The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else

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The way I see it, the Ram TRX is pretty much the truck equivalent of a supercar. It’s way more powerful than it needs to be, it’s never going to be used to its fullest potential by the vast majority of people who buy them, and making it really good at one discipline pretty much ruins its usability as a daily driver. Supercars are too stiff because they need to set a fast Nürburgring time. The TRX is too sloppy because it’s a 6,400 pound pickup built like a trophy truck.

This is a technologically fascinating truck, utterly impressive in almost every way. But everything that makes it impressive also makes it feel tone deaf in the face of the reality of 2020. The real unemployment rate in America is over 26 percent, more Americans are behind on their car payments than ever and the majority of American adults have less than $1,000 in savings. Not to mention higher vehicle grille heights are killing pedestrians, though not nearly as many as will be killed by global climate change.

But other than that, the truck is... you know... fine.

(Full Disclosure: Ram invited me to test the TRX in Lake Tahoe, California. It was the company’s first press event since the pandemic began, and many safety precautions were taken. I was offered transportation and a fancy hotel room, but being that I live in Reno, just 45 minutes away, I slept in my own bed and organized my own transport. I did eat their delicious food, however.)  

(Testing Conditions: The route took us from the gorgeous mountain vistas of Truckee, California, then down the lakeshore on the Nevada side with narrow mountain roads. We skirted across the desert floor on US50 for some wide-lane winding highway, then up to the quaint mining and prostitution town of Virginia City. Follow Geiger Grade out of town and hop out to Mustang (another prostitution town) to the Wild West Motorsports Park for rock crawling, trophy truck racing and general off-road fun.)

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else
Photo: Bradley Brownell

Back in 2008, when it was hard up for cash and fighting to stay off the ropes, Ram parent company Chrysler begged the federal government for access to billions of dollars in bailout loans. In exchange for those loans, the company promised it would clean up its act, launching three electric cars by 2010 and a 73 percent more fuel-efficient lineup. Instead, FCA’s American lineup just 12 years later is down to one passenger car platform, hellacious supercharged V8s in everything and this monster of a truck that achieves 10 miles per gallon. The balls on these guys to look everyone straight in the face and deliver a 10 mpg pickup in two-thousand-twenty!

Ram 1500 TRX Explained

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else
Photo: Bradley Brownell

You’ve probably already got this one figured out. It’s a Ram pickup with the Hellcat motor. They don’t call it a Hellcat, because that’s Dodge branding, so in this application it’s just known as the 6.2-liter supercharged V8, but everyone knows it’s a Hellcat. The engine has been used to inject interest in FCA vehicles since it first dropped in 2015, lending big-power credibility to practically every vehicle in the lineup. In this application, five of its horsey-ponies have been let loose from the paddock, leaving the TRX to make do with just 702 instead of the usual 707.

The chassis is based on the standard Ram 1500 Crew Cab, but the actual frame has been crafted from thicker and stronger steel, while huge beefy reinforcements have been added to the truck’s suspension pickup points for jumpy truck reasons.

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else
Photo: Bradley Brownell

The front spindle was moved forward 13 millimeters to get the big chunky Goodyear Territory All-Terrain tires to fit in the wheel well. The truck’s suspension makes it two inches taller than the standard 1500 and the wheel/tire package adds another two inches in height. It is extremely difficult for me, a 6'2" American Man to get up into this truck without using the optional rock sliders as a foot hold.

To provide the truck as stable an off-road platform as possible, it was given three extra inches of width per side with longer, stronger control arms and tie-rods. The fenders were flared at all four corners to cover those wheel wells, making the truck a full 88 inches wide. It’s not quite 3500 Dually wide, but it’s wide.

Those tires are 325/65 18s and they’re rated for 118 miles per hour, and they have a strong enough sidewall to handle rock-crawly stuff. One of the optional wheels comes ready for bead lockers. They’re shipped from the factory with a beauty ring, but MOPAR will sell you the lock ring separately for $195. All TRXs will be equipped with a matching full-size spare under the bed, or you can option a wheel carrier in the bed of the truck for proper off-road cred (and loss of several cubic feet of hauling space).

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else
Photo: Bradley Brownell

To be honest, the engine is the least impressive thing about this truck. It’s a 6,350 pound brick of beef that can huck itself into the air on a real SCORE off-road racetrack and land as soft as falling into bed, without destroying itself or bending its frame or blowing out a shock.

Speaking of the shocks, they’re Bilstein e squared remote reservoir automatic adaptive damping units, which are extremely trick. With 13 inches of front suspension travel and 14 inches at the back, Ram actually had to dig for a supplier that could meet its needs in producing the world’s largest production car spring in the quantity needed for this beast.

Illustration for article titled The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is Awesome Off-Road And Not So Great At Anything Else
Photo: Bradley Brownell

Top Takeaways

The TRX is at its absolute worst when pressed into everyday traffic needs, with a jumpy throttle, disconnected brakes and steering, terrible forward visibility (thanks to the ridiculous height of the nose), disconcerting body roll and enough width to make narrower-than-standard roads in tiny towns a nightmare. At one point in Old West Virginia City, an oncoming sedan had to reverse and pull onto a side street to allow me and another TRX behind me passage. In normal driving, it’s really bad.

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When the driving gets abnormal, however, the truck truly shines. With incredibly impressive chassis development and those nice Bilsteins, the truck can be a lot of fun. There were three different modules of performance testing at Wild West Motorsports Park. The first was conducting a handful of laps on the short course with at least three several-feet-of-air-under-the-tires jumps, a segment of whoops, hellacious elevation change, and four massive slide-out-the-rear corners. The second was a three miles plus off-road course with a mix of high-speed wide-open running and 19-degree vertical climbs. The third was an even steeper rock garden with a trio of wheel placement specialists helping us up the hill.

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The truck excelled at all three of those tasks. In a way, the TRX is the Porsche 911 GT3 RS of the off-road world. It could feasibly be fitted with a roll cage and enter competition right now. If you ask me, that’s exactly how these should be sold. Ram, offer a Clubsport-esque off-road racing package for the TRX you cowards!

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This truck, in four-low with the ascent speed control engaged can crawl over pretty much everything. Just point it where you want to go, and it’ll make it. The surround-view camera button got a lot of use in the off-road section, because the world in front of you pretty much disappears under the gargantuan hood line. Point up the trail and you’re just looking at sky, hoping you’re going the right way. Visibility issues were exacerbated by the dry Nevada dust kicked up by trucks ahead of me.

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On the road, I had one truly fun segment of driving where I dropped the truck into sport mode and hustled it through a canyon of curvy roads. Being that this launch event was in my backyard, I knew the good driving roads and dipped off into an infrequently used truck-route between Carson City and Virginia City off the 341. I was able to drive the truck hammer-down and hustle it around corners in a way that it was certainly not designed for. Supercharger and tires whining in equal measure, the truck skidded, bobbed, rocked and plowed through about 10 miles of the most glorious roads northern Nevada has to offer. It was fun in the way I imagine it was to be Briggs Cunningham racing the 1950 Cadillac Le Monstre at Le Mans. It was doing something it was never meant to do, protesting loudly the entire time.

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What Stands Out

The truck boasts 702 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque. It’s going to be quick. With a claimed 0-60 in 4.5 seconds, it’s impressive that this much weight can be shifted in such a rapid fashion. I definitely don’t care about 0-60 times — especially in a world of two-second 0-60 electric cars — and nobody who buys a pickup needs a quick one, but it’s impressive in the way that top fuel dragsters are, or whales are, or the Sears Tower is.

The optional head-up display worked very well, helping me keep my eyes on the road. There is a long distance between what’s ahead of your bumper and what’s under the instrument binnacle, so it felt like a long time of eyes-off-the-road to check non-HUD information.

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Image: Ram

I’m not a small guy, so I was pretty comfortable in this massive cavern of an interior. Lots of head room, elbow room, leg room, etc. It’s a shame that you can’t have your significant other slide over the bench seat to wrap an arm around anymore, like you could in the old 1998 Ram 1500 single cab I drove in high school, but I guess holding hands across the several-feet-wide center console will have to do.

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Image: Ram

Off road, the TRX shines like few others I’ve driven. It’s violent in its attack on the terrain, alternately punishing the ground into submission or just barely dancing across its highest points. This truck makes you feel like you could point it at any mountain and drive up the side of it, if you don’t run out of fuel first. Jumps are just an exquisite experience, though I do wish I was strapped in a little tighter, say with a racing bucket and a harness. Make a Baja-1000-ready TRX Clubsport, dammit!

What’s Weak

I hate the massive tablet touch screen, as it was anything but intuitive to learn and some everyday-use buttons are hidden a couple of menus deep. And if you’re doing any kind of off-roading it ends up getting extremely dusty extremely quickly. And fingerprints are unsightly. Buttons, not touch screens!

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Image: Ram

The price is astronomical. I know it’s normal for trucks to be high five-figure “investments” these days, but this starts at $71,790! The truck I tested was fitted with the $7,920 TRX Level 2 Equipment Group which adds a bunch of comfort and tech equipment to the interior (and color-matched exterior door handles), the $1,295 carbon accent package, the $1,095 technology group with head-up display, digital display interior rear view mirror and LED CHMSL, plus the $995 Advanced Safety Group for adaptive cruise, lane-keep assist and pedestrian emergency braking. It also had the two-tone paint ($250), beadlock-capable wheels ($1,895), Ram Bar in-bed tubular rollover bar ($1895), MOPAR 5-inch LED off-road lights (not yet listed for sale), rock rails ($995) and in-bed spare tire storage ($995). All-in it was $89,225! Imagine getting a 180 month note on this big boy at 4 percent APR!

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Image: Ram

HOLY SHIT THE FUEL ECONOMY! I did about 150 miles in this truck over the course of the day, which did not include the racetrack action — we used a different set of trucks for that. In that time I burned just under 15 gallons of fuel, averaging 10.7 miles per gallon. I paid $3.99 for premium here a couple of days ago, and cannot imagine dropping almost $5,600 on fuel every year. The truck is rated at 10 city and 14 highway, but I never saw anything close to 14 on the highway, even with cruise control on.

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Image: Ram

Perhaps I would get used to it with extended daily use, but the digital display rear view mirror felt glaringly bad to me and I left it off most of the time. When I got in the truck and adjusted the mirrors to my eyeline, the first time I looked up at the video display of what was behind me my eyes took forever to adjust to the too-bright display and the one-dimensional appearance of it. In a mirror, your eyes are adjusting to the distance of the thing reflected in the rear view. In a video display, your focal length takes a second to recognize that the screen is mere feet from you instead of way out back. It’s an odd thing that I’ve experienced in Cadillacs and GMCs before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever get used to it.

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Image: Ram

That 4.5-second 0-60 time is impressive for a 6,400 pound truck, but why does it need to weigh that much? With the lift, all of that weight rocks back on the rear suspension when you jump on the throttle or engage launch control (yeah, this truck has launch control). By the time the body is done moving around, all of the violence of the acceleration is numbed before it reaches the driver. This isn’t a slam-your-head-into-the-seat truck, despite the numbers. It just rolls around and suddenly you’re going 100.

Safety

Since its introduction, the current-generation Ram 1500 has been an IIHS top safety pick. The new TRX improves on that even further with a stronger chassis and reinforced suspension, which likely means even better crashworthiness. Furthermore, that top safety pick came before the 1500 got its optional pedestrian emergency braking system, which should give it some extra points in that department.

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Image: Ram

I still find it strange that Ram offers both traditional dumb cruise control and adaptive cruise on the same truck. More than once I engaged the wrong one, and then wondered why the truck wasn’t keeping its distance to cars ahead. Obviously, because I paid attention to what was happening around me, I was able to slow the truck down with the brake pedal instead of plowing through the car in front, but it was an annoyance that I won’t ever understand.

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Image: Ram

Jalopnik Recommended Options

Blue or red. Don’t get this truck in greyscale. If you’re going to get something un-boring, why not be as un-boring as possible? In fact, why don’t you wrap it in orange? And get some factory TRX decals, why don’t you?

If you’re going to actually use this truck as an off-roader (which you definitely should, why buy it otherwise?) you need to get the bead-lock capable wheels, the Ram Bar cargo bar with lights and the bed-mounted spare. Who wants to be trying to get the spare wheel out from under the truck when it’s wedged up against a boulder and you’re stranded out on the trail with a blown-out sidewall?

Of everything on this truck, the head-up display and adaptive cruise are absolutely must-haves if you’re going to buy one.

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Image: Ram

Class and Competition

It’s pretty obvious that Ram is aiming squarely at Ford’s immensely successful F-150 Raptor. The Raptor is several thousand dollars less, but it doesn’t have a big supercharged V8, hoss. You could probably get a lot of the off-roady prowess from the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, but it’s half as much money and just a little over half the horsepower. Honestly, I don’t see many people cross-shopping anything with the TRX. If you want a TRX, only a TRX will do.

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Image: Ram

Verdict

If you’re buying a Ram 1500 TRX to go compete in the Baja 1000, you’re very smart. If you’re buying a Ram 1500 TRX to daily drive, you’ve got brain worms.

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Jalopnik contributor with a love for everything sketchy and eclectic.

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DISCUSSION

ny6speeder
ny6speeder

I love this truck and I do love Jalopnik, I’ve been a follower since 2008.  But for the love of god, can you guys just write automotive articles without predicating them on heated and politically debated topics.  Just providing a hyperlink doesn’t add to any credibility and it takes away from the actual content at hand - which is a 700 HP+ truck.  Forget politics (at least on jalopnik) and let’s just enjoy our common threads which are stitched in the automotive community.