2021 RAM TRX First Drive
Ram builds a love letter to off-road enthusiasts, and we are smitten.
The '21 Ram TRX has moves, it is a gorgeous beast of a truck that exudes luxury and has the performance to back it up. In fact, it is one of the most fantastic pieces of machinery we have ever strapped ourselves into. And that's no hyperbole, it really is that impressive.
Based on the award-winning Ram 1500, the TRX is the pinnacle of all that is great about internal combustion performance vehicles. There is no hybrid system, no electrification, no plugs, no alternative fuel, just a big 'ol honking 702-hp 6.2L Hemi V-8 with a 2.4L supercharger bolted on top of it and a true-dual exhaust that barks out melodies with the same voracity as coyotes who serenade the moon in forgotten corners of the desert. In the interest of automotive purity, you won't find the loathed auto start-stop feature onboard.
In this way, the TRX is old-school at the exact same time it is packed with state-of-the-art technology, such as the active Bilstein Blackhawk e2 shocks and the system that runs them. These electronic reservoir shocks are miracles of modern engineering with extruded aluminum bodies, three pistons per shock, and a working piston surface area of 58mm per shock. The front shocks work with linear coils and have internal Jounce Cut Offs (JCO) for class-leading bottom out control, while the rear shocks partner with the tallest coil springs ever put on a consumer truck. At 600mm in height, these progressive-rate coils are designed for articulation and load control. We'll be doing a deep dive of the Bilstein Blackhawk e2 active shocks in an upcoming story.
To meet lofty development goals, the TRX's chassis is 74-percent new or modified when compared to the Ram 1500. The TRX utilizes strategically placed high-strength steel, beefed-up suspension mounts, and even has a reshaped rear crossmember to fit a 35-inch spare under the bed. The frame has changed enough that the rear bumper attaches differently and the GVWR has been upsize to 7,800 pounds from 7,100 pounds. Hydraulic cab mounts have even been re-tuned and since the 6.2L does not have cylinder deactivation, the TRX loses the anti-vibration modules.
The 88-inch-wide TRX sits about 2-inches higher with a track width that has grown 3-inches per side thanks to new short-long arm aluminum control arms and a massive Dana Advantek 250mm rear axle (think modern dana 60) with full-float shafts that uses unibearings on the end. This axle is controlled by a five-link setup with a solid, forged track bar and even includes a 46mm Bilstein kicker shock to control axle hop. Up front the axle has been moved forward 20mm for better firewall clearance and long-travel CV axle shafts use a plunging ball-spline design. The steering box has bearings that have been moved outboard to better support input loads and the tie rods are 3mm thicker for added strength. Final drive gearing is 3.55:1.
The result is a truck with 13-inches of front travel and 14-inches of rear travel with a payload rating of 1,310 pounds and a tow rating of 8,100 pounds. It has 11.8-inches of ground clearance and hits 60 miles per hour in a claimed 4.5 seconds. The quarter mile is covered in a claimed 12.9 seconds at 108 mph on the way to a 118-mph top speed.
Expectations were already high as we found out longtime friend and Stock Full class champion driver Josh Hall was part of the off-road portion of our drive experience. We've spent many a mile in production-based race trucks with Josh chasing endless two-tracks on the Baja peninsula, and we highly value his input. We asked him if there was anything, we needed to be ready for, and his response was, "The TRX is sniper rifle, bring your A game!" Indeed, the TRX is an off-road tool of precision that will reward a driver with amazing control, feedback, and elevates the driving experience. It's truly a wheelman's ride.
From the second you slam the door and climb in the TRX, you are greeted with a world-class interior that could hold its own against some of the most prestigious vehicles in the world. Our tester, a TR2 model, was outfitted with real leather, metal, and carbon-fiber trim. It was sporty, sumptuous, but not at all pretentious. The TR2 is the highest of the three trim levels with TR (base) and TR1 (think Ram 1500 Limited) below it. All TRXs are mechanically the same, varying only in tech and accoutrements.
The TRX exudes quality, with exceptional fit and finish. The 12-inch screen proudly greets you in the middle of the dash, while the controversial transmission shit knob of lesser 1500s has been replaced with an honest-to-god console shifter with manual gear selection of the ZF 8HP95 8-speed. Real aluminum paddles living on the backside of the fat-rimmed wheel add transmission control redundancy to the fingertips and supple front chairs feature an additional 25mm of bolstering to better hold you in place.
Pushing the start button only hints at what's to come as the TRX lets out a brief snarl before settling down in an unassuming idle. The TRX is vaultlike in its quietness, and thanks to interior sound deadening and active noise cancellation, it is every bit as serene as a standard Ram 1500 without so much as a hint of the rip-snorting raucousness that awaits by pushing your right foot through the go pedal in search of the floorboard. Outside, it's a different story as 5-inch exhaust tips, unencumbered by interior sound deadening, belt out a classical V-8 track worthy of a heavenly choir—well, if that heavenly choir's church was on the side of a dragstrip in the '60s.
Making all that glorious noise is a 6.2L Hemi V-8, which underwent a few notable changes for TRX duty. Unique is a 7.9-liter baffled deep sump oil pan and a special intake that pulls air from the grille and the hood scoop, tumbling it clean before passing it through two massive 8x12-inch air filters. This system lasts four times longer before affecting performance than the nearest competitor. The engine also features a Jeep-inspired top-mounted alternator, which, along with the aforementioned intake, allows the TRX to wade through water up to 32 inches deep. High-flow, high-nickel exhaust manifolds flow into 3-inch true-dual exhaust pipes with an X-pipe crossover before hitting 5-inch resonators that breathe into 3-inch tailpipes with 5-inch tips, making for some truly exhilarating exhales.
Before we could hit the dirt, we had to get acquainted with the TRX, which meant a couple hours behind the wheel on comparatively boring asphalt byways. In reality, pavement is where most TRXs will spend the majority of their time, so the time was well spent feeling out the TRX and getting to know it. What we can tell you is that the magic of the Bilstein Blackhawk e2 shocks and the stout chassis is apparent from the first mile.
Those amazing Bilsteins make the TRX both a supple pavement pounder and a competent canyon carver. At no time does the mid-travel suspension feel loose or "soft." It is always controlled and compliant, while remaining taut on road and eats up freeway miles without a care in the world.
To get a sense for the TRX in the twisties, we took a minor deviation away from the standard drive route and found ourselves on a 10-mile road with a 55-mph speed limit and 25-35 mph corners. Driving this extracurricular route, we had a blast stomping out of corners to feel the V-8 burst to life with its high-pitched blower shrieking on its way to a 6,200rpm redline while the tires confidently clawed and gripped the road through the turns. Through this quintessential weekend motorcycle route, our big Ram held its own, keeping up with motorcycles, exhibiting very little to no body roll, and all without protesting from the specially designed 325/65R18 (35-inch) Goodyear Wrangler all-terrain tires.
On the downhill portion of our drive, we appreciated the strong brakes and exceptional pedal feel. Those brakes, as it turns out, are the biggest Ram could fit within the confines of the 18x9-inch wheels. Measuring 14.9 inches in the front, the big reverse-hat rotors are gripped with twin-piston monoblock calipers. Rear rotors are a still sizeable 14.1 inches.
From the stiffness of the chassis to heavy, direct steering, to fantastically strong brakes, the TRX always feels solid and deliberate on the road. Fortunately, that sensation of solidness continues from the first foot of pavement to the jumps that await down a fast undulating dirt road. On all terrains, there is no noticeable body-on-frame shakes or chassis looseness. The new chassis feels as if it was hewn from the type of granite slabs you hope to explore and find on a TRX-facilitated adventure.
Our highway jaunt ended at the Wild West Motorsports park in Sparks, Nevada, where we had several driving experiences available to us that included hot laps with whoops and jumps on the big track, a 3-mile off-road course, a rock crawling section, and a Launch Control demonstration on an 1/8th-mile gravel road where we were able to experience the TRX's different drive modes.
On the Launch Control track we got a feel for the TRX's brute strength and all-wheel traction. We consistently clicked off just under 80 mph in the gravel, showcasing just how well the TRX can control and put those 702 horses to the ground. Unfortunately, we weren't able to experience the TRX's top speed of 118 miles per hour on this truncated course.
Crawling through the boulders on the rock crawl course demonstrated the TRX's ability to articulate and again, how the traction control system and rear locker worked together to get the big Ram up and over technical terrain. While the TRX walked up with little drama, this was the one place where we were wishing for a front traction device in the TRX's open diff. The ZF 215mm front housing is the same as other Ram 1500s, and we think this is one of the few places the truck would benefit from an upgrade. Our crawling rig was equipped with full skidplating and the optional rock sliders, which are designed to hold half of the TRX's GVWR and worked well to keep us from getting caught up on anything.
Between the 3-mile open-range course and track, it was difficult to decide which one was more fun. On one hand, we were able to challenge the TRX through varied terrain, hill climbs, and high-speed two-tracks, and on the other we were able to repeatedly launch the TRX off a jump at 60 miles per hour before hot-shoeing the truck through tight corners and setting up through another high-speed whoops section.
Through all this, the TRX performed flawlessly. The truck feels like it was built around the suspension, rather than the suspension being added as an afterthought to the truck. The fact that the active Bilsteins can be adjusted within milliseconds for any terrain means that the TRX seems to always be set up properly. The TRX and Bilsteins know when the truck is heaving, rolling, jumping, or sliding, and the Bilstein shocks can adjust to meet the moment.
We should also point out that in addition to the suspension's jump detection, the engine ECM also has this feature using the input from the same modules as the suspension, which should allay some concerns that others have voiced about the TRX using a full-time transfer case. When the ECM detects that the TRX has left the ground, the transmission is prevented from up shifting and the transfer case clutches are opened up in order to prevent load spikes through the drivetrain on landing.
The Borg-Warner 48-13 transfer case is also unique to the TRX, using upgraded clutches and drive gearing to handle the additional power. It can also adjust bias, allowing for rear-wheel-drive-like tail-out shenanigans and more important, steering with the throttle. After pushing the truck, we agree with Hall when he likened the TRX to a sniper rifle, but what he didn't tell us is that is if you miss the shot, you can correct your trajectory with the throttle.
The TRX is a truck you can drive all day, any day, for 10 minutes or 10 hours over both smooth pavement and unforgiving desert terrain. The 6.2L feels like a great truck engine, doling out its torque liberally while never feeling high-strung. We appreciated the linear power delivery, with no power spikes to surprise us while in a vulnerable position. It's an absolute riot to drive.
There is no doubt the TRX is an impressive machine, but its more than that. It is a love letter to internal combustion performance trucks, to the desert go-fast enthusiasts, and to almost everything we have ever wanted in a factory pickup. With new technologies just over the horizon, it won't be long before you won't be able to buy a vehicle like this ever again. This is one of those moments that when you strap into the driver's seat and take a breath, you realize that this one is special. We can't even believe this truck saw the light of day and as propulsion technology takes a different direction in the future, this is one to savor and appreciate. Just don't let the TRX be the one that got away.
2021 Ram TRX
Base price: $69,995
Engine: 6.2L Supercharged Hemi OHV V-8
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 702/650
Transmission: ZF 8HP95 8-speed
4WD system: 4-Hi Auto, 4-Hi, neutral, 4-Lo
Low-range ratio: 2.64:1
Frame type: Boxed Ladder Frame
Suspension, f/r: Upper and lower A-arms, coil springs, Bilstein e2 Blackhawk active performance shock absorber / Five-link with track bar, coil springs, Bilstein e2 Blackhawk active damping twin-tube performance shock absorbers, solid axle
Axle ratio: 3.55:1
Max crawl ratio: 44.14:1
Steering: Electric speed sensitive power rack-and-pinion
Brakes, f/r: 14-in vented disc / 14.1-in vented disc
Wheels (in): 18x9.5
Wheelbase (in): 145.1
Length (in): 232.9
Height (in): 80.9
Width (in): 88
Base curb weight (lb): 6,350
Approach/breakover/departure angles (deg): 30.2/21.9/23.5
Minimum ground clearance (in): 11.8
Payload (lb): 1,310
Max towing capacity (lb): 8,100
Fuel capacity (gal): 33