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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Motul has released a new line of lubricants for "rad" era vehicles.

Photo courtesy of Motul

Motul has been around for 168 years, far longer than automobiles. The new Classic Line of lubricants have been specifically formulated for cars slightly newer, those that are members of the "rad" era. Motul's Classic Line features oils, detergents, and additives that the company has engineered to enhance the performance of older powertrains while offering improved protection.

Each Classic Line lubricant features an additive package with high-zinc (ZDDP) and molybdenum (moly) for reduced friction and increased power. Synthetic base oils and adapted detergent levels of each formulation are suited for metals and gasket materials that are common of the era of vehicle manufacturing. Advanced additives ensure that the lubricants meet or exceed American Petroleum Institute (API) standards.

Motul Eighties 10W30 Motul's Eighties formulation is made for forced induction engine vehicles.Photo courtesy of Motul

The Classic Line's products have high-adhesion properties that are designed to provide excellent cold flow properties to prevent engine wear during start-ups and to coat and protect engine internals and running gear during the periods of prolonged storage that collector vehicles often experience.

Motul Modern Classic Eighties 10W40 meets the needs of forced induction engines while Modern Classic Nineties 10W30 was designed for the demands of high-revving engines with more modern valvetrains. Both Modern Classic oils are the first products to offer high ZDDP and moly for "rad" era collector cars from these two decades.

To get the new 2100 Classic Oil 15W50, Motul revised its 2100 oil to better lubricate and protect naturally aspirated and forced induction engines with flat tappet cams common to the vehicles in the 1970s and beyond.

Motul Classic 10W50 Classic vehicles have different needs and their lubricants have a different formation than Eighties and Nineties branded oils.Photo courtesy of Motul

Classic Oil 20W50 is designed for hot rods, muscle cars, and collector vehicles, and uses additive packages fortified with ~1,800 ppm of ZDDP. According to Motul, this oil provides "improved protection for flat tappet or high-lift cams and high-performance engines with tighter tolerances and older elastomer gaskets; the medium detergent level also makes Classic Oil 20W50 an appropriate break-in oil for newly refurbished engines".

Straight-weight Classic Oil SAE 30 and SAE 50 are mineral monograde engine oils with low detergent levels, blended specifically for gasoline or diesel four-stroke engines generally produced before 1950.

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The Tahoe has three available powertrains.

Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

When I write car reviews, I don't typically say very much about the engine and drivetrain unless there's something particularly interesting or unique about it.

I believe most car buyers don't really care about things like zero to 60 mph times or how many gears a transmission has. Those are features and statistics, and they're an imperfect measurement of an automobile.

I'm a fan of the Good-Better-Best school of cars, and it looks a bit like a bell curve. There aren't any genuinely terrible new cars sold today, so at worst, you're getting something that's Good. I'll call that the bottom 20 percent of the market. Sometimes these cars have engines that really are too weak and should probably be avoided, and I'll mention that in my review.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel-powered versions of the Tahoe look just like gasoline-powered Tahoes.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

Then there's the class of Better, or the middle 60 percent. When I review these cars, I'll include a throwaway line about the engine or drivetrain as it's not worth mentioning in depth. They get the job done, but there's nothing to get excited about.

Then there's that top twenty percent where the magic happens. Whether it's the perfect majesty of a Rolls-Royce V12, the throaty bark of a Lamborghini V10, or even the brilliance of a Toyota Corolla Hybrid's effortless 52 miles per gallon — these are engines worth discussing.

And so it is again with my test car this week: the 2021 Chevrolet Tahoe. We've already reviewed two of the Tahoe's sister vehicles, the GMC Yukon and the Cadillac Escalade. Despite being from the same family, they're definitively different branches.

But under the hood of the Tahoe is an engine that is so firmly lodged in the Best category that I can't help but write hundreds of words about it. It's the 3.0-liter six-cylinder "baby" Duramax turbodiesel that was in the works at GM for more than a decade.

It gives terrific fuel economy (for a giant truck, anyway) and fantastic torque in everyday driving. I find it far preferable to the extraordinarily thirsty 6.2-liter V8 that I had in the Yukon and the Escalade and heartily recommend it to anyone buying a GM full-size SUV or half-ton pickup. That's even more impressive because the 6.2-liter V8 is already an upgrade over the smaller 5.3-liter V8 that comes standard in most Tahoe trims.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel The engine is a mighty six-cylinder.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

It sports 277 horsepower, which doesn't sound like a lot, but horsepower is a poor quantifier of engine performance. Because it's a diesel and because it has a turbocharger, the baby Duramax has gobs of torque with which to pull away from stoplights or accelerate on a hill, or when you're trying to pass someone and you need to accelerate from 55 to 75 mph as quickly as possible.

The Tahoe's diesel engine excels in all these scenarios while delivering an EPA-estimated 21 mpg in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg combined in the RWD trim that I drove. That's a healthy improvement over the 16 mpg combined from the 6.2L and four-wheel drive-equipped Yukon. It's worth noting that the four-wheel drive diesel fares a little worse, getting 22 mpg combined, but that's still far better than the traditional gasoline engine.

It does all this, and it can even tow up to 8,200 pounds when properly equipped, but most people will never tow anything heavier than a small horse trailer or a boat with their full-size SUV. If you're hauling that much weight on the regular, you've likely opted for a heavy-duty pickup.

The irony of the Volkswagen dieselgate scandal is twofold. For one, some were pulling similar testing shenanigans that Volkswagen was — it's just that VW was the first to get caught. And second, those VW diesel engines were fantastic. They were torquey and excelled in everyday driving, pesky pollution aside.

2021 Chevrolet Tahoe Duramax Diesel Diesel Tahoes are branded with the Duramax name.Photo courtesy of Chevrolet

There's a dirty secret to the horsepower numbers that most carmakers cite: they peak at very high RPMs that average drivers will never reach. But torquey turbocharged engines like this baby Duramax? It generates 95% of its 460 pound-feet of torque at just 1,250 RPM, and then peak torque runs all the way from 1,500 to 3,000 RPM. That means you're in the prime torque band nearly continuously.

In plain English, that means it's way better to drive. It's more fun, it's more efficient, and thanks to all manner of fancy technology, diesel engines aren't weird and finicky anymore.

Yes, you should probably plug it in if you park it outside in frigid weather. But other than that one minor caveat, this diesel is nonpareil.

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