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Ford Ranger Tremor vs. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro: Off-Road Truck Throwdown

Ford Ranger Tremor vs. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro: Off-Road Truck Throwdown

Can this newly beefed-up Ranger take down the tried-and-true Tacoma?

  • Tremor package adds impressive off-road chops at an affordable price
  • 10 forward gears > 6 forward gears
  • Aging Tacoma stills packs charm, capability in equal measure

The 2021 Ford Ranger Tremor is what Ford calls the most off-road-ready Ranger you can get new from the dealer. We figured the best way to measure that off-road readiness was to line it up with the 2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro, the most off-road ready Tacoma you can get from the dealer.

So it's Ranger Tremor vs. Tacoma TRD Pro. Both of these 4WD trucks pack upgraded Fox shocks, lifted suspensions, locking rear differentials, all-terrain tires and similar as-tested prices. How does the newly upgraded Ranger stack up against the long-time favorite Tacoma when the road ends? Read this off-road Ranger vs. Tacoma comparison to find out.

Jump to compare: Price | Interior & Tech | Under the Hood | Behind the Wheel | The Verdict: Edmunds Say

Price Comparison: Ford Ranger Tremor vs. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

The Ranger has a big advantage when it comes to value. The $4,290 Tremor package is available on both midlevel XLT ($35,940, destination included) and top-line Lariat ($39,980) trim levels, so you don't have to buy the most expensive Ranger to get all the off-road goodies. Our Lariat test truck had a few options on it, including adaptive cruise control and an upgraded sound system. It totaled $47,630.

Because the TRD Pro is a trim level, you have to spend approximately $45,000 to start. And that's with a six-speed manual transmission — adding the automatic brings your entry fee to $47,875. On the other hand, the Tacoma is fully equipped at this price with navigation and adaptive cruise. Our test truck came outfitted with a few dealer-installed accessories, and its as-tested price was $50,545.

Ranger vs. Tacoma value winner? Ranger.

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Suspension.

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Suspension.

Interior & Tech: Ford Ranger Tremor vs. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

The Ranger Lariat's upgraded materials and remarkably powerful heated seats make for an interior that feels more premium than the Tacoma's. The center touchscreen reacts quickly to inputs, and the off-road drive modes and low-speed cruise control are both effective and smooth in application. The downsides are fewer interior storage options throughout the cabin and the lack of a 60/40-split folding rear seat, which is a real head-scratcher. The Tremor package adds a pod housing six auxiliary switches that support aftermarket accessories like lights and winches, a welcome addition to adventure hobbyists.

The Tacoma's interior and tech look and feel unsophisticated in comparison, yet like the Ford, the center screen supports modern conveniences such as Android Auto and Apple CarPlay smartphone integration. The TRD Pro also features forward- and side-facing cameras that take the guesswork out of where the trail goes after you climb the hill. The image may be grainy, but it's a helpful tool. The off-road crawl control and terrain select systems are effective in exerting maximum traction to the ground, but they sound crude in application with the ABS clunking away like the bassline in an '80s retro wave track.

The Tacoma has an abundance of storage options, especially with regard to cupholders, and a 60/40-split back seat. But the lack of rear legroom and absence of USB ports mean little comfort for rear passengers. The funky driving position places your legs up higher, and it's an acquired taste.

Toyota Tacoma vs. Ford Ranger interior winner? Ranger.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor - Rear 3/4.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor - Rear 3/4.

Under the Hood: Ford Ranger Tremor vs. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

Ford's combo of a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and 10-speed automatic transmission is a winner. The engine provides an ample 270 horsepower and a significant 310 lb-ft of torque, while the transmission's gear spread gives that output more room to flex. The result is superior acceleration and EPA fuel economy estimates of 19 mpg combined. The 10-speed also has a short (numerically higher) first gear, which in low-range gives the Ford Ranger Tremor a superior 47.6:1 crawl ratio that's amplified by the additional torque. Another benefit is that turbocharged engines are less affected by altitude than naturally aspirated engines. Not only that, but you can get a power upgrade as an accessory from Ford should you desire a bit more oomph. There's lots to like here.

Toyota's 3.5-liter V6 remains a stout workhorse with 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, but it's let down by an aging six-speed automatic transmission. Because there are fewer gears, you don't get the same ratio spread. Predictably, the Tacoma is slower, less fuel-efficient (18 mpg combined), and has a lower 36.2:1 crawl ratio with the automatic transmission. Though outshined in numbers, the TRD Pro is nevertheless effective and trustworthy. Toyota also gets cool points as one of the few remaining midsize off-road trucks to offer a manual transmission.

Toyota Tacoma vs. Ford Ranger powertrain winner? Ranger.

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Front 3/4.

2021 Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro - Front 3/4.

Behind the Wheel: Ford Ranger Tremor vs. Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro

For the Tacoma vs. Ranger comparison, we tackled a variety of off-road obstacles, from trails with rutted hills and uneven descents to an impromptu articulation test with some boulders. The Ranger's additional power and gears were immediately obvious — it's simply a quicker truck. It should also have an advantage when crawling over rocks, at least if you go by the spec sheet. But the Tacoma had no problems covering the same terrain, more than once without the need for the locking rear differential in places where the Ranger needed the assistance. The Tacoma's performance with regard to traction was impressive considering not only its torque and gearing deficits but also its slightly smaller and visibly less chunky Goodyear Wrangler Adventure tires compared to the Ranger's General Grabbers.

Without needing to deploy its traction-aiding low-range drive modes, the Tacoma was also able to crawl up our articulation boulder slightly farther. There its advantages in approach and breakover clearances and wheel articulation were plainly visible. The Tacoma's departure angle is slightly less than the Ranger's, which is worth noting since both trucks have plenty of plastic on their bumpers and proximity sensors that are likely costly to replace should they make contact with earth.

Both trucks come with underbody protection. The Tacoma proudly displays a bright aluminum front skid plate with "TRD" painted red, where the Ranger's steel front plate is stealth black. You might assume it's plastic until you tap your knuckles on it.

Neither truck struggled at any part of our test. The Ford Ranger Tremor impressed with its power and the smoothness of its electronic driving aids, while the Tacoma continued to exceed the expectations set by its specs. Sure, it was a bit clunkier and more crude. But, hey, to some that means more rugged.

Ranger Tremor vs. Tacoma TRD Pro driving winner? Debatable.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor - Front 3/4.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor - Front 3/4.

Edmunds Says

Who wins the Tacoma vs. Ranger off-road crown? The Ranger Tremor's strengths in powertrain and price make it an easier truck to live with every day. It's quieter and more comfortable on the freeway and highly competent off-road. It also packs slightly higher max towing and payload figures, not to mention a more comfortable seating position for front and rear passengers. So if you want an easy daily driver that's capable when you run out of pavement, the Ranger Tremor is an excellent turnkey pick.

The Tacoma seems more geared for the off-road enthusiast who accepts its on-road shortcomings as a trade for the superior clearances and articulation, not to mention the wealth of aftermarket options available. With that in mind, the smart buy seems to be a TRD Off-Road ($39,175 with an automatic and required packages). Get it in Army Green.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor - Suspension.

2021 Ford Ranger Tremor - Suspension.