2021 Ram 1500 TRX First Look Review: The 702-HP Ram Is Here!
Ram engineers apparently just unlocked useful fragments of a Ram SRT-10’s DNA from a chunk of amber to clone their first truly redonk performance pickup in 15 years. Either that or the broadcast sprinkler that’s been hosing down FCA’s product lineup with 6.2-liter supercharged Hemis finally pointed at Ram. Either way, look out; the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX (say T-Rex) is about to bust out of its safety cage.
Taking a page from drag racing’s “Snake” and “Mongoose,” TRX calls to mind the natural predator of its primary off-road competitor. Because as Jurassic Park taught us (incorrectly), Tyrannosaurus Rexes lunched on Velociraptors back in the day. Frankly, we fret that this new TRX, powered by a 702-hp, 650-lb-ft supercharged V-8, might not feel entirely sated upon devouring the current Ford Raptor, what with its comparatively puny 450-hp, 510-lb-ft twin-turbo V-6.
One thing’s for sure, though: The TRX is poised to end the long dry spell we’ve suffered awaiting the next sub-5.0-second pickup. The podium finishers in a recent roundup of the dozen quickest pickups we’ve ever tested included a 2004 Ford Lightning (5.1 to 60 mph), a Viper-engined 2004 Ram SRT-10 (4.9), and a 2008 Toyota Tundra TRD Supercharged (4.4). Nothing newer has run in the fours.
Why “Only” 702 Horsepower?
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After all this time with no crazy-fast pickups, it’s tempting to get greedy and wonder: Why TRX doesn’t get the full Hellcat 707, Redeye 797, Super Stock 807, or truly Demonic 840? Because it isn’t a car. It needs a deep-sump truck oil pan capable of guaranteeing proper lubrication at wild off-roady angles. It requires unique new high-nickel content exhaust manifolds with an X-pipe and 5.0-inch exhaust tips. To cope with potential off-road dust and dirt, its intake features upper (hood scoop) and lower (grille) ram-air intake paths that make a U-turn to cause dust and debris to fall out before flowing up through a dual-element 8 x 12-inch filter. Ram claims that, at 13.3 square feet of unfolded filter surface area, it offers four times the Raptor’s dust-trapping capability. The alternator mounts way up high to support the truck’s 32-inch wading depth. And in the end, the final horsepower and torque curves of any engine are tuned to match the anticipated duty cycle of the vehicle it’s going in. This one favors torque-curve fat over a pointy horsepower spike.
Also, technically, only Dodges get Hellcats. Jeep doesn’t call the engine in the Grand Cherokee Trackhawk a Hellcat, either, even if everyone outside FCA does.
How Quick and How Fast Is the TRX?
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Ram’s (probably conservative) estimates are that it’ll accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds, to 100 mph in 10.5, and through the quarter-mile in 12.9 at 108 mph on its way to a top speed of 118 mph. Just 118!? But the SRT-10 did 154 mph! Settle down, that truck competed against the Ford F-150 Lightning. Both were slammed rear-wheel-drive trucks incapable of venturing an inch off-road. To hunt Raptors in the desert, the 4×4 TRX needs off-road tires, and the best ones Ram could find—35 x 12.50-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territories—were only good for a “T” speed rating. That’s plenty fast; the Raptor’s S-rated tires are only good for 112 mph, and it’s governed to 107. As for acceleration, that blown Tundra managed a 4.4-second sprint to 60 mph, but it got winded—by 100 mph it was almost a second off the TRX’s claimed pace, and its quarter-mile trap speed was 1.7 mph slower.
Is it a Straight-Line Sprinter or a Baja Champ?
It’s trying to be both, so the standard, vertically oriented programmable 12.0-inch Uconnect 4C screen combines the Rebel’s off-road pages with SRT’s great performance-page screens. These can be summoned with a quick press of the TRX button that lives on the dash where the rotary shifter knob usually lives, along with drive mode switches (Sport, Tow, Snow, Auto, Custom, Mud/Sand, Rock, and Baja), a Launch Control button, and controls for hill-descent and traction control, 4WD modes (Auto, Low, High, and Neutral), and a manual locker for the Dana 60 rear axle. There’s no front locker, but the brakes intervene to limit front wheelspin. That Baja mode calibrates four-wheel-drive and steering systems, stability control, and suspension for ultimate desert performance on undulating, loose surfaces. Jump-detection technology prevents the engine from freewheeling to damaging speeds when all wheels leave the ground.
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To manually shift the ZF 8HP95 eight-speed automatic, either grab the new console-mounted shifter or the wonderful cast-aluminum steering-wheel-mounted paddles, which are shaped to preserve access to the audio controls behind the steering wheel spokes (meaning you have to grab them from above or below the spokes, not right in the middle). The bearings, planetary pinions, and chain in the transfer case are all uprated. And to corral all that power and torque on road or off, Ram fits 15.0-inch front rotors chomped by two-piston monobloc calipers up front (base Rams use 14.9-inch rotors and two-piston sliding calipers).
How Do the Frame and Suspension Differ?
TRX is no bolt-on trim, suspension, and powertrain kit. The team briefly considered adapting a 2500 series frame but found it more effective to alter 74 percent of the 1500 frame. It features small increases in metal gauge thickness throughout to strengthen primarily suspension mounting points and support a 700-pound increase in gross vehicle weight rating to 7,800 pounds. Curb weight rises about 600 pounds, payload is 1,310 pounds, and it can tow 8,100 pounds. Both of those ratings top the current Raptor by about 100 pounds, though it will be hundreds of pounds heavier, too.
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The all new coil suspension rides 2.0 inches higher to provide 11.8 inches of ground clearance, with thoroughly revised forged aluminum front lower and high-strength steel upper control arms that boost track width by 6.0 inches, provide 13.0 inches of total front wheel travel, and move the front axle 0.5 inch forward. New track arms and taller springs—at 23.6 inches, only commercial vehicle springs are taller—result in 14 inches of rear wheel travel, while overall suspension travel is up 40 percent relative to other Ram 1500s. Axle articulation is said to be best in the half-ton pickup class, with a 605 ramp-travel index (the height you can lift one tire before another leaves the ground, divided by wheelbase, times 2,924). Bilstein Blackhawk E2 active dampers with 60-mm pistons and remote reservoirs can be firmed up for on-road control or loosened for maximum off-road compliance. There’s also a special damper to reduce rear axle hop. The relevant off-road geometry specs are as follows: 30.2-degree approach, 21.9-degree breakover, and 23.5-degree departure angles.
How Different Does It Look Outside?
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Those flared fenders, composite in front, steel in back, make the TRX wide enough to require clearance lights, just like the Raptor. Ram mounts them inside the functional hood scoop and on the edges of the bumper. Those wide fenders enclose an air curtain path connecting inlets outboard of the headlamps with the functional fender vents behind the front wheels. Faux vents flanking the taillamps echo this look. Automatically steering LED projector headlamps are standard as are four oversized tow hooks. The new high-flow grille features open RAM lettering, and the front bumper and skid plate are unique to TRX. So are the inch-wider 18.0 x 9.0-inch wheels that offer a bead-lock option. Customers can further customize their TRX with rock-rail steps or full steps, graphics, auxiliary light racks, and bed-spare mounts (Mopar will offer 100 accessory items for the TRX).
What About Inside?
The cabin’s basic theme starts with the Rebel interior as its base, but upgrades borrow from the Limited series. In addition, all TRXs get a flat-bottom steering wheel with thumb-rests, a red start/stop button, unique instrument graphics, a rubber “Easter egg” console liner (it shows a 1:60 scale image of a person, the truck, a Tyrannosaurus, and a real Velociraptor, not the oversized movie version), an aluminum plate engraved with the VIN, and high-bolster SRT-style seats boasting an extra inch of lateral support. In the base TRX, they’re upholstered in cloth and vinyl. A TR1 package upgrades this to Natura leather and suede, wraps the dash, console, and door tops in the same materials, adds heat to the outboard seats front and rear as well as the wheel, puts metal to the pedals, and offers an optional 19-speaker Harman/Kardon audio system and MOLLE straps for the front seat backs that various gear can attach to. TR2 adds front-seat ventilation, a suede-wrapped steering wheel, and Ram’s fanciest reclining rear seats. This package can be further upgraded with a programmable 10.1-inch head-up display, matte carbon-fiber interior trim, a wireless device charger, and an accent color package with red stripes on the seat bolsters. There’s also a new 9.2-inch digital LCD rearview mirror.
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But Wait…There’s More:
The 2021 TRX will also debut Ram’s new Trailer Reverse Steering Control system. As with Ford’s similar option, turning a knob allows you to steer the entire truck and trailer rig while reversing, but unlike with Ford, Ram’s application requires no manual setup or barcode stickers applied to the trailer’s tongue. This option will surely propagate throughout the Ram lineup, but it debuts here. Another innovation: The 360-degree camera system can overlay dynamic tire lines indicating where the front wheels will pass when looking forward, a trick pioneered by Jeep for hard-core, low-speed off-roading.
So What Does the TRX Cost?
The base price is $71,690, but of course there is a special Launch Edition. That range-topper comes with Anvil Gray paint, special graphics, bead-lock ready wheels, the TR2 package, a dual-pane sunroof, the H/K audio, and more for “just” $90,265.
Should You Order a TRX Now or Wait for the 2021 Raptor?
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Ford has a way of delaying new vehicles just long enough to re-tune and tweak them for one-upping performance. Will SVT jam a blown 7.0-liter V-8 under its hood and switch to better riding and articulating coil springs in the rear as we begged them to in June? We can’t wait to put them both to the test. And we’d welcome Toyota back to the fray—and allow us to be the first to suggest it could call its truck the Tundra TRD Chicxulub after the asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs. Game on.
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