2021 Ford F-150 Tremor—First Drive
Photography by Ben Stewart
A decade ago, the Ford Raptor landed a knockout blow to all other 4X4s. No truck at the time or at any time before it delivered anything close to the Raptor’s capability. The Raptor helped inspire other manufacturers to go big too. And so today’s mighty Raptor with its 450 hp twin-turbo V6, long-travel suspension and beefy 35-inch or 37-inch tires, is joined by the Ram TRX. But not everyone wants or needs the Raptor’s high-speed capabilities. Plus, the Raptor’s tow capacity is capped at 8,200 lbs. That’s quite a bit lower than many other F-150s.
There are plenty of trucks that are a notch or two down from the Raptor in terms of dirt prowess but maintain their towing and hauling prowess. Ford decided it needed a few entries in this very class of truck. So, it developed the Tremor line. Ford has had good success with the Tremor packages for both the Ranger and the Super Duty. In fact, we thoroughly enjoyed our time with an F-350 Tremor (https://www.4wheelparts.com/the-dirt/test-drive-2020-ford-f-350-crew-cab-power-stroke-tremor/) last year. Well, now Ford has applied the same formula to Ford’s best-selling pickup and created an F-150 Tremor. It’s a truck that promises upgraded off-road capacity without sacrificing any of the stuff that makes a fullsize pickup so useful.
The Tremor seems like an excellent fit for many 4X4 fans. And it’s one that could be modified later with some aftermarket goodies. So we sent a note to Ford and scheduled a well-equipped $64,615 F-150 Tremor for a test drive. We piled serious miles on the Ford and put it through a mix of pavement and dirt to find out just how good it really is. Here’s a hint—it’s very good. Read on to learn more.
The F-150 is, according to Ford, “all-new” for 2021. However the truck’s strong resemblance to the 2020 model in both style and spec can’t be ignored. And although this new one is riding on a version of the chassis last made all-new back in 2015, it’s heavily upgraded for 2021. That’s no bad thing. After all the old F-150 used a fully-boxed frame and wraps the body in aluminum to save weight. The cab and wheelbases are nearly identical in terms of size. But there’s an all-new and much improved interior. In terms of the powertrain, the new F-150 adds an impressive hybrid model but carries-over most of the other engines unchanged.
The Tremor is a separate trim level for the F-150, not merely a “package” like it is on the Super Duty. And as such, it can only be optioned one way—as a SuperCrew with a (short) 5.5-foot bed. Plus, Ford’s top shelf 3.5-liter Ecoboost V6 is the only choice for Tremors. And thanks to some upgrades this year, this small displacement powerhouse delivers a solid 400 hp at 6,000 rpm and 500 lb-ft of torque at 3,100 rpm. That’s more torque than any other fullsize half-ton pickup. And it comes paired exclusively to the 10-speed automatic. The Tremor gets a version of the Raptor’s transfer case too with integrated drive modes and a 2.64:1 low range. The transfer case is tied into those modes, so for example clicking over to Mud/Ruts engages 4WD high range.
Power is split down to a Ford 8.8-inch independent front axle. And our Tremor was optioned with the $500 Torsen limited-slip differential. Money well spent. Every Tremor receives new front hub knuckles and upper control arms as well as new springs and monotube dampers with an inch more wheel travel over standard-issue F-150s. The new suspension also lifts the Tremor’s nose by about the same amount.
In the rear, The Tremor has new spring packs and twin-tube dampers. They provide an extra 1.5-inches of travel and lift. The Ford 9.75-inch solid axle is filled with 3.73:1 gears and comes standard with the company’s excellent electronic locking rear differential. Ford says the front and rear dampers were tuned for a softer low-speed ride but can firm-up over severe impacts at speed.
The Tremor uses the Raptor’s massive front skidplate, which combined with the 33-inch (275/70R18) General Grabber A/Ts and taller suspension to deliver an approach angle of 27.6 degrees, breakover angle of 21.2 degrees and departure angle of 24.3 degrees. Those are better approach and departure angles than the Ram Rebel. And we measured a generous 11 inches under the lowest point under that skidplate and almost 10 inches under the rear axle.
The Tremor carries a 7,000 lb. GVWR rating and can handle a payload of 1,885 lbs. It can also tow an incredible 10,900 lbs. That’s a much higher tow capacity than either the Rebel or even Chevrolet’s upcoming Silverado ZR2. That makes this truck nearly the perfect rig for overlanding style adventures.
On the Street
One day, automakers will realize that 4X4s designed to work off road also ride really well on the street too. In other words, all F-150s should have the suspension and tires of the Tremor. The slightly longer-than-stock travel, soft initial damping and tires with generous sidewalls translate into a very smooth ride. But it’s not so soft that the truck feels sloppy when you bend it into a corner. This is a truck we could easily drive every day. It’s way comfortable. And the Tremor is smooth on the freeway too. The Tremor tames sections that usually cause the rear suspension of most pickups to hop. In fact, the Tremor’s beefy suspension has no bad habits on the street.
Toe into the throttle and the torque-rich Ecoboost leaps away from the light. We estimate, based on tests of past 3.5-liter Ecoboost F-150s, that this one could easily reach 60 mph in less than 6 seconds. That’s very quick. Do we wish is sounded like a V8—up, yes. But aside from the V6’s soundtrack this is an excellent motor. And when you click the drive mode selector over to Sport, it absolutely rips no matter what gear the truck is in. That ten-speed works very well. The truck is hardly breaking a sweat on a freeway cruise at 70 mph. Even on the steepest highway grades, the Tremor just diesels up the hills in 9th gear with just 1,500 rpm showing on the tach.
One of the best upgrades for 2021 is the F-150’s new interior. Ours had the fold flat console shifter which allows the center console to flip into a good size desk. Very smart. Our truck had the optional 401A ($6065) equipment group which included quite a bit of tech including the 8-inch infotainment screen, heated seating, rear underseat storage and Ford’s Co-Pilot360 2.0 suite of safety tech. Opting for the next level up (but expensive) 402A package ($13,445) brings a 12-inch screen and full host of luxury touches. Our take? The 12-inch screen should be available on a lower priced package. Still, the new dash design is a major improvement and we found plenty of comfort in this Tremor.
Ford attempts to sell the Ecoboost V6 as fuel economy champ. However real world testing (both loaded and unloaded) tests have found that it’s about the same as a comparable V8. The Tremor is rated by the EPA to deliver 16 mpg city and 20 mpg on the highway. But on our mixed-use test we could only manage 15.1 mpg which isn’t great for a fullsize truck—even one with a serious off-road package.
On the Trail
The Tremor’s generous ground clearance and newfound articulation are welcome on the trail. The Tremor has just enough clearance all the way around it to make the tougher off-camber obstacles no threat to the bodywork. Plus, the Tremor has excellent grip on the loose, sandy trails around Hungry Valley SVRA. Those beefy Grabber A/Ts really work well and you can feel that Torsen limited-slip up front tug at the steering wheel as it claws at the trail, hunting for traction. This is limited-slip that really works well. The 2022 Silverado ZR2 will have a true electric locker up front but right now, no other full-size half-ton truck on the market has any front axle traction device better than the Tremor.
We were surprised at just how much more articulation the Tremor seems to have compared to a typical F-150. We didn’t have a chance to measure that flex on a ramp but when both ends of the truck were crossed up it was visually impressive. And that helped the Tremor extricate itself from sticky situations.
On our test hill climb the most difficult parts near the top with deep gullies and loose sand were no challenge to the Tremor. We chose the Rock Crawl mode in low range and activated the rear locker—it was darn near effortless. Our notes from this part of the day say it all. We wrote, “Wow is this thing good.” The front-facing camera system which engages automatically in low range is amazing, too. And we particularly like the off-road specific gauge cluster which includes an inclinometer. This specific hill maxes out at around 26 degrees. The ease at which this truck made the climb really shows what a good off-road package can do. And this one has the important features, larger and more aggressive tires, traction diffs in both axles, a great multi-mode drive system and an upgraded suspension.
Down in our familiar sand wash, we tried Normal mode and simply turned off the stability/traction control to see how the Tremor would behave. The power and torque from the Ecoboost is really impressive when it’s not hampered by electronics attempting to kill the fun. And in 2WD, the Tremor is a fish-tailing beast in the sand. But unless you’re careful, it’s easy to over-rotate and spin out. Don’t ask us how we know. Anyway, the Tremor is highly entertaining and reminiscent of its more aggressive big brother, the Raptor. However, clicking over to Sand mode is even better. That’s because instead of sliding around the sand and shooting roosts of sand, this mode engages 4WD high range and calibrates the stability control, traction control and other systems to put that power down. Translation, you can fly through the sand with excellent control. The Tremor is really a great all-around truck. Our only real complaint here is that it’s easy to spin the drive mode knob too far and go past the mode you want. Call us old-fashion but we’d prefer a small line of buttons to quickly and easily pick the right mode for the terrain.
On the rough and sandy fire road whoops section, the Tremor could maintain 20 mph through most of it which is a descent speed. But if you’re carrying just a little too much speed it’s not hard to overdrive the suspension. The Tremor doesn’t crash hard on the bumpstops like a plain-vanilla F-150 4X4, there is a bit more control at the limit. It doesn’t feel like we’re abusing the truck—or that any suspension bit is about to fail. But this high-speed terrain is where the Raptor, with its long travel suspension, would dominate the Tremor. So if the 4WD terrain near you doesn’t resemble a desert race course, the Tremor should be plenty capbl.
The Tremor walked through the deeply rutted trail section easily. Again, the Tremor’s articulation and traction worked well. And we decided to check out the Tremor’s trail tech here too. The One Pedal Drive off road cruise control system was actually smoother than us on this section. And at the top, we tried Trail Turn Assist which drags the inside rear brake to make the truck turn tighter. Wow, this is an amazing piece of tech. This long F-150 was able to nearly pirouette on its wheelbase. And later we made a turn in the space that would have required a three point turn. Too bad its buried so deep in the truck’s menu pages. Why not have a button on the dash like the Bronco does?
The Bottom Line
Overall, we were very impressed with the Tremor. It has all the tools needed to have a lot of fun in the dirt. And yet, if you need to pack heavy for an overland trip, run to the big box hardware store or tow a serious trailer, the Tremor is ready to work. The only rub is the price. The Tremor starts at just under $50,000. But trust us, you want options. And this particular test truck at nearly $65,000 isn’t a cheap truck. And coincidentally, that’s the Raptor’s base price. And if both trucks are close in cost, we might have to go for a Raptor. Of course, finding a base level Raptor is nearly impossible. And once you check all the desirable options, the Raptor can hit $80,000 quite easily. Plus, these trucks are so hot right now, many dealers are asking six figures. So from that perspective, the Tremor offers reasonable capability for the money.