When I hear the words “seven point three Ford,” my mind immediately paints a picture of the ubiquitous late-1990s and early-2000s Super Duty trucks. They’re all hooked up to trailers of various lengths and weights, sitting in a racetrack’s paddock, their clattery school-bus-esque turbodiesel engines waiting to be turned over for the long tow home. They’ll make so many of those trips, chugging along with the long gears of the four-speed automatic (or sometimes, a six-speed manual) pushing moderate power and good-enough torque to the ground for hundreds of thousands of miles. But now there’s a new 7.3 liter Ford V8 in town, and it’s powered by gasoline.
To sample this all-new ‘Godzilla’ gas-powered 7.3, Ford sent me a 2020 F-250 Platinum for a week. Equipped with the Tremor off-road package, this Rapid Red truck was so tall it wouldn’t fit in my parking garage. I made alternate arrangements for safe parking and set out to see what’s what.
What Is It?
The current Ford Super Duty lineup was redesigned for 2017 and given a light refresh for the 2020 model year. In Platinum trim (somehow not fully loaded, that honor belongs to the Limited), the interior is basically a straight rip from the 2015-2020 Ford F-150. That’s to say it’s very well-equipped and pretty plush overall, let alone for a truck. Don’t miss the massaging front seats with three distinct lumbar adjustments, a notable upgrade from the “lesser” also-very-nice Lariat.
As mentioned, my F-250 included both notable options that are all-new for 2020, the 7.3 liter gasoline V8 engine for $2,045 and the Tremor off-road package for $3,975. With a few additional options (fifth-wheel hitch prep, panoramic moonroof, and so on) the MSRP of my go-anywhere-park-carefully F-250 came in at $77,480.
Replacing the V10: Ford’s All-New Godzilla 7.3L V8
Ford already sells a 6.2 liter V8 in the Super Duty, and has for quite some time. So why would they build an all-new V8 with more displacement, more power and torque, and sell it alongside the 6.2? Well, that new 7.3 liter replaces the outgoing single overhead cam ‘Triton’ V10 engine, long a favorite of Super Duty-based dump trucks, U-Haul trucks, Class C RVs, and yes, some F-250 and F-350 pickups.
Part of the Modular family, Ford introduced the Triton V10 in 1997 as a more powerful alternative to their 5.4 liter Triton V8. At its most recent, the Triton V10 made 362 horsepower and 460 lb-ft of torque. It was known for being relatively reliable and durable, even if it got lousy fuel economy and sounded… unique in the process.
So then, Ford set out to build a new gasoline engine that would withstand abuse and hard work. It had to be simple, yet strong. The 7.3 liter Godzilla V8 was born. I’m sure the displacement aligns to some technical nonsense about how it’s very optimal for… something. It’s also a fun nod to the old 7.3 liter PowerStroke diesel Ford trucks of the past. Machined from a cast iron block, the new 7.3 produces 430 horsepower and 475 lb-ft of torque in F-250 tune. It’s paired to Ford’s “TorqShift” 10-speed automatic transmission, similar to what’s found in F-150 and Expedition, but beefed up substantially for Super Duty use.
And the transmission isn’t the only thing beefed up. After choosing that iron block as the base of the engine, Ford also chose port injection instead of the more-fashionable direct injection, which will save owners money in maintenance. Main bearings use four bolts in a cross-bolt pattern for extra strength, and a variable-rate oil pump and piston cooling jets were equipped to help with engine cooling under heavy load.
If you think of the last 26′ U-Haul van you saw trundling down the road, this engine makes a lot of sense. Yes, Ford put the new 7.3L in my bright red F-250. But it was built to serve in commercial applications, too, where extra costs and downtime for maintenance and repair are frowned upon, even with the engine receiving more abuse than care.
While this throwback-sized all-new engine does require spending a few grand over the base 6.2 liter V8, buyers will save $8,450 choosing the 7.3 instead of the popular PowerStroke turbodiesel.
Shake ‘n’ Quake: Tremor Off-Road Package
First applied as a sound system package on the early-2000s Ford Ranger, then re-applied as a “street truck” package on the 2013 and 2014 F-150, Ford has reappropriated the Tremor name a third time, and it now applies to an off-road package that adds some serious chops to a seriously big truck.
With Tremor, Ford is taking aim at Ram and their 2500 Power Wagon, a medium-duty truck similarly equipped for off-road use. Both trucks are built more for slow-ish speed exploration – the Tremor is emphatically not a Raptor-ized F-250. But if you live somewhere that has enough space to where off-roading an F-250 isn’t a silly idea, keep reading.
Though my test truck was highly-optioned, the Tremor package is offered from XLT up to Platinum. Regardless of trim level, it must be added to a single rear wheel (SRW) chassis. Every Tremor gets a trimmed air dam on the front bumper for better approach angle, twin-tube upgraded shock absorbers, a locking rear differential and limited-slip up front, 18” matte black wheels with 35” Goodyear all-terrains, and a mild lift kit of about two inches front and one inch rear.
All of these upgrades result in almost 11 inches of ground clearance and the ability to ford 33″ of standing water. Yes, you can build a truck similar to this F-250 Tremor through the aftermarket, but here, everything you’ve done is covered by a Ford warranty. Additionally, it’s all been certified to haul and tow just as much as a “non-Tremor” F-250, with about 3,000 pounds of payload and 15,000 pounds of tow capacity (more if you use a fifth-wheel hitch). That’s a claim Ram can’t make with their 2500 Power Wagon.
It’s worth mentioning that legitimate off-road trails are hard to come by in the Washington, DC metro area, doubly so if you’re trying to escort such a large truck down the trail without adding surprise pinstripes to the paint. I was able to find a place to briefly probe the big Ford’s off-road prowess in the mud and up some steep hills and… it was fine. Perhaps an F-250 on highway tires would have less grip or be a bit less confidence-inspiring, I can’t particularly say. I think a truck like this will be best embraced out west, where there’s more room to let it run and get it into a good sort of trouble.
Towing with the 7.3L ‘Godzilla’ V8
As with any truck we receive, I hooked my enclosed trailer to the hitch to see how it pulled. With a tow rating of 15,000 pounds, my trailer approached about 45 percent of the F-250’s rated capacity.
I wasn’t the most fond of the drivetrain combination with the truck unloaded. The transmission was the culprit, upshifting early and giving the sense of lugging the engine, even though the majority of its torque is produced from 1,500 rpm onward. In any case, the transmission was more rev-happy in Tow/Haul mode with some weight on the hitch, and I found the whole setup to be pretty pleasant once on the move.
No, the 7.3 won’t pull a house off its foundation with the same gusto as the PowerStroke diesel and its 1,050 lb-ft of torque. But it moves out from a stoplight with enough authority, helped by the combination of ten forward gears and standard 4.30 axle gearing (instead of the non-Tremor’s standard 3.55:1 ratio). I never felt like it was slow, it’s just a revvy engine, with peak power at 5,500 rpm and peak torque at 4,000. It has to work a bit harder by design, but Ford’s set it up to do just that.
If you’re towing right at that 15,000 pound limit every weekend, or towing in high-altitude areas where a turbocharger really helps produce power, I could see the extra $8,450 cost of the diesel engine as worth it. I do think – however controversially – that the 7.3 liter gasser is the right option for more people than want to admit such a thing. It makes plenty of power and torque, tows very well, and allows both cheaper buy-in and ownership costs for most people.
The 7.3L + Tremor is Someone’s ‘Goldilocks’ Truck – But Not Mine
I came away relatively impressed with the 2020 Ford F-250. In Platinum guise, it’s a very nice place to sit and the 7.3L V8 should be a great replacement for Ford’s venerable Triton V10. It sounds far, far better when being worked, too. Check out the video below for some full-throttle noises.
Over my week with the truck, I never warmed to the Tremor package. It offers some legitimate, warranty-backed capability for a small margin of people who will use it as intended. It’s impressive that towing and payload don’t suffer in the process. But the fancy shocks and 35″ all-terrains do nothing to help the unloaded ride quality. Medium-duty trucks don’t ride particularly well (unloaded) in the first place, and while the off-road bits should soften things up a bit, I found it to be the opposite. The truck, unloaded, was annoyingly stiff over even small bumps. Tremor’s lift kit and big tires make it difficult to enter and exit with any sort of grace – even for The Talls among us. If you need the Tremor’s extra abilities on the daily (or weekly), I think it’s a well-designed package.
If you’re primarily hauling air or a trailer on the street, though, I’d recommend skipping the Tremor package and either putting the money toward the alluring PowerStroke diesel engine, or saving a lot of cash and choosing the very-impressive 7.3L V8 alongside a non-Tremor variant of F-250 instead.