance Packs that you don’t get in the Tremor? The upgraded engine software that bumps the output from 270 hp to 315 hp and the torque from 310 to 370 pounds-feet. It can definitely be felt in the Performance Pack Level 2 Ranger, but it can also be had as a stand-alone package without the off-road equipment, meaning you could add it to your Tremor as well (and you should). Suffice it to say that the Performance Packs are great for someone who already owns a Ranger 4x4 and wants to boost its off-road performance, while the Tremor is for someone who hasn’t bought a truck yet, and wants a nicely sorted-out experience instead of a piecemeal operation.

It’s Not Too Easy to Spot

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Grille and Front Bumper

Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

Up front, the Ranger Tremor gets a new grille with reddish-orange inserts and a Magnetic gray bumper with tow hooks. The back bumper gets the same treatment, Magnetic gray with “retrieval hooks.” Down the sides, there are hoop-style steps covered in bedliner paint for durability and grip, and there’s an optional retro-styled graphics package that can complement the Tremor badge on the rear fenders. Headlights can be conventional projectors or LEDs, but that depends on whether you’ve opted for an XLT or a more expensive Lariat trim. 

Inside, it’s pretty much standard Ford Ranger, which is to say that it’s the nicest 2014 Ford Fusion interior you can buy today. Nothing shows off just how old this version of the Ranger is like it’s thoroughly last-generation Ford-bits interior, but it’s still functional and comfortable, and there’s even reasonable room for people in the second row. The Tremor package does bring some goodies, however, such as a truly handy six-unit auxiliary switch panel hardwired into the dash and custom Tremor-embroidered seats. Black plastic has intentionally replaced shiny metal-look trim on the dash and doors to give the Tremor a more serious look, according to Ford. If you want fancier spiffs, like a digital gauge cluster, leather trim or power seats, you’ll have to again opt for the Lariat over the XLT. My test truck was the XLT, and I can’t say it really lacked anything that made life harder, but having also viewed the Lariat interior, it did seem like it might be worth a few grand more to upgrade. 

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Front Seats and Dashboard

Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

The Clincher: It’s a (Relative) Bargain

How much does the baddest off-road Ranger in America cost? Well, it starts with the XLT 4x4 crew cab that starts at $35,940, including destination. The Tremor Off-Road Package costs $4,290, but that’s a bit misleading because selecting it also requires the $1,670 XLT Equipment Package 301A, which adds the Sport Appearance Package (which gets the gray bumpers and wheels), auto-dimming rearview mirror, reverse sensing system, 110-volt outlet and a couple other things. The Tremor package brings all of the off-road goodies that make the Ranger more capable than an FX4 package, and my test truck also featured a few stand-alone options like remote start, a spray-in bedliner and the Technology Package that brings adaptive cruise control, navigation and forward sensing to the party. The grand total for my test truck came to a well-equipped $43,680, including destination, which is actually a surprising value for a truck that can do what the Ranger Tremor can do. 

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Rear Profile

Cars.com photo by Aaron Bragman

In its base XLT trim and by holding back on some extra options, it means that the Ranger Tremor undercuts a comparably equipped Jeep Gladiator, Chevy Colorado ZR2 or Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro by thousands of dollars. It doesn’t have some of the equipment you can get on other trucks, like a locking front differential, full-time four-wheel drive or electronic disconnecting sway bars for truly exceptional suspension travel, but for 99% of the off-road pickup buyers, Ford’s new Ranger Tremor is an outstanding addition to the field and worth a look. 

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