The Ford Ranger midsize pickup is great, but as someone who likes to really get off the beaten path, I've been disappointed by the truck's FX4 off-road trim. Sure, this package adds a rear differential locker and skid plates, but it just can't stand up to trucks like the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro in terms of off-road geometry.
Enter the Ranger Tremor. Available on the Ranger SuperCrew in XLT or Lariat trims, the Tremor is a $4,290 upgrade -- though Ford makes you add a Sport Appearance package, too, so the real cost is actually $5,960. No, the Ranger Tremor isn't the full-on Ranger Raptor of my dreams, but it comes close.
Roadshow's Chris Paukert put the Ranger Tremor through its full paces as a daily driver. This time around, I'm here to give you the skinny on where the Tremor shines: the dirt. California's Johnson Valley is right in my backyard, and it's full of everything a desert rat like me could ever want. Rocks, silt, sand, whoops -- it's all here. It's a 53,000-acre playground.
The Tremor gets an 0.8-inch lift, for a total of 9.7 inches of ground clearance, and the upgraded Fox 2.0 shocks have rear piggyback reservoirs to help keep things cool. The Ranger's single rear leaf spring has been nixed and there's a multi-leaf spring setup in its place. Larger 32-inch Continental General Grabber tires are here, too, accounting for a wider stance compared with a non-Tremor Ranger.
The end result is better off-road geometry. The Tremor's 30.9-degree approach, 27.1-degree departure and 24.2-degree breakover angles are increases of 2.2, 1.7 and 2.7, respectively. Wheel travel is similarly improved, increasing just a smidge to 6.5 inches in front and 8.1 inches out back.
All this means I can hit the dirt faster than I could in the standard Ranger with the FX4 package. Cruising along at 25 mph through some big whoops doesn't cause the shocks to bottom out. Don't get me wrong: The F-150 Raptor with its generous suspension travel could speed through these whoops at 50 mph, but the little Ranger more than holds its own.
The Ranger can calibrate its throttle and transmission shift points for Normal, Grass/Gravel/Snow, Mud/Ruts and Sand. You'll want to spend some time playing around with these modes to find which one you like the best. But one thing I always do is turn the traction control off. The Ranger doesn't allow me to turn TC all the way off, unfortunately, but it at least allows me to be in a modicum of actual control over wheel spin, even letting me hang the tail out on a high-speed gravel road.
When it comes to slow-going off-roading, the Ranger's two-speed transfer case and rear locker can handle most situations with ease. At 47.6:1, the Ranger's crawl ratio isn't spectacular, but thankfully the 2.3-liter turbo I4 engine puts out 270 horsepower and, more importantly, 310 pound-feet of torque, so there's at least plenty of oomph when I need it. Even without the rear locker, I'm able to climb rock-strewn steep hills in the Ranger's 4-Low setting without any wheel spin, leaving the trail nice and clean for the next person who comes along.
Of course, what goes up, must come down, and when it's time to descend, this is where Ford's Trail Control comes in. I could use this off-road cruise control tech on flat ground, setting the speed and just worrying about steering, but I'm going to employ it on a downhill section that is steep enough for my seatbelt to lock, leaving me hanging from my seat like a rag doll.
This is a feature Ford gets right. The Ranger slowly picks its way down the hill, staying at a steady 3 mph. Almost as important, it's quiet. In other trucks -- looking at you, Toyota Tacoma -- it sounds like the whole driveline is going to fall out of the rig, sending the pickup careening down the hill. The Ranger, on the other hand, feels secure and confident.
Next, I take the Ranger Tremor over to the same course where I tested the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, which has since been chewed up by a bunch of race cars. The ruts are deeper, silt is softer and rocks are uncovered in the worst possible places.
This trail is where I discover the Ranger's biggest problem: ground clearance. With just 9.7 inches between the rocky course and the truck's undercarriage, I have to spend the entire time riding the berm, essentially using the ruts to make more ground clearance for myself. It's doable, but it's just not that fun, and I don't want to work that hard for the whole 42-mile course. I'm confident the Ranger could have pre-run the course easily, but after a big race like this, you really need something with more clearance. A Jeep Gladiator, for example, has 11.1 inches between the dirt and its underside.
There are a few other issues I have with the Tremor package. The lack of a front locker means it can't really compete with the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 or aforementioned Gladiator. If you know you'll stay out of the rocks, you probably won't miss it, but those who really want to do some climbing will absolutely need a front diff lock. I'm also not a fan of the side steps. The truck doesn't have enough ground clearance to need them, and all they do is scrape my calf every time I get out.
However, one thing I really like about the Tremor package is that it adds six auxiliary switches to the interior to wire up lights, a winch, or heck, maybe even a little fridge. The aux outlets range from 5 to 25 amps in power, and as someone who just finished installing switches on her own off-road car, I can confidently say that having them planned from the very beginning makes wiring a whole lot easier.
So, with the current crop of top-spec off-roaders, where does the Ford Ranger Tremor fit in? I'd put it ahead of the Tacoma TRD Pro, mostly because Ford's powertrain is more refined. I love the looks of the Colorado ZR2, and its Multimatic suspension doesn't compromise on everyday driving comfort, plus it has a front locker, but the Chevy has an absolutely awful interior and the Ranger has class-leading payload and tow ratings. The Jeep Gladiator Mojave is another solid contender, with its larger Fox 2.5 shocks with front and rear remote reservoirs, meaning it's just as fast as a Ranger Tremor through the whoops -- plus, you can take the top and doors off. The Jeep's front locker is another plus, but again, the Mojave can't beat the Ranger's towing and payload.
The Ranger is also less expensive than its competitors. The least-expensive Ranger Tremor will set you back $42,150, including $1,195 for destination. The Tacoma with a manual transmission is about $3,000 more. Same goes for the Colorado ZR2 and Gladiator.
Of course, what I really want is a proper Ranger Raptor to properly trounce these trucks. But for now, the Tremor remains a value-packed pickup that's happy to play in the dirt.©2021 Roadshow. Visit at cnet.com/roadshow. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.