There’s no denying the rise of the modern pickup truck, with the segment steadily gaining steam over the last decade. Once largely reserved for job sites, farms, and the like, pickups have become an increasingly popular option for drivers of all stripes. Light truck sales have surpassed both the sedan and SUV segments in recent years, accounting for over 20 percent of all new retail vehicle registrations in 2022, up from 16 percent in 2021. As the pickup sector continues to grow and evolve, some interesting trends are starting to emerge. According to some recent studies, drivers are changing the way they use these versatile vehicles and leaving paved roads behind as off-roading becomes a more important part of pickup culture. According to GMC, 19 percent of light truck customers have used their vehicle for off-roading, while about 22 percent say that they’re in the market for an off-road capable vehicle.
Two of the industry’s leading names have been at the forefront of this new pickup paradigm, introducing a range of off-road models and trims aimed at capturing the public’s newfound appreciation for all things off-road. The 2023 Ford F-150 vs 2023 Ram 1500 is just the latest iteration of a rivalry that stretches back decades (back when the Ram truck brand was part of Dodge), with the brands locked in a pitched battle to outdo one another and emerge as America’s favorite pickup. The F-150 has history on its side, ranking as America’s best-selling vehicle for over 40 years. Ford now offers two off-road focused models aimed at giving drivers the opportunity to get a little wet and wild: the F-150 Tremor and the high-performance F-150 Raptor. Never one to be left behind, Ram has followed suit with its own off-road duo in the Ram Rebel and Hellcat-powered TRX.
The TRX and Raptor are veritable supertrucks, offering a level of off-road performance rarely seen outside desert racing courses. But their size and price make them a less practical option for everyday driving. While these two high-performance models are definitely worth a closer look for those with the budget, today we’ll focus on the brand’s more attainable off-road trims in the Ram Rebel and F-150 Tremor. These might not offer the same unhinged power and heavy-duty components of the brands’ other high-end off-roaders, but they also cost at least $10,000 less. These models provide the perfect way for drivers to dip their toe into the world of off-roading without sacrificing practicality, and offer a great deal more capability than some of the so-called “soft-roaders” that have plagued the industry as of late. So how do these alluring off-road models stack up when it comes to power, performance and off-road equipment? Read on as we take a closer look and compare these off-road offerings from Ford and Ram.
We’ll begin under the hood, where the F-150 Tremor gets off to a good start thanks to its tag team of powerful engines. Drivers can opt for either a 3.5L EcoBoost twin-turbo V6, or 5.0L V8, both of which put the Ram’s engine lineup to shame. That’s not to say the Rebel is underpowered. The pickup’s 3.6L V6 makes a healthy 305 horsepower, which is just not enough to keep up with the Tremor’s 400-horsepower, both in twin-turbo V6 and V8 forms. However, the Rebel’s optional eTorque mild-hybrid V8 engine almost matches the Tremor with 395 horsepower, but still comes up just a little bit short.
The difference is even more pronounced in the torque department, with the Tremor’s twin-turbo V6 churning out 500 lb-ft of torque to the V6 Rebel’s 273 lb-ft of torque. The Rebel’s optional V8 engine does close the gap a little better with 410 lb-ft of torque, but the Tremor still takes the crown by a wide margin. Torque might not be the most important metric for an off-road pickup, but it can make a world of difference when you’re looking to do a little towing and should never be treated as an afterthought. As one might expect, the F-150 Tremor also outpaces The Ram Rebel when it comes to this key metric, with twin-turbo V6 Tremor boasting a maximum towing capacity of 14,000 pounds compared to the Rebel V8’s 12,750 pounds.
A vehicle’s tires play an important role in any off-road excursion. Off-road tires are built a little differently than your average road tires, prioritizing traction and control above all else. Designed to help drivers navigate through the wettest, muckiest, and steepest of off-road obstacles, a good set of off-road tires can mean the difference between a successful off-road trip and one that ends in frustration. When it comes to the Ram Rebel and F-150 Tremor, both are rolling with 18-inch wheels, but differ when it comes to their specific treads. The Ram Rebel comes standard with Goodyear Wrangler Durtrac tires, while the F-150 Tremor is sold with General Grabber A/TX.
Both are all-terrain tires, though the General Grabber bills itself as a extreme all-terrain model that’s a little more hardy than your average all-terrain tire. The tires compare pretty favorably, but there are some important differences to note. The Goodyear tires shine when it comes to dispersing dirt and mud from between the grooves thanks to a unique tread design, and are equally capable on wet roads despite the aggressive pattern. That said, the General Grabber A/TX has the edge in almost every other category — snow performance, dry traction, noise and tread wear — making them a more well-rounded option than the Rebel’s offering.
We’ll never complain about an excess of power, but when comparing off-road vehicles, it’s not always the most important factor. A well-equipped off-road pickup will outperform a brawny, yet ill-equipped truck any day of the week, which is why the Ram Rebel and F-150 Tremor should really be judged more by their off-road components than anything else.
Shocks are often the first thing a driver will look at when comparing off-road vehicles, and for good reason. All the power and creature features in the world don’t amount to much if your suspension won’t allow the truck to effectively put that power to the ground. The F-150 Tremor comes standard with specially tuned monotube dampers designed to smooth some of the bumps out of the off-road experience. Ram has outsourced the project to Bilstein, one of the leading names in the world of shocks, who have thrown a similar set of monotube shocks on the Rebel. It’s largely a wash between the two trims, so a test drive might be in order if you’re trying to compare them by feel.
In addition to its upgraded shocks, the Tremor is also graced with unique upper suspension control arms and front knuckles, an electronic-locking rear differential, optional front locking differential, and all the skid plate armor an off-road enthusiast could ask for. The Ram Rebel makes a strong show in the off-road equipment department as well, especially when it comes to Ram’s Four Corner Air-Suspension. With five easily selectable height selections to choose from, it’s easy to morph the Rebel from a relatively low-riding highway truck to a lofty off-road machine. The system also comes in handy off the trail, improving fuel efficiency and allowing for easy entry and exit. The Rebel comes with plenty of protective skid plates and edges out the Tremor in the suspension department, using coil springs on the rear end as opposed to the leaf springs. As a result, the Tremor lacks the same wheel travel as the Rebel and might not be quite as comfortable as a daily driver.
Lastly, there’s the four-wheel drive systems. The Rebel comes standard with an on-demand transfer case that allows drivers to switch between 2WD, 4WD auto, 4WD high, and 4WD low with ease. The 4WD auto feature is particularly useful, tailoring torque distribution based on real-world driving conditions. The Tremor improves on the Rebel’s 4WD system by lifting the torque-on-demand transfer case directly from the F-150 Raptor. This sophisticated system offers the same 4WD settings as the Rebel, but improves on the formula to deliver all the torque a driver needs to meet their off-road goals. Ford’s pickup can also be optioned with a Torsen front differential and comes with Trail Turn Assist, an innovative system that reduces the Tremor’s turning radius by applying the brakes to the inside rear wheel.
Ground clearance and approach angles are both vital factors in any off-road adventure, so how do the Ram Rebel and F-150 Tremor compare? Pretty well, at least in terms of ground clearance. Both models receive a slight boost over the standard Ram and Ford models, with both pickups offering 10.7 inches of ground clearance to work with. It might not sound like much, but it can make a big difference when it comes to avoiding off-road obstacles like rocks and logs.
Speaking of avoiding obstacles, let’s turn to the pickups’ approach and departure angles. For the uninitiated, these terms refer to the angle that a vehicle can climb or descend without any part of the vehicle, aside from the tires, touching the ground. It’s an important consideration for any off-road driver, allowing them to ensure that the vehicle won’t take any unexpected dents or dings as they climb or descend steep grades. The F-150 Tremor bests the Ram Rebel in both categories, with a departure angle of 25.8 degrees to the Rebel’s 24.3 degrees. The difference is even more pronounced when it comes to departure angle with the Tremor beating the Rebel by almost six full degrees, 27.6 to 21.7.
When you’re looking for your next off-road pickup, you could do a lot worse than the Ford F-150 Tremor or Ram Rebel. Both trucks offer a host of handy off-road equipment, grippy all-terrain tires, impressive ground clearance and more power than most drivers will know what to do with, but differ in some important ways. With improved approach and departure angles, a powerful engine that’s heavy on torque, premium transfer case and the sort of towing capacity that make some 18-wheelers jealous, it’s hard to beat the 2023 F-150 Tremor when it comes to pure off-road swagger. The Ram Rebel is a respectable entry in the category, but falls behind the F-150 Tremor in some key areas, making it difficult to recommend over the versatile Ford. Both models might lack the unhinged off-road performance of larger stablemates like the Ram TRX and F-150 Raptor, but they’re still a major improvement over some of the underwhelming entries in the off-road sector as of late.