2021 Ram 1500 TRX Review | First drive, off-roading, performance

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Looking over the spec sheet of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, it’s hard not to think America has hit peak pickup truck. Everything about the TRX is bigger, better and badder than any truck that’s come before, including its one obvious bogey, the Ford F-150 Raptor. For starters, the Ram has a 252-horsepower and 140-pound-foot advantage on the Ford. That means the TRX is quicker and faster, and it can haul and tow marginally more. The TRX has a nicer interior and its supercharged V8 engine sounds a heck of a lot better than the Raptor’s turbocharged V6. Altogether, that ought to equal a truck that’s more fun to drive.

The TRX certainly doesn’t hide its off-road-performance intentions under subtle bodywork. Big, burly fenders with thick black flares cover massive 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler All Territory tires. Those body sides blend in nicely with an equally swollen hood that features a huge blacked-out air intake nostril at its leading edge and matte black gills on either side. A trio of government-mandated running lights sit inside the scoop, echoing the marker lights attached to ultra-wide dually pickups. Naturally, huge RAM scripting features front and rear, and there’s plenty more badging to make sure everyone knows this T-Rex sits at the top of the dino food chain.

More important than the muscular styling is what that bodywork encases, starting with a frame that Ram says shares just 25% with lesser 1500s. It’s designed to be stiff and durable enough to withstand off-road terrain at speeds of 100 mph. The TRX boasts 11.8 inches of ground clearance, and can ford water up to 32 inches deep. Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive shocks with nitrogen-charged remote reservoirs continuously adjust to handle current demands, whether that means taking the edge off a bumpy road or absorbing much larger impacts, like when landing a jump. There’s 13 inches of wheel travel up front and 14 inches out back, allowing for a huge amount of articulation. 

All that heavy-duty equipment adds weight. Ram says the TRX gains about 600 pounds of burly mass in the transition from regular Hemi-powered 1500 to Beast Mode off-roader, leading to a truck that tips the scales at over 6,350 pounds. For perspective, a Ram Rebel 4×4 weighs a little less than 5,400 pounds and the Ford Raptor SuperCrew weighs less than 5,700.

Good thing about that massively powerful engine, then. By now you probably already know the headline-generating horsepower output, but what’s more important than numbers on a page is how 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque feel from behind the wheel. In a word: incredible.

We’ve spent countless hours in high-performance vehicles, on the road and off, at race tracks around the world and rugged trails cut through mountain ranges. But we’ve never experienced anything quite like the Ram TRX. Not only is the TRX quick on pavement with a claimed 0-60 time of 4.5 seconds, it’s impossibly fast on dirt, too. We tried the truck’s one-button-press launch control on all sorts of surfaces (why can’t every similar system be this easy to use?) and blasted off to ridiculous velocities each and every time with nothing more than a foot to the floor. As much as we enjoy a good blast to the speed limit on asphalt, it’s even more fun on looser surfaces like hard-pack dirt with all four wheels fighting for traction as they throw up grass and debris.

We took the TRX to a privately-owned piece of property and set up our own makeshift off-road course that wound in a clover-shaped pattern through saplings and big mounds of dirt to find out that the TRX’s Baja mode allows a perfect amount of slip to rotate the truck on low-traction surfaces. We then climbed those mounds to test out the limits of the suspension’s articulation. With the BorgWarner 48-13 active transfer case in 4WD Low, we climbed up with the slightest hint of throttle. After several hours in the dirt, we’re comfortable proclaiming that the TRX is the best and most capable factory off-road pickup truck in existence. Sorry, Raptor.

Perhaps even more importantly considering how much more time TRX owners will spend on pavement than off, Ram’s factory hot rodder is great to drive on-road, too. Those Bilstein shocks and their computer-controlled brain excel at filtering out bumps big and small, regardless of surface. The TRX defaults to Auto mode upon startup, and most buyers will leave it there. Sport mode stiffens up the shocks and steering, but the big 35-inch tires have more than enough sidewall pliability to keep the ride from ever becoming harsh. Sport mode also changes the eight-speed automatic transmission’s tuning to hold gears longer, which is totally unnecessary, so we suggest that owners play around with the Custom setting to dial in their preferences.

If there’s one area where the TRX’s excess poundage is noticeable, it’s braking. We didn’t have the opportunity to hook up a trailer, so we can’t comment on braking under serious load. However, and despite four massive 15-inch discs with dual-piston monoblock calipers up front, the TRX does not stop with the same force as it accelerates, and repeated stomps elicit significant fade.

The TRX’s interior is excellent, which is no surprise since Ram’s interiors are the best in the segment. The bucket seats are big and comfortable, the gauge cluster is easy to read and the digital screen between those gauges is simple to control with logically placed buttons. We’re happy to see a traditional console-mounted shift lever instead of the usual fiddly rotary knob. Ram’s 12-inch vertically oriented touchscreen and Uconnect infotainment software is lovely in appearance and usability, and the ability to stack two readouts on the one large screen is welcome. There’s plenty of room in the back seat for three adults, and when not in use the bottom cushions can flip upward, leaving more interior floor space for stowing valuables.

The biggest impediment, literally, to driving the Ram TRX on the road is the size of the truck itself. It’s 2 inches taller than other Rams, with front and rear tracks that are 6 inches wider each. That stance requires bodywork that bulges 8 inches further than other Ram 1500s (and those little spotter lights by law). In real terms, that means the TRX is a chore to drive on narrow roads and even more difficult to park than other full-size trucks. It not only didn’t fit into your author’s garage, it barely fit in his driveway. It’s also hard to park in town, which led us to park it off the main street further away from our destination.

Another pitfall to Ram TRX ownership is the cost. Ram asks a minimum of $71,790 for the TRX (including a $1,695 destination charge). We’ve established that it’s a better overall package than Ford’s Raptor, but we’re not sure that it’s $13,655 better than the $58,135 Raptor SuperCrew.

Our test truck came with a Customer Preferred Package that includes a large and crisp head-up display, the Trailer-Tow Group, the Advanced Safety Group (adaptive cruise, pedestrian braking and lane-keeping assist), rock rails, a Harmon Kardon sound system and a carbon fiber trim package. But the real big-ticket item on our truck’s window sticker is the TRX Level 2 Equipment Group that adds luxury bits like heated and ventilated power seats, leather upholstery and park assist. That’s all stuff that buyers will probably want, and it brought the sticker price up to $87,370.

We used Ford’s online configurator to virtually build a Raptor with a level of equipment equal to our TRX test truck, and it came to $71,295. For those keeping track, that’s a $16,075 surcharge for the Ram.

The initial purchase price isn’t the only wallet gouger you can expect from the TRX. The EPA estimates the Ram TRX will achieve 10 mpg in the city, 14 on the highway and 12 combined. And that’s just about what we managed with the TRX over a week’s worth of driving in the city, on the highway, and while having some fun in the dirt. Over long stretches with the cruise set to 65, the onboard computer readout flirted with 15 mpg, and that’s the best we ever saw. To put that kind of efficiency into perspective, the EPA says a TRX buyer will spend $11,750 more in gas (premium, naturally) over the course of 5 years than an average new vehicle. Here again the Ford Raptor notches a victory of the Ram TRX. According to the EPA, the Raptor gets 15 mpg city, 18 highway, 16 combined and will cost you $1,500 less per year to fill it up.

We’re sure that its horrendous fuel economy figures will barely register as footnotes in the back of buyers’ brains. Nobody buys a 702-horsepower off-road pickup truck to cut their fuel usage. More relevant to its role as a pickup are its 8,100-pound tow rating and 1,310 payload capacity. For those keeping score, that’s 100 pounds and 110 pounds better than the Raptor, though neither of these high-riding off-roaders is ideal for towing or hauling duties.

So, all of this begs the question: Have we indeed reached peak pickup truck? The answer comes easily enough: Engage launch control, point the oversized and overpowered truck at the dirt and repeat. Find a pile of boulders to climb. Or a mound to jump. The driving experience leaves no doubt: Just as the ‘Rex was the peak predator of its time, so the TRX resides at the top of today’s pickup truck heap.

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Saurabh Shukla

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