In the middle of the Arizona desert, we pointed our F-250 Tremor Super Duty to the base of a monster dirt-hill climb with only the sky peering over the drop. Dropping into 4 low, engaging the rear locker, crossing fingers and putting the throttle down spurred the 7.3L V8 “Godzilla” naturally aspirated engine to spring to life putting all 475 lb-ft of torque into the job. Climbing up the hill, the long crew cab, nearly 6.75′ bed barely clears without bottoming out the hitch, thanks to the improved 24.51 departure angle, as the massive truck effortlessly begins the climb to the top. Engaging the front camera and 360 view on the 8″ Sync 3 infotainment screen, we can see the crest of the hill and peer over the edge to what lays beyond. As we crest over the hill, it is quite clear, this feat isn’t anything a stock Super Duty would even consider attempting.
While one could argue the new 2020 Super Duty trucks are just a mild refresh, the new off-road package and new and improved powertrain choices represent a big change. Ford brought us out to the Arizona desert to play in the dirt and mud with their new Tremor package as well as sending us off down the road to tow with both the new 7.3L V8 engine and the 3rd generation 6.7L Power Stroke diesel putting 1,050 ft-lbs of torque down moving up to 37,000 lbs of towing. These engines are joined by the stock 6.2L V8 and are all mated to a new Ford-designed, 10-speed heavy-duty TorqShift automatic transmission. Sorry manual fans, no stick option here.
These engines are just part of the story for the new 2020 model which features a slight upgrade to the front-end design with a new front bumper, air dam for better cooling, new LED headlamps for 20 percent better visibility and a revised rear tailgate, bumper and taillamps rounding out the list.
Inside the cabin, the small list of changes includes updated interior materials like the Onyx Argento wood on the doors and media bin door for the Platinum. The Limited model is completely refreshed with new Ebony and Highland Tan colors aimed at being more modern. These colors are complemented with genuine leather and a coarse ash wood in black and modern brushed aluminum trim materials for the Limited trim.
Arguably the biggest change is the Tremor package. This new package is aimed squarely at the Ram Power Wagon’s dominance in the heavy-duty off-road segment with putting Ford’s own spin on it. For example, Ford is going to offer the Tremor in both its 7.3L V8 gas as well as its 6.7L Power Stroke diesel (SRW, not dually) as well as nearly all its trims from XLT through Platinum in both F-250 and F-350. Basically, you can’t get the Tremor in the lowest XL trim nor the highest Limited trim. It is also only available in the crew cab, 6.75′ box trucks.
This package takes a stock Super Duty, trims the air dam down, adds Ford’s inhouse designed 1.7″ piston twin-tube dampers with a large oil volume to keep heat down and are tuned for soft damping for low speeds while providing more control over more several impacts. Ford says their internal hydraulic rebound will help soften the blow from the hardest hits.
Tremor also utilizes a locking rear differential by pulling the shift-on-the-fly 4×4 dial outward combined with a limited-slip front differential.
These improvements along with 35″ Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires mounted on a set of unique 18″ matte-finished black wheels along with a 2-inch front-end lift and the aforementioned shortened front air dam, give the truck an impressive 10.8″ of ground clearance, 33″ of water fording and 31.65 degrees of approach angle with 24.51 degrees of departure angle. In other words, it sits higher, has better off-road equipment for rolling over objects and can go places other Super Duty trucks simply can’t go.
Plus, just announced before we arrived, the Super Duty will be offered with a new 12,000-lb Warn winch with a remote control mounted into the bumper. This will be a factory install option, done at Ford’s upfit facility outside of the plant, but also available to customers through a dealer as long as they have the new bumper and right electronic hardware.
Finally, Ford has bestowed its Trail Control feature on the Tremor allowing for what is basically off-road cruise control as well as back-up trailer assist on all of its Super Duty lineup.
The back-up trailer assist system removes the need to spin the steering wheel in opposite directions while backing up the trailer, instead you manually control a dial making the trailer back-up process, especially with a 5th wheel camper, mostly effortless.
On and Off the Road
During our day behind the wheel of both the new Ford Tremor off-road, on-road and with a F-250 powered by the 7.3L V8 towing, the new Super Duty trucks are simply impressive. This is especially the case with the 7.3L V8 which was our main focus of this trip. With Ford’s consistent push towards small displacement turbocharged engines, we were really curious about this naturally aspirated engine. Could it provide enough power off the line to make us not wonder if a turbo would be better? Would it have enough power for tackling off-road conditions? What are the benefits of having this engine? We learned a lot.
First, the torque curve of the 7.3L V8 translates into delivering the 475 lb-ft of max torque at just 4,000 RPMs and combined with the 430 horsepower at 5,500 RPMs, the truck effortlessly gets moving and quickly. Frankly, in the crew cab F-250 with the 6.75′ bed, we expected more lag since we were moving over 6,000 lbs and shockingly it had zero problems. Off the line, on the on-ramp, passing other vehicles, the 7.3L V8 made fools of us thinking we would be better off with a turbo. In fact, it really didn’t need any help at all with the empty bed and no trailer.
On the off-road, we expected an even greater challenge with many of the obstacles Ford built at a working quarry. Really. Ford was able to build an off-road obstacle course inside a working quarry. Nothing nails down the idea that “Ford Owns Work,” by literally playing with trucks next to trucks, loaders and bulldozers doing work.
Anyway, facing many steep inclines, descents and twisted parts of the course aimed at showing off the wheel articulation capability even without a disconnecting front sway bar like the Power Wagon comes with nor a front locker, the Tremor packaged F-250 and Godzilla made short work of the course. While certainly setup to make the truck look its best, it is hard to argue with the results. The truck powered up the climbs with ease while the Trail Control utilized the 10-speed transmission and brakes to glide ever so slowly (if we wanted, the speeds go from 1-20 MPH) down the back side of this massive climbs. Through the twisted rock bed, a tire may leave the earth for a minute, while the powertrain had more than enough torque to keep the other wheels climbing forward. Through the water and up another hill, the Tremor’s many skid plates, tires and the powertrain made us wonder, “Power Wagon who?”
Towing with Godzilla
While off-road is one thing, we wondered how the new engine would do towing. As someone who has towed many times with the 6.7L V8 turbo diesel and is well aware of how little discern it would have over pulling 37,000 lbs up a 4 percent grade, we opted to focus our time behind the wheel of the gasser.
Gas engines, as most people who tow know, are simply a different driving experience loaded down versus diesel. Will they tow the load? Absolutely. Is it the same experience as diesel? Absolutely not. However, changing fuel prices, diesel engine up-charge and higher maintenance costs drive people to consider gas engines especially if occasionally towing.
With this in mind, we hopped behind the wheel of a 28-foot cattle trailer with about 9,000 lbs of weight, well within the max towing of 15,000 lbs. Putting it into tow/haul mode, thereby adjusting the shift points of the 10-speed transmission, moving the mirrors and buckling the seat belt, we cautiously got the truck moving around a short bend before making a right turn up into the nearby mountain-like pass. The plan was to climb up this grade for more than a few miles, turn around and repeat as we liked.
As we turned, we slowly put our foot down getting the more than 20,000 lbs GCWR load moving down the highway with its 65 MPH speed limit. Easing into the throttle, the truck sprang to life pushing the truck forward effortlessly to our destination.
Moving from the flat ground to the hilly climb, the truck provided a smooth driving experience albeit not like the monstrous Power Stroke diesel provides. Instead, it was a more cautious towing experience understanding what gear we were in, how much throttle we had left and what are speed was. Did it struggle? Heck no, we just paid more attention than we would have versus the diesel. Cresting the hill and turning back to the staging area, we fumbled through the settings on the instrument panel searching for a MPG – the large tradeoff from gas to diesel for towing. The telltale gauge returned a paltry 7 MPG, however, we would need more testing to really verify the accuracy of this number.
After a day of playing in the dirt and towing, we pointed our truck back the hotel. Watching the fuel economy screen again, we saw numbers fluctuate into the mid teens while empty cruising at highway speeds. While there are those who expect every truck to return amazing fuel economy versus their old trucks, we see this an improvement over past generations albeit not a wow moment. Rather this is incremental improvements for a vehicle that is essentially a box on wheels. In other words, if you are expecting 5-10 MPG improvements over the prior generation of Super Duty trucks, you just aren’t rooted in reality on what these trucks are capable of.
Do we have some concerns about the new Super Duty trucks? Sure, price is always a concern with the starting price seemingly reasonable at $33k, however, this price jumps up quickly to the $70k mark. Ride quality? Finally, while Ford has done a lot to improve the ride quality of the Tremor, it is still an off-road truck with meaty off-road tires and it rides as expected although without, we should point out, suffering any loss in payload and towing capacity (again, another swipe at the Power Wagon). It is a give and a take, but, in our view, it is well worth trading some rough ride for keeping the capability.