Behind the Wheel

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor Review: Snow tested, off-roader approved

The Tremor package is newly offered on the Ranger for the 2021 model year.

Photo by Chad Kirchner

Science fiction planets are very one-dimensional. On Earth, there is dozens of different climate zones, but visiting any planet in the Star Wars universe is just the opposite. Dagobah is a swamp. Tatooine is a desert. Hoth is an ice planet. Off-road pickup trucks are similar. The Ford Raptor is for bombing around the desert, while the Ram Power Wagon is a rock crawler.

Is it possible to make a truck that's competent at a bunch of things without breaking the bank or losing something in the process? That's what Ford's Tremor package for the Ranger aims to do in a world of one-trick off-road midsize trucks.

It's important to know that Tremor is a package and not a trim level. That means if you want all the bells and whistles, you can load up a Ranger Lariat with the Tremor updates. If you don't want or need all of the extra features, Tremor can be added to XLT. In contrast, if you want a Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro or a Chevrolet Colorado ZR2, you have to go top spec. The package is also available on F-150 and Super Duty models.

The truck features Tremor graphics on the bed.Photo by Chad Kirchner

The $4,290 Tremor package replaces the stock suspension with a set of Fox high performance shocks with piggyback reservoirs in the rear. The leaf springs are upgraded to a multi-leaf design. The 17-inch wheels get 32-inch General Grabber A/TX tires. A rear locker is added. Trailer Control and Ford's Terrain Management System is also included. There's even a front steel bash plate.

These changes and upgrades improve approach and departure angles. On the Tremor it means 30.9 degrees up front, 25.5 degrees in the back, and a breakover angle of 24.2 degrees.

That's not all, though, as the package also adds hoop steps, frame-mounted tow hooks, Miko suede seats, Magnetic-painted body bits, Tremor graphics, and an upfitter switch panel.

When you combine that with the best-in-class powertrain of Ford's 2.3-liter EcoBoost and 10-speed automatic transmission, you get quite the little performer.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor The Ford Ranger Tremor features the off-road goodies enthusiasts need sans the super high price tag.Photo by Chad Kirchner

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor

Test driving the truck for a week meant going from sunny skies to full-out blizzard conditions, and nearly everything in between thanks to Ohio's location in the path of Winter Storm Orlena.

A day spent at the Holly Oaks ORV park in Holly, Michigan made it feel like I was smack dab on in the middle of the ice planet for the opening sequence of "The Empire Strikes Back". Freezing rain, then snow, the night before created for a treacherous off-road park. Sub-zero wind chills made conditions inhospitable to say the least.

The General Grabber tires do an excellent job at finding grip in the snow. While nothing really grips on ice, some off-road tires tend to lose performance in the white stuff. Likely designed more for sand duty, the A/TX tires found the traction that was available and helped pull the truck through the deep stuff.

Snow does a fantastic job at messing with your depth perfection, so bumps that look small can end up being small hills. Hitting a bump at speed that is bigger than you expect is a good way to send a shock up your spine and blow a shock absorber. The Fox upgrade on the Tremor handled those unexpected undulations with ease.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor The interior of the Ranger Tremor is standard fare. This model was built on the Lariat trim level.Photo by Chad Kirchner

While the LiveValve setup on Raptor is better, the piggyback reservoirs on Tremor help the shocks handle heat better, allowing for both better ride quality and traction off-road. While you can go to the aftermarket for these shocks, the Fox equipment matched with the retuned leaf springs make the upgrade to Tremor from the factory worth it.

For those who might be inexperienced off-roading, the Trail Control system is quite clever. It's basically off-road cruise control. All the driver has to do is set the speed and the truck figures out how to tackle the obstacles under its wheels while the driver concentrates on steering.

In these extreme conditions, the system was put to quite the test. And while it didn't work on every hill or obstacle – remember that whole Hoth thing – the system does an admirable job and figuring out what to do. In these snowy conditions, it's even easier to spot the system locking up an individual wheel, applying power at certain times, and figuring out to maintain momentum. In these conditions, the human brain is still better at sorting it out, but Trail Control is damn impressive.

To my posterior at least, on-road ride quality is better on Tremor than on Ford's other off-road package - FX4. The tires are reasonably quiet for their performance, and potholed Michigan roads hardly ever flummox the Tremor. The truck's fuel economy is rated at 19 mpg combined, and even in the cold conditions it's easy to achieve those numbers in the day-to-day.

The Ranger Tremor comes with six centrally located upfitter switches.Photo courtesy of Ford Motor Company

The rest of the truck is standard Ranger fare. The tech is nice, but the interior feels a bit dated compared to the new F-150. The upfitter switches are a nice feature and mounted in a good spot, plus Ford placed the junction box at an easy-to-reach location under the hood to make installing accessories even easier.

Tremor is ultimately a good deal. If you're going to get an off-road type package on your Ranger, skip the FX4 and go Tremor. It rides better and the suspension is better. The price is right, too, even though you do have to get either the 301A or 501A package to make Tremor an option.

That puts the starting price of the XLT Tremor at $41,900 and for the Lariat Tremor it's $46,275. The truck still has a payload of 1,430 pounds and a max tow rating of 7,500 pounds. It's also thousands cheaper than the competition.

But what about the Ranger Raptor? It's likely on its way, but a few years out. If you want a solid mix of off-road performance and on-road comfort today, Tremor is the way to go. And when you go, may the force be with you.

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Research and development

Ford names site for battery development facility

Ford's new facility will house battery research and development.

Ford

Ford is in the news again for its electrification efforts, this time with the confirmation of a Michigan location for a new battery research and development facility in Romulus, Michigan. The facility may eventually help Ford in-source much of its EV supply chain, a shift that could prevent or mitigate the challenges presented by parts and technology shortages.

As part of its electrification initiative, the automaker plans to build a new research and development facility, called Ford Ion Park. The facility will house new tech research, pilot programs for new manufacturing techniques, and will help give Ford more control over its supply chain.


Ford Ion Park Once complete, the facility will initially house 200 engineers.Ford


The price tag for the new facility and related efforts lands at $185 million, which sounds like chump change for a global automaker until we consider that Ford has committed $30 billion to electrification by 2025. The automaker says that its new facility renews its dedication to Michigan as its home base for EV development, a promise it originally made back in 2010. The company's new electric F-150 Lightning pickup truck will be built in Dearborn, which will add 500 jobs. An additional 225 jobs will be retained at Ford's Dyke Electric Powertrain Center.

As part of Phase One of the project, Ford plans to hire 200 engineers within 18 months of the 270,000-square-foot facility's opening. Ironically, the site was previously owned by A123 Systems, a battery manufacturer that closed the facility in 2017 due to low demand for batteries.


Ford Ion Park Ford has committed $185 million to the new facility and related efforts.Ford

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New SUV Review

2021 Ford Bronco review: Return of a legend

Several of the Bronco's body panels are removable.

Ford

Ford says its 2021 Bronco is 'Built Wild' like its wild-horse namesake and, as this iconic model returns to the U.S. market after a 25-year hiatus, it's ready to gallop to glory once again. Released from the Ford stables in 1965, the Bronco was America's first-ever "sport ute" and heralded as the first "4WD sports car" with both off-road capability and on-road competency; it was also dubbed the "G.O.A.T." (goes over any terrain). The all-new model is reincarnated as a modern-day midsize SUV with heritage-inspired styling; rugged engineering; and a collection of smart technologies for the backcountry and four-wheeling, as well as for a smoothish ride around town and on the highway. It marries the tough attributes of Ford's F-Series trucks with a fully-boxed steel-ladder frame and advanced 4WD systems to the performance spirit of the Mustang—and, once again, is nicknamed G.O.A.T! Larger than its stablemate, the Bronco Sport competes with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee, while the Bronco is a direct competitor to the Jeep Wrangler. It goes on sale this summer starting at $29,995

Bronco Trims and Configurations


2021 Ford Bronco Two- and four-door versions of the Bronco are available.Ford


The new Bronco comes in 4WD only, and is available in a two-door version that seats four people or a four-door model with room for five, plus hard-top and soft-top options. There are two engine choices: A turbocharged 2.3-liter I-4 that offers up to 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque (best-in-class) is standard. It pairs with either a 10-speed auto or a 7-speed manual. The optional engine is a 2.7-liter V6 with a twin turbo that produces 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, which is also best-in-class. The V6 is available only with the ten-speed automatic transmission.

The manual transmission has six traditional gears, plus a "crawler gear" that has a best-in-class gear ratio of 94.75:1. There are seven Bronco models that include Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and a limited First Edition that quickly sold out when order banks opened.

Bronco Features and Styling

The Bronco comes in a staggering number of exclusive color combinations that vary between models. The highly configurable off-roader is designed for both novice and hard-core 4WD experts, with easily removable roof panels, bumper sections and doors that can be stored in the trunk.

Though all-new, the latest Bronco takes its design cues from the proportions, square, boxy looks and flat sides of the original model. Large, open wheel wells are amplified by removeable bolt-on front and rear fenders, while the Bronco's fender flares sport quick-release fasteners to help with customization. Interior appointments vary by model but are designed to appeal to the heart and lifestyle of weekend warriors and 4WD adventurers with durable, with waterproof surfaces, an off-road performance app, and an available 12-inch LCD touchscreen paired with Ford's SYNC4 system touchscreen (an 8-inch is standard), among other communication and audio features. A 12-volt hook-up and USB power connections are at-the-ready to mount cameras, navigation units, phones or other devices.

Bronco First Drive Impressions


2021 Ford Bronco Several color combinations are available with various Bronco trims.Ford


We tried out 5 different models during our test drive that began in the urban environment of Austin, TX and took us to Ford's first Off Roadeo 4WD playground in Marble Falls. Our road-going drive was in a 2-door Outer Banks model with the manual transmission. On the plus side, the manual shifts smoothly, and we had the opportunity to use the crawler gear at a local boat launch. On a steep uphill over loose-surface terrain-we found it suitably impressive.

In general, there was good power, plenty of torque, and competent steering that carved the twisty roads with ease. The Bronco offers surprisingly smooth braking, although we'd like the brakes to be a bit "taller" for more aggressive stopping. Notable is the quietness of the cabin and comfort of the seats. Our only complaints were seatbelts that are not height-adjustable and a couple of ergonomics complaints for our 5'2" driver (although Ford is looking into making changes for both!).

We navigated our way through three off-road courses designed by 4WD experts that included rocky terrain, muddy motoring and dirt two-track with up and downhill climbs. We were impressed with Ford's Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) modes, which allow up to seven driver-selectable settings (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, plus Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-roading). Two 4WD systems include a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case and an optional two-speed electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode for on-demand selection between 2H and 4H. A Dana 44 solid rear axle and Dana independent front differential unit are both available, as electronic locking differentials-provide more grunt. Bead-lock 17-inch wheels compliment aggressive off-road tires.

We also tested the Bronco's Trail Toolbox, which is a suite of off-road technologies that includes Trail Control (cruise control for low-speed trail driving), class-exclusive Trail Turn Assist (tightens off-road turning radiuses through torque vectoring), and Trail One-Pedal Drive (aids in acceleration/braking control for precise and confident low-speed rock crawling).

The Bronco's four-wheel-drive attributes include:

  • Up to 11.5-inches of ground clearance
  • 43.2-degree approach, 26.3-degree breakover and 37.0-degree departure angles
  • Best-in-class water fording of up to 33.5 inches (w/ optional 35-inch tires that are available on every series)
  • Steel underbody armor to protect vulnerable parts and an available front bash plate
  • Heavy-duty modular steel front bumper w/ an integrated accessory winch mount
  • Side rock rails
  • Standard front and rear tow hooks
  • Sway bar disconnect
  • A 360-degree camera system with class-exclusive off-road spotter views for additional visibility in technical off-road terrain
  • Trail sites (a styling cue from the first Broncos) on the front fenders that also serve as tie-downs with a 150-lb. capacity for securing longer items, such as canoes.

The Bronco moves with ease at both slow- and high-speeds as a result of its class-leading front and rear suspension travel with a high-performance off-road stability suspension system (HOSS). Up front is an independent front suspension set-up with a solid rear axle with long-travel coil springs; suspension systems vary by model-for instance, the Sasquatch off-road package (available on all models) and standard on Badlands is long-travel position-sensitive Bilstein dampers, with end-stop control valves that allow more articulation, reduce harshness and bring durability.


2021 Ford Bronco The Bronco can be ordered with either a hard or soft top.Ford


After years of buildup and speculation, the Ford Bronco had to be good, and for the most part it accomplishes that goal. The combination of technology and off-road prowess, combined with a mostly reasonable price tag, should be enough for the Ford to put up serious competition against the Jeep Wrangler and other off-road SUVs.

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