The Hellcat V8 is the star, but the TRX is hugely capable all around.
“Tahoe is beautiful this time of year,” everyone tells me as I pack my bags and pensively hop on a plane to Nevada. They weren't kidding. The 40-degree morning air proved a nice change of pace from the humid swamp gas of South Florida, the sky was beautiful and bright blue – a reflection of the lake in the distance – and everything smelled like those pine tree air fresheners you get at the gas station. Ah, nature.
But I wasn’t in Tahoe simply to enjoy the natural beauty. In fact, I was there to drive what was essentially a giant middle finger to the surrounding environment: The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX. Logically speaking, this truck shouldn't even exist; it's overpowered and oversized, and consumes fuel at an ungodly rate. But as we’ve learned, some of the best things in life are illogical, and the TRX is the best proof of that.
Jekyll And Hyde Complex
Greeting me outside the hotel was a line of 10 or so Ram TRX testers. Technically, the straight shot from our hotel in Truckee, California, to our final destination – an off-road park in northern Nevada – would take about an hour. But Ram encouraged us to use the long way around, skirting the edge of Lake Tahoe in order to drive some of the finest twisty roads the area has to offer. It's my first chance to put that much-talked-about Hellcat V8 to the test.
And the numbers are impressive: 702 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque, and 0 to 60 miles per hour in 4.5 seconds on the right surface. But in the first few minutes on public roads, the Ram TRX feels more like an oversized puppy than the fire-breathing truck I was expecting. Keep it in Auto mode and the TRX drives like a traditional 1500 – the throttle is smooth but not super eager, the steering is sort of vague like most big trucks, though not bad, and the exhaust dulls to a barely noticeable burble. I was worried the TRX might be too tough to drive daily, but that's not the case.
On public roads, the Ram TRX feels more like an oversized puppy than a fire-breathing truck
Engineers say the TRX has a bit of a “Jekyll and Hyde complex,” which makes it easy-going on road, as I experienced, but aggressive when you want it to be. And the second you toggle the drive mode selector from Auto to Sport, things change dramatically. Pressing that button shuts off the traction control and unleashes all 702 horses in an instant. Even the slightest poke at the gas pedal makes the Ram TRX accelerate with scary force.
I gunned it between stop signs and traffic lights surrounding the lake, the TRX showing off its unwieldy power as curious (or concerned) pedestrians looked on. The instant shove from the supercharged engine forced me back into the big bucket seats as if the TRX were nothing more than a high-riding Challenger Hellcat (which isn’t far from the truth). The eight-speed automatic hangs revs impressively and follows up with crisp shifts into the next gear every single time. And the combo of the supercharger whine and the deep exhaust is better than any music I could pump through the speakers.
But having driven other Hellcat models, I sort of expected all of that – brutal acceleration, a quick gearbox, and a great sound – even before getting behind the wheel. What I wasn’t expecting was how competent the Ram TRX was on curvier roads.
Sport mode didn’t just make the TRX feel more responsive, it also made the truck handle like an absolute dream. The adaptive steering is phenomenal in this model – weighty and responsive, with none of the vague on-center feeling you feel in Auto mode. The adaptive suspension is tauter and more responsive, too.
This truck is so fast, so agile, and so much fun – and this is all before we even make it to the off-road course.
That means you can fling the TRX into the twisties, as I did around Lake Tahoe, with near sports car-like precision. The TRX is unbelievably flat in the corners for a truck of its size, and even with big, knobby 35-inch off-road tires, there's a solid amount of feedback from the pavement to your fingertips. This truck is so fast, so agile, and so much fun – and this is all before we even make it to the off-road course.
Our drive through the mountains eventually led us to Carson City, Nevada, and onward toward the Wild West Motorsports Park, where Ram promised lots of off-road fun to be had. And this is no amateur course – Wild West Motorsports Park hosts championship events for Ultra4 trophy truck racing, complete with daunting inclines and declines, jumps, and a steep rock climb. The Ram TRX would tackle it all in stride.
With a professional Ultra4 trophy truck driver riding shotgun, I lined the TRX up at the start of the course and moved the drive mode selector to Baja. This dedicated high-speed off-road mode produces a similar throttle and steering feel to what you get in Sport mode, but with more suspension travel and a bit more body movement to accommodate for the harsher terrain.
The feeling of all four tires leaving the ground doesn’t get any less terrifying the more you do it.
The first incline bleeds into turn one, which curves into an equally steep drop down on the other side towards the center straight. My co-driver encourages me to “give it more gas on the way down,” the goal being to hit a dedicated jump at the bottom at a speed of about 55 miles per hour – yes, a jump. When Ram engineers said the TRX was capable of anything, they weren't kidding.
I've done this type of thing before in the Raptor – but the feeling of all four tires leaving the ground doesn’t get any less terrifying the more you do it. After the Ram TRX flies off the ramp at 55, my hands death-gripping the steering wheel, the truck lands on the other side of a small undulation totally unphased. It's like it didn't even leave the ground.
The secret to the TRX's high-flying capabilities is its thoroughly re-engineered chassis, which is 74-percent different from the Rebel on which it's based. Bilstein Blackhawk active shock absorbers produce anywhere from 22 to 2,000 pounds of damping force at each corner, while the bushings are essentially one-ton units packaged into half-ton suspension parts. And then there are the rear springs: At 26.6 inches tall, they're the largest on any vehicle in the world, custom made for the TRX.
The tires also make a significant contribution to the TRX's off-road capabilities. Like the rear springs, this set of Goodyear Territory rubber (325/65R18) was custom-made for the TRX, measuring in at 35 inches tall. These are some of the largest, most hardcore tires we've ever tested. That massive rubber hides 14.9-inch front and 14.1-inch rear brake rotors. These massive brakes give the TRX ample stopping power, even at the highest of speeds.
On a dirt and rock-littered drag strip, the truck rocketed to 60 mph in what felt like just over five seconds.
But it's still the supercharged Hellcat V8 that wows me above all else; what this truck does in a straight line is almost unfathomable. I set the TRX up on a dirt and rock-littered drag strip adjacent to the track, engage launch control, and rocket the truck to 60 mph in just over five seconds, using the butt test. Ram quotes 4.5 seconds on the pavement – but the lead powertrain engineer tells us that figure is actually closer to 4.2 seconds. And if you find a long enough straight, the TRX will top out at 118 mph, which makes it the fastest truck anywhere. Insane.
Extra Large And In Charge
Numbers like that are all the more unbelievable when you consider the sheer size of the TRX, which at first glance looks even larger than expected. The design itself doesn't stray far from the Rebel and Power Wagon models.
The TRX sports a slightly different blacked-out grille with a huge “RAM” wordmark, a new vented hood to accommodate and cool the supercharged V8, and slight design tweaks to the front fascia and rear valance. If you did want to go all out on styling, though, Ram does offer more than 100 Mopar accessories, including a bed-mounted RamBar, roof-mounted LEDs, beadlock-capable wheels, and more.
The design itself doesn't stray far from the Rebel and Power Wagon models.
Ram widened the TRX by 8.0 inches to accommodate the extra half-foot track compared to the regular 1500 – see those amber lights on the bumper corners and hidden in the hood scoop? Those are there because this truck is so broad-shouldered that the Feds mandated clearance markers. Engineers also revised the suspension geometry, adding an extra 0.8-inch to the wheelbase in order to fit the massive 35-inch-tall tires – Ram says from an engineering standpoint, you can't go any bigger. All in all, the truck sits 11.8 inches off the ground, making it even higher than the Ford Raptor (11.5 inches), much less the tamer Rebel (10.3 inches).
Problem is, that added height makes stepping into the TRX a challenge. Ram offers two fixed side-step options on the TRX, but neither offer enough grip to be very useful – I slipped multiple times trying to get in. Automatic-deploying running boards would be a handy addition.
Familiar Interior – With Perks
When you do eventually climb inside the TRX, there's a lot to like. The cabin isn't much different than the already excellent 1500, but it does get a few model-specific features that help the TRX stand out. There's a new flat-bottomed steering wheel wrapped in leather, aluminum paddle shifters for the first time ever on a Ram truck, and two different seating options to choose from: a combo of cloth and vinyl or leather and suede. Our tester wore the latter of the three, wrapped around some superb new sport bucket seats that offer great bolstering and comfort.
Another carryover from the traditional 1500 is the 12.0-inch portrait-oriented touchscreen with Uconnect 4. It's the same slick, easy-to-use setup we've gushed about previously, but here it gets SRT Performance Pages. This drive menu, available exclusively on other high-performance Mopar models, has race and drive mode options, launch control rpm adjustment, shift lights, and even a cool-down mode.n All of these features would prove extremely useful later in the day while out on the track.
The Ram TRX starts at $69,995, which means you definitely will have to pay to play in the dirt. And with options like advanced safety, carbon fiber trim, and the bed-mounted spare – among others – our tester costs closer to $90,000. With a few more options, you can hike the price to over $100,000. That's a lot of money for a truck, even one with 702 horses – especially when you consider the Raptor starts at just $53,455 comparatively.
But the Ram TRX is more than just a Hellcat engine shoved into a 1500. Yes, it is stupid fast and wonderfully loud, like you'd expect – you'll beat pretty much any other truck between stoplights. Instead, it's the careful and thoughtful engineering applied to the suspension and chassis that makes this truck so damn special and so capable. Illogical or not, the Ram TRX is the pinnacle of performance truck engineering.
2021 Ram 1500 TRX