2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: Off-Road Excellence on a Geological Scale
Ram’s new Raptor fighter isn’t named after a dinosaur, but it’s still awe-inspiring.
LAKE TAHOE, Nevada—For all of their geological grandeur and older-than-time vibes, the fossil records of both Lake Tahoe and the surrounding Sierra Nevada mountain range is surprisingly sparse. There are occasional discoveries of plant and small mammal fossils, but much of what we saw of the mighty Sierra Nevada during our test drive of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX formed during the Eocene, a time period that stretched between 33 million and 47 million years ago, roughly eight-million years after the final dinosaur emitted its death rattle.
If you're in the area and it's dinos you want, try the appropriately named Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park some 200 miles east of Lake Tahoe; a record number of well-preserved ichthyosaur fossils are displayed on the park grounds. Meanwhile, we discovered a living—er, driving—fossil of our own during our time in the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX on the California/Nevada border.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: Living Fossil
Indeed, even before the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX roars its way into the outstretched hands of eager Mopar and off-road enthusiasts alike, there's an air of a bygone era surrounding the first and only true Ford F-150 Raptor competitor we've seen thus far.
The funny thing is, this supercharged V-8 off-road desert predator is not actually named after a dinosaur, but the TRX is best (and most satisfyingly) pronounced "T.Rex. " The fact it also guzzles premium fuel as though the killer asteroid has already breached the atmosphere is in very stark contrast to the allegedly forthcoming horde of all-electric, 1,000-horsepower supertrucks that might be just over the horizon. Beyond segment upstarts Tesla, Rivian, Lordstown, and Nikola, both GMC and Ford already announced full battery-electric trucks supposedly arriving in the next few years.
Perhaps the EV tidal wave will be another great extinction event, a pebble that fizzles out and burns up in the atmosphere, or simply another branch of the mighty truck tree. However, that's then, and this is now; a fitting sentiment, as the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is very much a "now" truck. Gas is (relatively) cheap, the SRT and Hellcat nameplates still have immense equity, and the Hellcatification of the Ram 1500 TRX was a foregone conclusion from the moment the Jeep Cherokee SRT Trackhawk screamed into existence.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: The Most Powerful Production Truck of All Time
Regardless of anything else, the TRX is at least for the moment the de-facto badass of its kingdom. This pickup truck is so much more than a hot-rod engine swap, but it's foolish to start anywhere else but under that functional hood scoop. For the first time, a Ram truck receives the supercharged, 6.2-liter V-8 made famous by the aforementioned Challenger/Charger Hellcats, Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT Trackhawk, and the new Durango SRT Hellcat. At 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, it's simultaneously the least-powerful of all of the Hellcat siblings but the most powerful production truck in history, wresting the crown from the 500-hp, 2004-06 Dodge Ram SRT-10.
For all of the torque wars that elevated much of the heavy-duty pickup-truck space to or beyond the four-figure lb-ft mark, big horsepower was apparently not on the priority list. Five-hundred horsepower, let's say, is a shockingly prosaic figure in the car and SUV space, so it stands to reason the same sentiment would be shared with trucks, but that's not the case. The TRX doesn't beat the competition by mere single digits in this regard, either: The Ram 1500 TRX trounces the current power king, the 2020 Ford F-250 Super Duty and its 6.7-liter Powerstroke diesel V-8, by an incredible 227 hp, and it betters the TRX-facing Ford F-150 Raptor by a whopping 252 hp.
Indeed, there is enough go-fast and go-far hardware under the TRX's swollen bodywork to fill a mud-stained phonebook. However, people hoping for a return to the long-dead days of the roadbound sport truck will be disappointed, though Ram made sure the TRX is suitably equipped for the inevitable light-to-light throttle smashes.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: The Hardware
For that, each TRX arrives with an extensive offering of off-road driving modes, including one road-focused "Sport" mode that firms up inputs like steering and suspension, and modifies shift points on the TRX's standard eight-speed automatic transmission. There's even a launch-control function that encourages you to pick on Ford Mustangs and Volkswagen GTIs that have the misfortune of catching your eye. Ram even worked with Goodyear to raise the speed rating of the TRX-specific 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires, now with a reasonably high 118-mph "T" rating. It doesn't take long to hit this limit whether you drive on- or off-road; 0-60 mph takes just 4.5 seconds, and the 6,350-pound truck brutalizes the quarter mile in 12.9 seconds.
Part of this hard-launching capability comes thanks to full-time auto-4x4, though the rear axle locks on-demand for bouts of fun or escaping some of the trickier stuff. You have to work really, really hard to get into a spot the TRX can't mountain-goat its way out of, no matter the naïveté of the driver. To make sure its new supertruck is covered from Moab to Dakar, Ram swapped engineers around like free agents: It plucked the chief engineer of the TRX program from the Jeep JL Wrangler team, in return lending Jeep an assistant-chief engineer from the Ram 1500 program to help with Gladiator development.
The resulting spec-sheet looks a bit like an off-road racer got ahold of the Stellantis corporate card and went on a nitro-fueled shopping spree. Aside from the stuff mentioned above, there's a BorgWarner 48-13 full-time active transfer case with a 2.64:1 low range; it routes the power partially to a Dana 60 rear axle, supported by a five-link coil-spring rear suspension that matches an independent front suspension. Speaking of suspension, Ram worked with Bilstein to develop TRX-specific adaptive Blackhawk E2 shocks with remote reservoirs. With all this scaffolding, there's more than 13-inches of suspension travel front and rear, along with 11.8-inches of ground clearance, up more than 3.0-inches compared to the standard 1500.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: As Tough As It Looks
It's obvious most 2021 Ram 1500 TRXs will catch air or crash through a field of boulders at some point—intentionally or not—so the frame is beefed-up significantly to shrug off violent impacts and landings that would banana the chassis of lesser trucks. A set of five fully functional skidplates armors the oily gubbins underneath, while rock rails and extra body cladding are featured in the ever-expanding Mopar catalog.
From the outside, things look just as tough as they are underneath. Swollen fender-flares add 8.0-inches of width when compared to the standard Ram 1500, while the track is increased an impressive 6.0-inches to make room for the standard 35-inch tires. The snout on the hood is entirely functional, with Ram taking extra precaution with air filtering so as to not grenade the wild engine. According to engineers, that 29-liter airbox is four-times better at filtering dust and debris than its closest competitor, and even features a drain to siphon off any errant water that makes its way in during deep mud or river-fording sessions.
During the first part of our day-long test in the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, all this rally-raid weaponry was nigh-on useless on Truckee, California's, marble-smooth roads. Even in shouty red or bright blue paint, the TRX's rough-and-tumble glowering face fit in nicely with the endless convoy of work trucks, large SUVs, Wranglers, and weather-beaten Subarus.
Eventually, we cut through some of the ritzier lakeside neighborhoods, a playground for finance bros and power lawyers who park their gleaming Range Rovers, Escalades, loaded Grand Cherokees, and Raptors proudly in front of their sprawling "cabins." The TRX's head-rattling, wince-inducing supercharger whine and frat-boy roar out the rear end had dog-walkers shaking their Rolex'd fists and joggers snagging their Lululemon athleisure wear as they dived into the nearest bush. If you're familiar with the high-pitched raaaaaah of other Hellcat applications, you already have a good approximation of what the TRX sounds like.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: Road Warrior
Winding out this whacky engine is tremendous fun. Aside from the accompanying aural assault, the Ram 1500 TRX hustles like a methed-out grizzly, advancing on slower cars like it means to hoover them up into that gaping hood snout. You know how a small, light car feels like it's going a buck-fifty when it's only doing 40? The inverse applies for bigguns like the TRX; in this case, size shrinks speed. From the helm, 7 seconds of full-throttle doesn't seem too scary, until you look down at the digital-gauge cluster and see you're rapidly approaching triple-digits. Compound this with a looming corner and a combined fuel economy of 12 mpg, and you start to be more judicious with your right foot.
When you do reach a corner, make sure you first take stock of the relatively low grip offered by those Goodyears. The Bilstein dampers pull double-duty managing the truck's three-ton bulk, admirably cutting egregious body movements and returning composed and mostly predictable cornering characteristics. Cutting through some of the tighter roads later in the day, the 15-inch, two-piston brakes in the front and 15-inch, single-piston clampers in the rear slagged rather quickly; an impromptu photo op on the side of a canyon road was met with a soft pedal and the distinct smell of burned brakes.
We'd like to say no harm, no foul, since the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX was built more for desert whoops than high-speed road blasts, but if you're going to give a truck 700 hp and off-road tires, maybe adding heavy-duty brakes would be a smart move. We say this knowing full well there might be drawbacks to adding very large and heavy brakes to the TRX's setup, so for now, it's more of a point of caution than criticism. We jabbed that 6.2-liter hard and often, and the existing brakes had no issue hauling us down from speed.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: Into the Dirt
Eventually, wide, flat asphalt gave way to the ragged and rutted badlands of the famed Wild West Motorsports Park just outside of Reno, Nevada. This sprawling complex included a short-course dirt track, a rock-crawling hill, and a technical 4x4 trail that runs the perimeter of the campus, all of which were open for conquering via TRX. Our first sniff of dust came with the perimeter trail, starting with a relatively open expanse that acclimated us to the TRX's off-road handling characteristics. Soon, we charged up a narrow, rutted pass littered with basketball-sized boulders. Viper whisperer, record-setting driver, and SRT engineer Chris Winkler led us through this minefield, inspiring us to fly over the rocks at breakneck speed.
Aside from a cacophony of pelting rocks and scraped skidplates, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX reacted to the test as though boulders were nothing more than small piles of crushed gravel. Eventually, the trail ended at the base of a steep upward climb, giving us the chance to test the truck's standard crawl control—essentially low-speed off-road cruise control—that makes use of the Rock driving mode and repurposes the bifurcated shift paddles for speed control.
Onto the short course. Here, we slipped and slid the TRX through corners and charged down rather imposing drop-offs ending in sizable jumps; contrary to most press programs, getting all four wheels off of the dirt was highly encouraged. We only had around four laps on the course to glean what we could, but the ass-out antics and impressively smooth suspension composure puts the TRX tailgate-to-tailgate with the Ford F-150 Raptor, if not beyond. Even when we accidentally hit ramps at speeds significantly higher than our ride-along racer demanded, landings were as soft as any mass-produced truck could possibly need to handle.
After a short and very slow rock-crawling stint where the TRX managed the seemingly impassable field of boulders without breaking a sweat—admittedly under the watchful eye of a spotting team—and a launch-control demonstration, we were back on the road in our thrashed, bashed, and mashed TRX, though it was impressively no worse for the wear. If we hadn't experienced it ourselves, it would be impossible to find any record of mechanical abuse.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test: Apex Predator
All this, and you can still tow 8,100 pounds and enjoy one of the best-designed truck interiors on the market, as is the case with all Ram 1500s from this generation. We won't go into granular detail about the cabin appointments, but there were enough toys, displays, leather upholstery, and TRX-specific trim in our nearly-loaded example to give a Cadillac pause. As for aesthetics, it's easy—superimpose the aggressive interior language from other SRT products onto the sensible cabin of the regular Ram 1500.
There you have it—the quickest, most powerful production truck in history. It tows the moon, out-drags a Subaru WRX STI, climbs like an ibex, yells over a Mustang GT, jumps like a flea, lands like a cat, and drinks like an 18th century sailor on shore-leave. If you're just as smitten as we are, free up at least $71,690 for the privilege and be prepared to go up from there, with prices topping out around the $90,000 mark.
Too much? Well, Ram hasn't said anything official yet, but we'll be surprised if it doesn't eventually slot-in the 6.4-liter, naturally aspirated 485-hp V-8 from Scat Pack et. al. to fill the $13,555 gulch between Helltruck and the Raptor. Look for the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX to land at dealers sometime later this fall, and in vehicular paleontological museums sometime in the next few decades.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX Highlights
- The most powerful and quickest production truck in history
- Much more than just a big engine
- Phenomenal sound, acceleration
- Incredibly impressive off-road
|2021 Ram 1500 TRX Specifications|
|ON SALE||Fall 2020|
|PRICE||$71,690/$89,565 (base/as tested)|
|ENGINE||6.2L supercharged SOHC 16-valve V-8/702 hp @ 6,100 rpm, 650 lb-ft @ 4,800 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD truck|
|EPA MILEAGE||10/14 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||232.9 x 88.0 x 80.9 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.5 sec|
|TOP SPEED||118 mph|