Test Drive: 2020 Ford F-350 Crew Cab Power Stroke Tremor
Photography by Ford and Ben Stewart
As if there was any question: Ford remains the undisputed sales leader in fullsize pickup trucks. It’s a title the Blue Oval has had since 1977. That’s fairly astonishing. Last year, Ford found homes for 896,526 of them. And somewhere between 40 and 45 percent of that number (the company doesn’t break out exact figures) are Super Duty pickup trucks that range in capability from the F-250 to F-450. The thing that may ensure a repeat for a 43rd. straight year—there’s an updated Super Duty for 2020.
The ‘20 Super Duty isn’t an all-new rig. But there are some substantial upgrades like a muscled-up Power Stroke diesel with class-leading torque, a fresh 7.3-liter gas V8 option and perhaps best of all—a new Tremor off-road package. The Tremor package can be optioned on gas or diesel Super Duty trucks in XLT, Lariat, King Ranch and Platinum trims in both the F-250 and F-350. The parts group includes a taller suspension, traction-adding diffs in both axles and 35-inch tires. Excited? Us too. That’s because it means for the very first time, the Power Wagon will finally have a little competition. But there’s one big difference. Instead offering a single gasoline V8 powertrain like the Ram, the Tremor can be optioned with a diesel for maximum towing capability.
The Tremor is an exciting package not only because it wages war with the Power Wagon but also because this tall truck is essentially an homage to Ford’s hyper-cool “High Boy” rigs of the 1970s. And we couldn’t wait to get some seat time in this 21st century High Boy. So, when the call came in—we jumped. Our turbo-diesel powered Rapid Red F-350 4X4 Crew Cab King Ranch Tremor costs $83,690. And that qualifies it as the most expensive pickup we’ve ever tested. The last Super Duty diesel we spent time in, a 2017 Platinum model, cost $77,505. And the Tremor’s main competition, the Power Wagon stickered for $67,220 when we drove one a year ago. Despite that very steep pricetag, we weren’t afraid to get this beast dirty and hit the road on our 300-mile mix of street and trail driving, including some time exploring Hungry Valley SVRA in Gorman, CA. Let’s find out how it fared.
Much of the old Super Duty remains for 2020 and that’s no bad thing. Remember, the 2017 full redesign of the ‘Duty was the first since 1999 and it was extensive. The update included the truck’s massive fully-boxed frame that’s 24 times stiffer than the old one and uses beefy 1.5-inch taller frame rails. And even though 95 percent of the frame is built with high strength steel, it still weighs about 100 pounds more than the frame under an older Super Duty. Yes, this is one very stout foundation.
And hanging from the frame are some hefty axles too. The Tremor uses the same axles as the standard F-250 and F-350. Out back is a Dana M275 rear axle (unique to single rear wheel F-350s) with a 10.8-inch ring gear and 1.54-inch axle shafts with 36 splines. And as part of the Tremor package, Ford includes the same electronic locking rear differential that’s also a part of the FX4 off-road package. The rear springs are conventional Super Duty leaf packs here. But the Tremor equipment includes new twin-tube dampers, which are tuned for a smoother ride and have large 1.7-inch pistons. Ford says they can provide extra damping force when speed increases and suspension nears the end of its compression travel.
The front axle is a Dana Super 60 that now, for the very first time, has limited-slip differential boosting traction to the tires. That diff is a Spicer Trac-Lok specially developed for the Tremor. It’s been designed with a lower “torque to rotate” according to Dana, so it should react more quickly. It also uses carbon composite clutch plates. The suspension uses the familiar radius arm design but adds new coil springs that are one-inch taller than those on a conventional Super Duty. And Ford uses those new twin-tube dampers at each corner up front too. There’s also a smaller diameter (24 mm vs the standard F-350’s 28 mm) front swaybar to help free up some front axle articulation. The new suspension helps clear 35-inch, 285/75R18 Goodyear Wrangler Dura Trac tires (one-inch taller than those on a conventional Super Duty 4X4) mounted on low-gloss black wheels. These are the tallest tires fitted to any stock fullsize pickup truck.
Besides this sweet collection of parts, the $3975 Tremor package (option code 17Y) also includes a re-sculpted front air dam to provide extra clearance and a more favorable approach angle as well as skid plates for the transfer case and fuel tank. To boost water fording capability, Ford includes extended vent tubes for the transfer case and axles. That allows the Tremor a maximum water fording depth of nearly three feet. To further aid off-road capability, the Tremor adds a Rock Crawl drive “mode” to complement the standard Normal, Tow/Haul, Eco, Slippery, Deep Snow/Sand modes in the transmission. Rock Crawl alters the throttle pedal to be less sensitive and includes unique transmission tuning to reduce the chances of an upshift in a precarious situation. Basically, it locks the transmission in gear. Like other Super Dutys, the Tremor receives Trail Control, which functions like an off-road cruise control. Special off-road running boards are included but our truck had the even better power retracting units. A 12,000-lb. Warn winch is offered as an option through Ford Performance Parts and can be dealer-installed.
The smart thing about the Tremor is that it provides all this off-road equipment while also allowing buyers the choice of a diesel engine to maintain the Super Duty’s hauling and towing capability. Although Ford has an all-new optional 7.3-liter gas V8 with 430 hp and 475 lb-ft of torque (the old 6.2-liter V8 is the F-250 base engine) our truck had the Power Stroke.
The revised 6.7-liter turbo-diesel V8 cranks out a stunning 475 hp at 2,800 rpm and a class leading 1,050 lb-ft of torque down at 1,600 rpm. That’s 35 hp and 125 lb-ft of torque more than the last Power Stroke we tested three years ago. The updated engine uses a new 35,000 psi fuel injection system with new injectors, a redesigned variable-geometry turbo with improved throttle response, structural enhancements to the block and heads as well as internal components to handle increased stress. The big diesel is paired to a 10-speed automatic with a 4.615:1 First gear and overdrives in the last three gears. Ford says it only weighs 3.5 lbs. more than the old six-speed. The electronically controlled, rotary knob activated transfer case employs 2.69:1 low range gears and thanks to a 3.55:1 axle ratio, our Tremor had a crawl ratio of 44:1.
The massive F-350 came equipped with a 10,000 pound GVWR and at our local scales weighed-in at 7,820 lbs. And this monster is rated to handle a payload of 2,008 lbs. and tow 15,000 lbs. with a conventional hitch or 21,900 lbs. with a Gooseneck. That’s a solid jump over the Power Wagon which is rated to carry a 1,165 lb. payload and can only tow 10,620 lbs.
On the Street
The powertrain of this 2020 Super Duty was a shocker. Even with all the off-road hardware and heavy King Ranch option package—this is one very quick truck. Right off the line, it takes a half a beat before the Power Stroke hammers you with a wallop of horsepower and torque. It’s fun to be cruising at say 40 mph and then flat-foot the throttle. This Super Duty will shock other drivers out of their boots with its speed. The ten-speed drops one, two or several gears quickly to get the job done. And in the time we had it, the ten-speed performed flawlessly. This powertrain is so potent that it could easily spin a larger tire size and still maintain descent performance. Forties? Yep…probably not a problem. This is a great engine and transmission combination. Okay at $10,495 it is very expensive. We haven’t had a chance to test the new gas 7.3-liter V8. It’s probably excellent too but the torque of this Power Stroke is so intoxicating. It makes the truck’s nearly 4-ton heft melt away.
This is an F-350 with a ton of payload capacity but even running around town with an empty bed, the ride was totally acceptable. A Power Wagon is probably a bit plusher but not so much that it would keep us from this truck if heavy hauling ability was paramount. The Tremor’s large tires probably help smooth roads that would otherwise be quite a bit rougher in a standard F-350. However, if it were our truck we’d drop some air pressure in those rear tires for daily driving to take the edge off the bumps. On the freeway, this rig definitely had a tendency to buck over certain sections. Still, our driving partner mentioned that this truck rides better than the heavy-duty GMC 2500 AT4 we last tested on this route a few months ago. But one area where the Tremor does not better that GMC is in the steering.
Our rig was equipped with the $1,000 adaptive steering system which automatically manipulates the steering ratio to reduce the input needed at slow speeds and reduce sensitivity at highways speeds. On other trucks, we’ve liked this system. But for some reason (perhaps the larger more aggressive tires) on the Tremor that lack of sensitivity on the highway had us making frequent steering corrections.
The environment in the cab was serene at highway speeds. Even with the big diesel and aggressive tires, the Super Duty is quiet. Part of the reason? It almost never needs to downshift to wake that big engine up. No matter the severity of the freeway grade, our huge pickup sat right at 1,600 rpm to maintain 70 mph the entire time. Even toeing into the throttle a bit to pass, required only one downshift but delivered a huge wave of torque that swings the speedometer needle to the right more quickly than any heavy-duty pickup we’ve driven this year. Yes, it’s a beast even when you don’t flat-foot the right pedal. The transmission’s grade braking combined with the exhaust brake really slowed us down on the downhill sections of our route too.
The F-350’s cabin remains largely the same as last year’s truck. And that’s no bad thing. The knobs, switches and materials Super Duty look and feel purposeful. And our King Ranch was packed with luxury touches including comfy 10-way power heated and cooled leather seats, power telescoping tow mirrors and an 8-inch touchscreen loaded with a 4G Wi-Fi hotspot, Sync3 and a B&O 10 speaker sound system. Our rig also had Ford’s smart Pro Trailer Backup Assist (a small knob that allows you to steer the tires in the direction you want the trailer to move). Climb into that Crew Cab’s back seat and there’s an incredible amount of legroom. Two kids can ride back there and parents can load the floor space and middle seat are with a surprising amount of gear.
A truck as large as an F-350 Crew Cab 4X4 riding on 35-inch tires has a tough time delivering good fuel economy. This monster returned 16.6 mpg on our trek. That’s slightly worse than the 18 mpg we saw in the new GMC 2500 AT4 Duramax—a truck wearing shorter tires with a more street-friendly tread. But the Tremor’s fuel economy is basically the same as the F-250 Platinum diesel we tested three years ago, which delivered 16.4 mpg over the same route. And that’s impressive considering the Tremor’s added ride height and the drag of those large tires.
On the Trail
Since the very first Super Duty was launched back in 1999, we’ve been waiting for a more hardcore off-road package. It’s surprising that it took Ford this long to build one, considering the popularity of the truck amongst 4WD enthusiasts. But this is not one of those 4X4s that can float around in the dirt effortlessly in 2WD. No, this is a heavy rig that exerts quite a bit of contact pressure through those Goodyears. The fairly stiff suspension, stiff sidewalls and mega torque from the diesel makes the tires spin and the dirt just crumble away from underneath the Tremor. So, in 2WD—it just spins the tires and doesn’t go far unless you use a little momentum.
The same is true in the deep sand. And once those rear tires break traction, the Tremor really bucks from the cab-shaking axle wrap. Click over to 4WD High and most of that axle hop is toned down. But still, a four-ton heavy-duty pickup just isn’t happy playing in the sand. And this one had a very hard time translating the diesel’s power and torque into speed.
The story was different on the fire roads around the park. The suppleness of the suspension was downright excellent as we hit the berms and whoops at a moderate speed (for a stock truck). We expected the F-350 to bottom out hard on a few bumps, especially since it has that heavy diesel engine up front, but that wasn’t the case. It driver like a much lighter truck on these roads and Ford has done a nice job with the suspension.
The Tremor does an admirable job negotiating slow speed obstacles too. The front suspension may not have a disconnecting swaybar like the Power Wagon, but the improved articulation here is noticeable. The front axle has quite a bit of twist. And when locked in Low range with the rear axle locked, the Tremor crawled through rough trail sections that would halt a normal Super Duty.
We measured 10.25-inches of ground clearance under the front pumpkin and 10-inches beneath the rear axle. We never touched bottom of either one during our time on the trail (although we did notice some scrapings from other tester’s outings). However, this is a very long truck, so crawling it through aggressive V-notches and over rocky fields requires a little spotting to make sure the areas under the doors remain dent-free. The same goes for the tailpipe. It’s not hard to feel confident with the Tremor’s abilities. It’s a case of a more capable truck encouraging the driver to try more challenging terrain. And even the Tremor’s impressive approach and departure angles sometimes don’t cut it. In other words, yes, we scraped the front fender lip slightly. Sorry Ford.
On our mogul field test area, the Tremor walked up elegantly with the rear locker engaged. We tried it with the rear axle “open”, and there was quite a bit of wheel spin as the traction control system tried to manage torque. In both cases, the front axle does the majority of the heavy lifting when it comes to articulation, as the rear suspension is basically stock Super Duty. A Power Wagon has more twist in both axles. It also has a real locker in the front axle. The Tremor’s limited slip worked and it’s good to have that additional traction “on” all the time. But even this enhanced Trac-Lok can’t beat a real locking diff. And there was more tire slip up front than a real locker would allow.
There’s one hill we always take our most capable test rigs. And we headed there with the Tremor too. Our first attempt we tried to crawl the hill as slowly as possible to really test the traction of this package. So, we shifted the transmission into the Rock Crawl mode, which kept First gear from upshifting and gave us a more progressive throttle. The Tremor idled its way up confidently but lost traction in the front axle in the last few feet of the hill—and no amount of sawing the wheel or additional throttle helped. Still, very impressive considering the rear axle was unlocked. To crest the hill on the second try we simply upped the revs to about 1,500 rpm which allowed the slightest bit of momentum and wheel speed to crest the hill. The truck really works well in the dirt.
The Bottom Line
So, does the new Tremor deliver a knockout punch to the Power Wagon in the dirt? Not from what we experienced. Under most circumstances the Power Wagon is the better stock 4X4. Still, the Tremor is an excellent package and one we’d be happy to live with if we needed a 4X4 fullsize truck to work just as hard on pavement as it does off. And it’s great to have a factory-backed and waranteed 4WD package.
But we wondered, could the Tremor package ($3,975) be nearly duplicated in the aftermarket for less money on https://www.4wheelparts.com? Well, to get there we’d first build our imaginary Super Duty with the factory locking rear diff. That costs about $400 from Ford. Then we’d pick up a 2-inch Bilstein leveling kit with shocks. That will run you $608 plus another $200 for matching rear shocks. Then we’d add four 285/75R18 Nitto Trail Grappler M/Ts mounted on stock wheels for $1,519.96. A Trac-Lok for a Dana 60 is about $650 too. The grand total? $3,377.96. But that’s without any installation. It also leaves out Rock Crawl mode in the transmission and any skid plates. Still, you’re saving about $600 by purchasing the basic items through the aftermarket. But then you’d still need to have them installed (by you or someone else) which would likely wipe away at least some of that savings. So, if the plan is to build a mild Super Duty on 35-inch tires the numbers on the Tremor package work out to be a good deal.