2021 Ram 1500 TRX Test Drive

Ron Sessions, Independent Expert | Nov 12, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Ram deals!

2021 Ram 1500 TRX front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Extreme performance pickup trucks are a thing. Ford whose F-150 Raptor created the segment for high-powered, high-speed-capable desert-running pickups a decade ago is now joined by the all-new 2021 Ram 1500 TRX. 

With U.S.-based automakers all but abandoning premium luxury sedans, highly profitable full-size pickups and SUVs, some with transaction prices nearing triple digits, have effectively become America’s homegrown luxury vehicles. The Ram 1500 TRX’s take on luxury mixes equal parts high-end comfort and convenience accouterments, thunderous locomotion from a supercharged, 702-hp Hellcat 6.2-liter V8, Baja trophy-truck worthy long-travel suspension, and predatory looks guaranteed to set your neighbor’s dog barking. 

Including the $1,695 destination charge, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX starts at $71,790. The tally can quickly balloon to well over $90,000 if one goes deep into the pickup’s lengthy option list.

J.D. Power recently had an opportunity to spend a day driving the new TRX over the twisty mountain roads around Lake Tahoe, California and over an off-road course used for competitive events near Sparks, Nevada.

Styling and Design - Find the best Ram deals!

2021 Ram 1500 TRX rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Ram 1500 TRX starts out with 4-wheel drive and a Crew Cab, short-bed configuration. Unlike the Ford F-150 Raptor which offers both short-wheelbase SuperCab and long-wheelbase SuperCrew variants, no shortened Quad Cab version of the TRX is available, just the longer Ram Crew Cab with a roomier back seat.

Design-wise, the TRX is a Ram 1500 on steroids. Compared to the stock Ram 1500, the TRX sits 2-inches higher, something all but NBA forwards will notice getting in and out of the cabin. Optional off-road running boards ($1,195) can help with that, or rock rails ($995) which protect the rocker panels are less likely to get hung up on obstacles. Speaking of obstacles, the TRX’s published ground clearance under the more-tender, skidplate-protected parts is listed at 11.8 inches. Ram says the TRX can ford up to 32 inches of water without engine damage, thanks to a relocated alternator and a sophisticated dirt-and-water-trapping air intake system. Skidplates add protection for the lower front fascia, belly pan, front suspension, fuel tank, steering gear and 4-wheel-drive transfer case.

With giant, open-tread 35-inch tall 325/65R18 Goodyear Wrangler Territory All-Terrain tires at the corners, the TRX sports a 6-inch wider track front and rear than the base Ram 1500. Bulging musculature, in the form of composite fender flares, covers the hefty tires and add another 8 inches of width to the Ram 1500’s body. It’s so wide, you may want a spotter when parking the TRX at your favorite mini-mall coffee shop.

Dominating the view out over the TRX’s aluminum hood is a voracious-looking air intake that along with the enlarged grille opening, feeds the 702-hp supercharged V8 beast underneath. Contributing to the TRX’s ready-set-go attitude are ominous-looking LED clearance lights, lurking in the hood scoop’s gaping maw, complementing other clearance lights tucked in the outboard edges of the front bumper and at the rear of the truck between the bumper and tailgate. Oversized tow hooks, front and rear, suggest the TRX is ready to pull more than its own weight. As with the giant FORD block letters announcing the F-150 Raptor, the RAM lettering centered in the front grille is larger than on regular-issue Ram 1500s.

At the rear, big-bore 5-inch dual exhausts trumpet the 6.2-liter supercharged V8’s song. An optional bed-mounted RamBar ($1,895) adds an element of rollover protection as well as mounts for high-set off-road lights. Also available is a $995 bed-mounted spare tire carrier.

From any angle, the new Ram 1500 TRX looks imposing and ready for its next extreme performance opportunity, whether that’s dune-hopping, rock-climbing or just out-dragging most cars to the next stoplight. Mini-malls aside, what the TRX wants to do is some open-field running.

Features and Controls - Find the best Ram deals!

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Controls and Front seats

Photo: Ron Sessions

With a price tag more than double that of a base, 305-hp V6-powered Ram 1500, the TRX checks a lot of boxes. Although the main focus was on the Hellcat supercharged V8 powertrain and super long-travel Baja-racer suspension, Ram didn’t forget that at the TRX’s price point, buyers expect some luxury coddling. 

With the possible exception of the base TRX’s cloth-and-vinyl-clad power driver and manual front-passenger bucket seats, the cabin feels a bit more upscale than that of the Raptor’s. The TRX’s front buckets have more lateral backrest bolstering to help keep occupants in place under the high-g loads the truck is capable of on- and especially off-road. The driver faces a nicely shaped flat-bottom, leather-clad steering wheel, 120-mph speedometer and 7-inch configurable color driver display. For the TRX, Ram skipped the twisto-knob gear selector of lesser 1500s in favor of a meaty, leather-clad short-throw PRNDL shifter that moves fore and aft.

Opt for either of the $3,420 TR1 or $7,920 TR2 option packages and the front passenger seat gets power-operated, both the front buckets and outboard potions of the 60/40 split fold-down rear seats are heated and ventilated and all seats get perforated leather and suede coverings. Both packages upgrade to a heated and leather-and-suede wrapped steering wheel as well. The TR1 group also includes rain-sensing wipers, a garage-door opener, rear underseat storage and power adjustable pedals.

The TR2 package also brings remote start, keyless entry, a power tailgate release, a wireless charging pad big enough for small tablets, LED bed lighting, memory settings for the driver’s seat, mirrors, radio presets and pedals as well as a rear seat recline feature. Only the TR2-equipped truck can be optioned with the $1,295 Carbon Fiber package that adds, in addition to interior carbon-fiber trim, red accent stitching on the seats, a leather-wrapped instrument panel, console and doors. A dual-pane sunroof is a $1,495 option.

These days, luxury-priced vehicles are expected to have large infotainment screens and the TRX does not disappoint. Front and center in the middle of the dash is the Ram 1500 Limited’s portrait-format 12-inch Uconnect touchscreen. Embedded high-resolution navigation is standard. The screen can display two functions simultaneously and is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatible for easy cellphone mirroring of your favorite apps. It’s also the window for accessing vehicle drive modes and off-road performance pages.

The big screen is flanked by handy analog volume and tuning knobs, hard buttons for the dual-zone automatic climate control and there’s a row of virtual buttons at the screen bottom for selecting phone, media, seat, camera and other climate control functions. Right now, it’s the best and easiest-to-use infotainment screen among full-size trucks, although the 2021 F-150 Raptor, expected sometime next year, will likely get its own landscape-format 12-inch screen.

A 10-speaker AM/FM stereo with HD Radio and SiriusXM 360L featuring Pandora-personalized stations is standard with a $1,195 19-speaker Harman Kardon premium system optional. The one-year SiriusXM subscription comes with five years of traffic and travel link service. A 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot is onboard as well. There are five USB ports in the center console, three up front, two at the rear.

Safety and Technology - Find the best Ram deals!

2021 Ram 1500 TRX infotainment

Photo: Ron Sessions

Competitive pressures haven’t induced full-size pickup manufacturers to make much in the way of advanced safety and driver-assistive tech features standard yet as they have with mainstream sedans and crossover SUVs. So the Ram 1500 TRX comes standard with the basic stuff like six airbags and a backup camera, sonic rear park assist, plus automatic high-beam control, and a forward collision warning system. Everything else is optional.

A $995 Advanced Safety package adds adaptive cruise control (regular cruise control is standard), lane-keeping assist and automatic emergency braking. A 10.1-inch head-up display in the lower part of the windshield that’s part of a $1,095 Technology package can provide status for up to five things you might want to keep tabs on in your line of sight such as current speed and gear, current speed limit, turn-by-turn navigation, adaptive cruise setting and lane-keeping. The Tech package also includes a digital rearview mirror that works off a rear-mounted camera, giving the driver a view out the back unfettered by rear passengers, headrests or cargo in the bed. Ordering off the a la cart TRX menu can also add blind-spot and rear cross-traffic monitoring ($595), a handy surround-view camera ($495) and front and rear parking assist with auto braking ($445).

Optional is a $495 integrated trailer reverse steer control feature. Not unlike the system in the Ford Expedition, once activated, the driver backs up the TRX and trailer using a medium-size knob on the dash instead of the steering wheel. The system takes the mystery out of backing up a trailer and you merely twist the knob in the direction you want the truck and trailer to go in.

A separate Trailer Tow package ($395) adds integrated trailer brake control, as well as a tire-pressure monitor and light check apps for the trailer. The maximum tow rating is 8,100 lbs. 

Driving Impressions - Find the best Ram deals!

2021 Ram 1500 driving impressions

It’s hard to ignore the seductive qualities of a 702-hp supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8. Push the start button and there’s the low-frequency drumbeat of free-flowing, fossil-fueled fury. No artificial digital sound enhancement from the truck’s speakers is needed here. In an age of lightning-quick, whisper-quiet, CO2 neutral electric vehicles, the TRX is Old School with a vengeance. Pull the nicely weighted, short-throw cast-aluminum PRNDL shifter back into Drive, the big beast nudges forward ever so slightly, revs drop just a hair and the supercharger’s whine hovers patiently in the background.

Punching the throttle pushes you back in the seat to the giddy roar of bellowing exhaust and the clarion call of the twin-screw supercharger. You may have heard it before in Hellcat-powered Dodge Chargers or Challengers, but this one is more akin to storming out of the gate riding a snorting rodeo bull. While legal opportunities to experience the TRX at its 118-mph maximum velocity are rare, the big Ram can storm all of its near 3-1/4 tons (6,350 lbs) of heft to 60 mph from rest in just under 4.5 seconds. That’s about a second quicker than the 2020 Ford Raptor’s 450-hp twin-turbo V6 can accomplish the task.

Helping that happen is standard launch control, actuated by a dash-mounted button by the driver’s left knee. Simply push the launch control button, and with the steering wheel pointed dead ahead and Drive selected, mash the brake with your left foot, do the same with your right foot on the accelerator for a couple seconds, release the brake and enjoy as the system manages wheel spin and wheel hop for a flawless burst of speed.

That said, the Hellcat V8’s sound and fury under the hood, impressive as it is, can’t prepare you for what the TRX can do in open desert running. Like the Baja trophy trucks that inspired it, the TRX can eat up rolling terrain, jumps and whumps with ease. The ride is nothing like that served up by a rodeo bull but more akin to a weight lifter that’s mastered ballet. Common sense would suggest that a 6,350-lb truck shouldn’t be able to leap several feet into the air off sharp drop-offs and land gracefully, under control and with no damage. But like the 800-lb lighter F-150 Raptor, the Ram 1500 TRX makes short work of the rough stuff courtesy of long wheel travel and huge adaptive dampers with external fluid reservoirs to keep the shocks from overheating and aerating in heavy use.

The TRX is equipped with an all-new independent front suspension with forged-aluminum arms with 13 inches of wheel travel. At the rear, the Ram 1500’s segment-exclusive coil spring suspension gets upgraded to offer 14 inches of travel for the live axle. Hefty, 2.5-inch Bilstein e2 Blackhawk adaptive shock absorbers tailor jounce and rebound damping force individually for each wheel in real time.

The result is a truck with surprisingly good ride quality, yet one that’s stable and relaxed at speed. The suspension is firm with good body control when you want it, such as when booking down a twisty back road. But the adaptive shocks can back way off on jounce for less impact shock over hard bumps and softer landings after catching some air—then firm back up in milliseconds. Even if the TRX sees more suburban shopping centers than dune-filled deserts, the long-travel adaptive shocks make speed bumps, sharp driveway ramps and curbs practically disappear.

Despite its size, the TRX is easy to place on the road and keep itself in-lane, courtesy of electric-boosted power steering that’s nicely weighted, decent turn-in response and has a natural self-centering valley feel. As good as they are finding traction in sand and dirt and scrabbling for purchase over jagged rocks, the nearly 3-foot-tall Goodyear all-terrain tires don’t set up a howl on the interstate. A big truck needs big brakes and the TRX gets them with large 15-inch rotors front and rear that deliver a firm pedal with confidence-inspiring, linear response.

The TRX drinks premium unleaded and nets EPA estimates of 10 mpg city/14 mpg highway/12 mpg combined, which is about 4-5 mpg less fuel-efficient than that of the 2020 F-150 Raptor. It’s doubtful extreme performance truck buyers care much about that except when figuring out distance to empty in remote areas where a lot of the fun happens. The TRX has a 33-gallon fuel tank.

Standard TRX issue is a full-time, active 4-wheel-drive transfer case beefed up for the output of the 702-hp Hellcat V8 and the rigors of “extreme” off-roading. Selectable settings are 4WD Auto (good for most driving), 4WD High and 4WD Low with a 2.64:1 low-range reduction for slow crawling. Unlike the F-150 Raptor, there is no 2WD setting for turning the rear tires into smoke. An electronic locking rear differential is standard but not for the front axle which uses the front brakes to effect a limited-slip setup. On a steep rock-climbing exercise at the road test facility in Nevada, the big TRX picked and clawed its way over jagged rocks and boulders with little difficulty.

Conclusion - Find the best Ram deals!

2021 Ram 1500 TRX rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

No one except maybe somebody the likes of the now-deceased Evil Knievel needs a TRX, but FCA has identified a group of buyers with the interest and means to pop $70,000-$90,000 for the Cretaceous-period-inspired, bigger-than-life, terrain-conquering beast.

Aside from the now upstaged Ford F-150 Raptor, there’s nothing else like the Ram 1500 TRX. Chevy has the Colorado ZR2, Toyota its TRD-enhanced Tundras and Tacomas and Nissan a smattering of Pro-4X pickups with extra off-road ability, but none that come even remotely close to the 702-hp TRX. Perhaps the all-electric GMC Hummer, due out in the not-too-distant future, will give the TRX and Raptor some competition in the extreme performance truck sphere.

In the meantime, the Ram 1500 TRX will be hauling something much more in your face than hay and manure. It’s what amounts to a street-legal trophy truck for the rest of us.

About the Author

Ron Sessions is a seasoned vehicle evaluator with more than three decades of experience. He has penned hundreds of road tests for automotive web sites, enthusiast magazines, newsletters, technical journals and newspapers.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2022 J.D. Power

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