Ford Ranger Tremor: Goldilocks Has A New Off-Road Pickup
The smart-sized, well-equipped Ford goes everywhere with a couple trade-offs.
You don't need a massive truck to get work done, tote some gear, and go play on trails. Reasonably-sized capable pickup trucks have regained popularity, with a packed field of options from several manufacturers. Drivers are being treated to a damn fine selection of these not-too-big and not-too-small trucks that offer good off-road capability for their dollar. Ford has been building its Ranger for decades, as a practical option in its class.
Competing with GM's Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and GMC Canyon AT4, Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, Honda Ridgeline--which I recently tested--the Ford Ranger plays in a crowded segment. A while back, I gave the lightly equipped Ranger XLT FX2 a spin, but wanted to see what the more rugged Ranger had to offer. Finding out why the Ford should stand out was a challenge I accepted.
The Key Specs
Like all Ranger models sold in America, under the hood is Ford's trusty 2.3-liter EcoBoost 4-cylinder that produces 270 horsepower and 310 lb-ft of torque (best in its class, for gas engines). Driving the wheels of this Tremor is a 10-speed automatic transmission, (optional) four-wheel-drive, and an electronic locking rear differential. Tremor is Ford's option package that gives more off-road kit to its pickups, without having to go wild with equipment and pricing you see in the more hardcore Raptor option.
Ford equips the Ranger Tremor with a lifted suspension that sports off-road tuned Fox monotube dampers and rear piggyback reservoirs, front coilover and rear leaf springs with revised tuning, 32-inch General Grabber all-terrain tires wrapped around dark gray-painted 17-inch wheels, and an auxiliary switch panel on the dash. The Tremor stands one inch wider than the normal 4x4 Ranger, and gets a meaner look with unique side steps, rear recovery hooks, a painted grille with red nostril details, Tremor decals along the sides of the bed, and optional hood and body graphics (which my tester did not get).
The Tremor upgrade costs $4,290, and is only available on the 4x4 Rangers, which have a base price of $38,795. After adding a the top Lariat trim level, and a cool shade of Cyber Orange paint, my tester had a total MSRP of $47,815.
Functional On A Daily Basis
Like the F-250 Super Duty Tremor I reviewed last fall, Ford throws a bunch of unique factory-installed parts to make the Ranger Tremor more capable, and claims daily usability doesn't take a hit. Still built as a proper truck, I was surprised how nimble the Ranger Tremor was around the city. Never did I sense the Ranger would lose any grip when I'd take a corner at quicker speeds, and the steering rack is properly tight for a small pickup, with a positive amount of weight. The 2.3-liter turbo engine is punchy in good ways, with gobs of torque at any RPM, offering quick acceleration whenever you demand it, thanks to the 10-speed automatic that keeps the revs in the power band.
I spent more time driving the Ranger around the downtown areas of Austin, and found the truck to be reasonably comfortable. Manhole covers and speed humps were shrugged off in the Ranger, thanks to its long-travel suspension. All-terrain tires definitely provide significant road noise, and there isn't much in the way of NVH insulation in the Ranger's cabin, but this isn't a luxury car. It's an affordable truck.
To compliment the numerous exterior upgrades, the Ranger Tremor's interior is upgraded with Miko suede inserts and black accent trim. As part of the Lariat package, the Ranger gets Ford's (one generation old) SYNC3 infotainment system, which has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and SiriusXM satellite radio hooked up to a potent 10-speaker B&O audio system. Front captain's chair seating is pretty basic, but the positioning and support is good, and there's plenty of space for a pair of adults in the back seat.
On the safety front, the Ranger Tremor has lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, a forward sensing system, and pre-collision assist with auto emergency braking. EPA fuel estimates are 19 MPG for city and highway, and during my test I achieved an average of 18 MPG. Not bad for a torquey pickup. Keeping the functionality up, the Ranger Tremor boasts a 1,430-pound maximum payload capacity in its 5-foot bed, met with an available 7,500-pound maximum towing capacity. Those numbers are definitely great for a pickup in this class.
Plays Hard In All The Right Ways
Different from the Honda Ridgeline's HPD package upgrade, Ford's Tremor option actually adds parts that help make the truck more capable off-road. Thanks to its upgraded suspension, the Ranger Tremor boasts nearly an inch more ground clearance than the standard Ranger 4x4, now at 9.7 inches. Suspension travel for the Tremor is now 6.5 inches up front and 8.1 inches in the rear. When I was ripping around a dirt and gravel field, I had no trouble jumping over little chunks, and the Ranger stayed happily under control.
The Ranger Tremor gets a frame-mounted steel plate up front, matched with underbody skid plates to protect its drivetrain. For greater grip, there's a rear locking differential, and Ford's Terrain Management System, that enables four distinct drive modes and Trail Control. Tremor’s traction control system is recalibrated for improved acceleration and traction in gravel. In case you happen to get stuck, this Ranger gets a pair of recovery hooks up front and out back.
Ford also gives the Ranger Tremor a multi-leaf rear spring setup to allow for greater wheel travel, while reducing anti-roll bar stiffness to lessen any disruption you might feel when you're ripping around rougher terrain. With a 30.9º approach angle (2.2º more than the base Ranger SuperCrew 4x4), a 25.5º departure angle (0.1º improvement), and a 24.2º breakover angle (up 2.7º), the Ranger Tremor can work around bigger dips and ascents. Over a rocky path near a construction site, I crawled up and down with ease, barely giving the Ranger its exercise.
I appreciate that Ford installed a 6-switch panel atop the center dash to control accessories like air compressors, light bars, and winches, with rated loads of 25 amps, 15 amps and 10 amps, plus three switches at 5 amps. More trucks need to come set up for accessories, so that you don't have to drill into your interior or install cheap looking switches. For overloading adventures, Ford has over 200 available dealer-installed accessories for the Ranger, to accommodate any driver's needs.
The Pros And Cons
Ford did a great job with the styling of the Ranger. Yes, this truck is a bit long in the tooth, but it has aged well. Where its competition is coming up with some edgier and sometimes polarizing looks, Ford's smart-sized pickup is clean and attractive. Especially after adding the Tremor option, giving it a rugged enough overall package without looking like a total Brodozer.
Overall usability on- and off-road is nicely balanced with the Ranger. There's a hint of compromise in the comfort department, to make it seriously confident when you leave the pavement, but I still felt like the Ranger Tremor was comfortable enough as a daily driver. I also like how simple the Ranger is to use when I took it off-road. In an era of manufacturers adding tons of tech for the sake of tech (and increased profit margins), the simpler Ranger is refreshing.
Switchgear in the Ranger is definitely dated, reflecting an effort to save costs, and this pickup doesn't have the greatest quality inside. The instrument cluster is one disappointment, with a basic speedometer that gets some help from small screens to can give you different data points and driving details. As opposed to the great Honda Ridgeline I recently reviewed, which has a functional and quality interior, fit and finish is one big trade-off in the Ranger Tremor.
Ford gives the Ranger its previous generation Sync infotainment system, which isn't all that great, but it's easy to use, and it covers all your control needs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are installed, but if you've got your phone plugged in, there's no home menu button to get you back to the Ford screens, so you have to unplug your phone to adjust any settings. Someone forgot to walk through a user story there.
Once you drop the tailgate, the Ranger offers very little in the way of payload storage functionality. I appreciate the ToughBed spray-in bedliner, but Ford really could have invested some effort into making the storage area more flexible.
If You're Focused On Going Off-Road, Make Some Sacrifices
Ford knows its buyers, and with the Ranger Tremor it provides a great off-road package that's compliant enough for daily use. The packaging is stylish, useful, and competent anywhere you want to take a midsized pickup at a price many truck buyers can stomach. Where lots of trucks are getting too big, too heavy, too plush, and too expensive, the Ranger sticks to its roots.
Overlooking the spartan interior and older body style isn't easy when the competition is moving up its quality and standard features, but there's a truck for every buyer's motivations. If you're happy giving up some creature comforts and fit and finish inside, Ford supplies a Ranger Tremor that will have a blast when you take it out for your weekend adventures.