First Drive: 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Hits The DIRT
Photography by Harry Wagner and courtesy of Ram Trucks
We recently had the exclusive opportunity to test drive Ram’s new TRX truck around Lake Tahoe and at Reno’s Wild West Motorsports Park, where we took the truck around the same short course track used for LOORRS and Ultra4 racing. First introduced as a concept vehicle at the Texas State Fair four years ago, Ram called the TRX (think “T-Rex”) the “apex predator” in a claim squarely aimed at the Ford Raptor. The TRX was designed for the dirt but is no slouch on the road, clicking off the quarter mile in 12.9 seconds and accelerating from 0-60 in 4.5 seconds.
This is the most powerful pickup truck on the market, and it is also the fastest with a top speed of 118 miles per hour and quickest from 0-60, 0-100, and in the quarter mile. The power comes from a 702HP 6.2L V8 Hemi engine topped with a twin-screw supercharger pumping out 11 pounds of boost. The result is a completely flat torque curve with gobs of power at any RPM in any gear.
The Ram TRX’s 6.2L V8 Hemi pumps out 702HP thanks to a twin-screw supercharger that has been proven in other applications like the Hellcat Dodges and Trackhawk Jeeps. For the TRX, Ram routed air through a functional hood scoop to dual air filter elements mated to a huge 29-liter air box that uses dual air filters which adds up to 198.4 square inches of filter surface area! This is four times the dust trapping capacity when compared to the closest competitor. The engine is backed by a TorqueFlite 8HP95 eight-speed automatic transmission that can be shifted with paddle shifters or through the console shifter.
When the programming is in Sport Mode we never found a need to touch the shifter as the transmission would hold a gear to redline and allow us to focus on steering and braking rather than shifting. The Borg-Warner 48-13 transfer case is a fulltime four-wheel-drive unit that has a 2.64:1 low range. It also alters the power split depending on the Dynamic Drive Mode. In Auto the split is 40/60, while in Rock Mode the split is 50/50 and in Baja Mode the split is 25/75.
Seven drive modes are accessible through a switch pad under the ignition button and the 12-inch Uconnect touch screen. Our favorite thing about the mode selection is that it forced the shifter to be moved to the center console instead of being a rotary knob on the dash like other Ram 1500 models use.
The Dynamic Drive Modes alter more than just the transfer case bias. There are seven modes, and you can even make a custom mode that allows the driver to personalize the vehicle’s performance with a selectable driving experience, offering a multitude of vehicle system combinations. We loved the Sport Mode on the street and mainly used Baja Mode on the track, with the torque split and the transmission shifting being the most obvious changes.
- Auto — Automatically adapts to any condition; uses a 40/60-percent front/rear torque split
- Sport — Transmission shift times are reduced by 50 percent versus Auto Mode; stability control, four-wheel-drive system and steering systems are set for typical enthusiast driving style; paddle shifters are enabled and suspension is tightened up without increasing impact harshness to deliver increased vehicle performance capability over Auto Mode; uses 30/70 torque split
- Tow — Alters torque delivery off the line for greater smoothness and adjusts suspension to combat pitch and yaw to deliver maximum towing performance; uses 45/55 torque split
- Snow — Maximizes traction to deliver optimized performance on snow and ice with reduced engine horsepower; uses 45/55 torque split
- Mud/Sand – Minimizes wheel spin, recalibrates throttle management and torque distribution to mitigate wheel slip and improve traction; uses 45/55 torque split
- Rock – Accessible in 4Lo, recalibrates the rear locking axle and Hill-descent Control; uses 50/50 torque split
- Baja — Transmission shift times are reduced 68 percent versus Auto Mode to 160 milliseconds; stability control, four-wheel-drive and steering systems are set for ultimate desert performance; paddle shifters are enabled and suspension is set to full damping to deliver maximum vehicle performance capability on undulating, loose surfaces; uses 25/75 torque split
The front suspension is three inches wider per side than the standard Ram 1500 and uses forged upper and lower control arms to maximize strength, along with plunging axles that allow for 13 inches of front wheel travel. The front diff is the aluminum ZF unit used in the normal Ram 1500 and is only offered with an open differential. Time will tell if this differential is strong enough to stand up to the abuse TRX owners are certain to dish out, but we had no issues with our test truck despite repeatedly jumping it and even taking it through a rock crawling course.
Out back, Ram’s unique five-link suspension was tweaked to cycle 14 inches of suspension travel, up from nine inches on a standard Ram 1500. engineers even used huge 3/4-ton control arm bushings for maximum strength and durability. The rear suspension does curiously use a shock from the top of the rear axle that is claimed to reduce wheel hop and shudder but quite frankly looks out of place on the TRX. It’s what is often referred to as a kicker shock and it does work to limit axle hop. The rear suspension locates a full floating Dana 60 rear axle that comes with 3.55 gears and either an open diff, limited slip, or electronic selectable locker. We think the 3.55 gears are a little tall with 35-inch tall tires, but they were likely a concession to fuel mileage standards.
Ram TRX’s Bilstein front adaptive performance shocks employ three vibration sensors and travel sensors at all four wheels for maximum detection and control. These sensors also work to minimize the trade-off of on- versus off-road comfort. Different suspension modes allow different amounts of pitch, roll and heave control.
Rather than just adding bypass shocks like found on other production trucks designed for the desert, Ram knew that they had to up the ante and offer something better than what was already on the market. They worked with Bilstein to develop the Black Hawk e2 adaptive shock absorbers. Using a three-piston design, the Black Hawk e2 shocks use dual electronic proportional valves that continuously and infinitely adjustable damping forces on both the compression and rebound circuits. This technology is similar to the Fox Live Valve found on the new Polaris RZR, but those shocks only adjust the compression damping. Not a bypass shock in the traditional sense, the e2 shocks adjust both compression and rebound throughout the suspension travel as quickly as 20 milliseconds based on a variety of sensors at each corner.
The Ram TRX features three interior options. Trucks outfitted with the TR Equipment Group greet occupants with premium cloth and vinyl accents featuring Black and Dark Ruby Red surfaces. Opting for the TR1 or TR2 Equipment Group brings an interior based on the Ram 1500 Limited and feature heated and ventilated premium Natura Plus leather with perforated-suede accents.
The TRX comes with a variety of high-end features that make it comfortable to drive in any environment. The Adaptive Front-lighting System (AFS) uses LED projector headlamps with up to 15 degrees of direction control with steering input to optimizing lighting on the road and off. An available digital rearview mirror option replaces the traditional rearview mirror with a 9.2-inch wide LCD monitor. The digital rearview mirror displays wide angle video in real time from a rear-facing camera and can be turned off to revert back to a traditional reflective mirror. Trailer Reverse Steer Control is also an option on the TRX and uses a dial to point the trailer in the desired direction while the system controls the steering wheel. With a maximum tow rating of 8,100 pounds and a payload of 1,310 pounds, the trailer hookup will likely come in handy.
Launch Control, technology borrowed from the Hellcat, is standard and optimizes vehicle performance by coordinating engine, transmission, driveline and suspension for a textbook launch and consistent straight-line acceleration. It works by deactivating four cylinders until you release the brake and then sends you hurdling forward. We tried it in the dirt and can vouch that it works exactly as advertised. All of these features contribute to a starting price of $71,690 though, and a fully loaded TRX will set you back a whopping $90,265.
Ram not only let us jump the trucks at the track, they actively encouraged it! Wheel speed and ride height sensors and accelerometers are found in each corner of the truck to identify when the vehicle is airborne. Jump Detection modifies engine speed and torque, gear selection, transfer case torque split, damping rates and other powertrain and suspension components through the landing.
How Does It Stack Up To A Raptor?
On paper the TRX is similar to the Raptor in variety of specifications such as wheel travel, ground clearance, track width, approach angle, and departure angle, but there are some notable differences. Despite composite front fenders and aluminum in the doors, hood, tailgate, engine mounts, and transmission crossmember, the TRX weighs nearly 1,000 pounds more than a Raptor. It also costs at least $15,000 more, and has smaller diameter shocks (although the Bilstein Black Hawk e2 shocks have 3 pistons per shock with an average overall piston working area of 58 mm with electronic reservoirs to control both rebound and compression) and an open front differential rather than the Raptor Torsen limited slip diff. If you crave horsepower, the TRX will smoke a Raptor if you happen upon them on the street. It is a far more technologically advanced truck, but that isn’t always an advantage when you are plowing through silt beds south of the border.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX
Wheelbase: 145.1 inches
Front Track Width: 74.5 inches
Rear Track Width: 74.1 inches
Length: 232.9 inches
Width: 88.0 inches
Height: 80.9 inches
Bed Length: 5 feet 7 inches
Bed Volume: 53.9 cubic feet
2020 Ford F-150 Raptor
Wheelbase: 146.0 inches
Front Track Width: 73.9 inches
Rear Track Width: 73.6 inches
Length: 231.9 inches
Width: 86.3 inches
Height: 78.5 inches
Bed Length: 5 feet 7 inches
Bed Volume: 52.8 cubic feet
Ram worked with Goodyear to develop an all-terrain tire that was speed rated to match the 118-mph top speed of the TRX. They are 325/65R18 (35-inch tall) Goodyear Wrangler Territory wrapped around optional beadlock-capable aluminum wheels. The 18-inch diameter was necessary in order to clear the huge 15-inch front and rear brake rotors.
The high mounted intake on the TRX allows it to ford 32-inches of water. Ram also took a cue from their siblings at Jeep on the alternator mounting. The alternator was relocated to the top of the engine when compared to other SRT models using the 6.2L Hemi to ensure it keeps from getting dunked in the wet stuff.
An optional spare tire mount fits in the bed and angles the tire for a desert racing look. Unfortunately, the 35-inch tire also takes up much of the bed space. Fortunately, a fullsize spare tire fits under the bed and even comes on a matching wheel instead of just an ugly steel spare wheel. One cool fact is that we know a 37-inch tire will fit under the bed in the spare tire location. Make of that what you will.