The 702-hp 2021 Ram 1500 TRX flouts the laws of physics and common sense with equal elan, a vehicle that knows it’s destined to be a classic.
Seriously, a pickup with drag-strip-ready launch control and an advanced steering system to simplify backing up with a long trailer? A top speed of 150 mph, 0-60 time below 5 seconds and the ability to tow 8,100 pounds? Apparently nobody ever told Ram you can’t be all things to all people, because the TRX’s ambition knows no bounds.
Arriving in dealerships later this year, the TRX’s modest raison d’etre is to relegate Ford’s iconic F-150 Raptor desert-racing truck to the back of the pack. There’s even a hidden “Easter egg” graphic under the hood that shows a T. rex (get it?) chowing down on the smaller raptor dinosaur.
With a brand-new F-150 debuting later this year and a Raptor version sure to follow, it’s game on to see who can build the ultimate performance pickup.
For today at least, T. rex rules. Bang a gong.
The TRX is remarkably easy to drive, thanks to its sophisticated four-wheel drive and unique suspension. Ram reengineered the 1500’s frame — the pickup’s basic structure — radically; 74% of the pieces are new, made from thicker materials and stronger steel. The front shock tower mounts use the thickest steel FCA knows how to stamp, while the independent rear suspension features the largest metal coil springs in production anywhere. Active Bilstein desert racing shocks can adjust every millisecond in response to accelerometers on the frame and ride-height sensors at each wheel.
The result is a smooth ride in normal driving, soft landings after going airborne at speed, plenty of wheel travel (13 inches front, 14 rear) for rock crawling, and a truck that stays flat and stable during hard acceleration or braking and quick turns. It’s a range of characteristics that would’ve been impossible without advanced electronic controls.
More electronics manage delivery of the supercharged 6.2L V8’s 702 hp and 650 pound-feet of torque. The 4WD system’s preset front/rear torque splits include 45/55 (snow), 50/50 (rock crawling), 30/70 (sport) and 25/75 ( Baja), with a default of 40/60 assisted by programming that adds front torque at the limit for what chief engineer Jeff Roselli called a “hero feel” as the truck hangs on to power through fast maneuvers.
The TRX I drove had no dive or squat in acceleration and braking. Its steering was quick and direct on the highway and capable crawling up a boulder-strewn hill.
Baja mode delivered satisfying dirt track power slides and smooth landings from jumps.
Every hard-earned lesson I learned driving pickups as a teenager screamed a 702-hp pickup with an empty bed is a spinout waiting to happen, but the 4WD system, stability control and Goodyear Wranglers kept me facing in the right direction.
Virtually every moving part was upgraded for the extra power, including a steering system that got longer shafts to accommodate a track six inches wider than Ram’s Rebel off-road model.
The TRX’s looks live up to its engineering: 88 inches wide and 80.9 inches tall, with 11.8 inches of ground clearance, 118-mph rated 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory off-road tires. The hood, front and rear fenders are unique to the TRX, with features including a functional, amber-lit air scoop and vents in the front fenders.
The TRX is based on Ram’s 1500 light-duty pickup, which competes with the F-150, Chevy Silverado 1500, GMC Sierra 1500, Nissan Titan and Toyota Tundra.
TRX prices start at $69,995. All TRXs come with a roomy crew cab, 5-foot-7-inch bed, four-wheel drive, 702-hp 6.2L supercharged Hemi V8, eight-speed transmission and electronic locking rear axle. Check every feature on the order sheet and you’re looking at about $97,000, with room to grow if you dip into Mopar’s catalogue for aftermarket parts like a bed-mounted spare tire carrier, de rigeur for off-road racers.
I tested a well-equipped TRX that stickered at $87,870. All prices exclude destination charges.
The F-150 Raptor off road racer is the TRX’s closest competition, but with prices for the Raptor crew cab starting at $56,440, 450 hp and 510 pound-feet of torque, close is a relative term, despite Ford’s 10-speed transmission’s extra gears and quick, smooth shifts.
The TRX’s interior lives up to the standard its exterior and running gear set. A particularly notable change is the addition of a console mounted shifter, replacing other Rams’ dashboard-mounted gear selecting dial. Controls for performance and 4WD modes inherited the dial’s easy-to-reach spot, relocating the shifter to a more traditional location and shape. A 12-inch touch screen delivers easy-to-use controls and multiple performance pages for TRX sport functions. Audio and climate controls have easy-to-use dials and buttons. Good voice recognition completes the package. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard, as is wireless charging.
Options on the TRX I tested included:
— Metallic paint head-up display ( FCA’s first)
— Rearview camera mirror
— Pedestrian/cyclist emergency braking
— Adaptive cruise control
— Lane-keeping assist Blind spot and cross traffic alerts
— Deployable bed-step
— Four cargo tie-down hooks
— Spray-in bedliner
— Leather and carbon fiber trim package
— Flat bottom steering wheel
— Sport bucket seats
— Heated steering wheel
— Heated and ventilated front seats
— Heated rear seats
— Accent and ambient lighting
— Power front seats
— Power adjustable pedals
— Memory for driver settings Front and rear parking assist with stop
— LED box lights
— Rear under-seat storage
— 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio Bed-mounted tire carrier
— 18×9-inch Beadlock capable aluminum wheels
2021 Ram 1500 TRX at a glance
Base price: $69,995
As tested: $87,870 (excluding destination charges)
Four-wheel drive five-seat crew cab off-road racing full-size pickup
On sale fourth quarter 2020.
Engine: 6.2L supercharged Hemi V8
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Power: 702 hp @ 6,100 rpm; 650 pound-feet of torque @ 4,800 rpm
EPA fuel economy estimate: 10 mpg city/14 highway/12 combined
Wheelbase: 145.1 inches
Length: 232.9 inches
Width: 88 inches
Height: 80.9 inches
Curb weight: 6,350 pounds
Assembled in Sterling Heights, Mich.
ABOUT THE WRITER
Mark Phelan is the Detroit Free Press auto critic. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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