Summer 2020 may one day be recorded in history as the official start of a pickup truck war between Ram and Ford. The introduction of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX became the white dueling glove that slapped the Ford F-150 Raptor across the tailgate as a direct competitor to the now decade-old off-road super muscle truck.
If you haven’t heard by now, the Ram TRX is a full-on muscle super truck. A supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 producing 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, enough grunt to push this full-size truck from zero to 60 in 4.5 seconds! Ram threw the best it had at the TRX to create a master of all trades. A pickup truck that can accelerate like a Dodge Challenger Scatpack, haul kids in the back seat like a Durango, off-road like a Jeep Wrangler, and tow weekend toys like a Ram 1500 truck.
Earlier this month, I had the chance to test-drive the new 2021 Ram 1500 TRX on the road and off-road at the annual Texas Truck Rodeo organized by the Texas Auto Writers Association at the Star Hill Ranch in Bee Cave, Texas. The event allows auto writers to speed-date their way through the latest pickup trucks, SUVs, and crossovers on the market, and we vote on the SUV and Truck of Texas for the year. For 2020, we had the opportunity to be some of the first people to test a pre-production 2021 Ram 1500 TRX and find out what it’s like to drive a 700 hp muscle truck.
There were two Ram TRX trucks at this year’s truck rodeo. A Billet Silver Metallic to be used in the off-road course, and a Hydro-Blue Pearl TRX for street driving only. Both trucks had the same black interior with suede inserts and red upholstery stitching that ensures occupants that this is more than a supercharger with 35-inch tires. Looking throughout the TRX interior, you notice a few key details to remind you of what you’re sitting in. A cluster of buttons nestled just below the red ignition button with the letters TRX to select the eight different drive modes, and a launch control button placed to the right showing a symbol of drag strip Christmas lights.
The suede center console displayed a plaque to show that this is a real Ram TRX stating its VIN and horsepower rating – in case you forget. Rear seat passengers can enjoy their own heated and ventilated seats as well as AC vents. Anyone who currently owns a Ram 1500 will be transfixed by the center-mounted shifter that replaces the standard gear selection dial in late model Ram trucks — a detail I was delighted to see. Grabbing to a pistol grip shaped shifter and pulling down is much more gratifying than merely turning a dial from park to drive on a super muscle truck.
Its five-inch matte black dual exhaust note quickly changes tune to a bellowing roar as your right foot begins to apply pressure to the gas pedal.
The 6.2-liter Hemi is born from the same litter of the Hellcat family and starts up with the familiar Mopar rumble you’d hear from an SRT Charger and Challenger. The internet demanded that Chrysler “Hellcat everything,” and it seems like those with the power to green-light projects have listened. The truck shakes when the ignition kicks the TRX awake. It idles unlike any other performance pickup truck I’ve heard. It has the same rhythm of a coal rolling diesel with a metal tick that sounds like a locomotive. Its five-inch matte black dual exhaust note quickly changes tune to a bellowing roar as your right foot begins to apply pressure to the gas pedal.
On the street, the 2020 Ram 1500 TRX drives like a regular 1500 on 35-inch all-terrain tires. The steering has a tiny bit of play that one expects in a pickup truck. It didn’t feel wide or intrusive driving on two-lane hill country roads. Ram has done a great job at making 700+ horsepower civil to drive every day. Of course, on an undisclosed empty stretch of highway, a sudden mood swing can bring out the devil in anyone. Stomp on the throttle like you’re trying to put out a fire, and listen to the Ram TRX roars like a powerlifter who just dropped a 45-pound weight on his foot, letting out a battle cry to all nearby Ford Raptors that it’s coming and hell’s coming with it. Each flick of the aluminum paddle shifter jerks the TRX forward with rated-R violence as it charges forward like it was trying to outrun time.
Each flick of the aluminum paddle shifter jerks the TRX forward with rated-R violence as it charges forward like it was trying to outrun time.
The supercharger turns into an integrator as it whines up, screaming at you to keep your foot on the gas — don’t lift. Your fight or flight response kicks in when you see the rapidly approaching stop sign up ahead and move your foot over to the brake pedal. The TRX’s nose dips forward as its disc brakes dig in to stop itself as you press firmly on the brake pedal. One of my favorite things about the Ram TRX is its responsiveness. Certain vehicles have a half-second electronic delay between your foot hitting the gas and the engine responding to the command. The TRX does an excellent job of delivering an almost instant response when you need it to shift and go. In the Ram TRX, much like its Charger and Challenger counterparts, you feel a tremendous sense of control over danger. Like pulling the hammer back on to a .357 revolver.
The Ram 1500 TRX is the first Ram truck equipped with launch control featuring launch assist. You can program at what rpm you want to launch using the nearly 12-inch infotainment screen. Select the desired rpm and then put your entire weight on the brake pedal with your left foot before easing on the throttle with your right. Feel the engine power up to the set rpm and hold it there until you release the brake and stand on the throttle. The brain is shoved back into your skull as all four wheels grip into the pavement and push off like a sprint runner. Launch control can also be used off-road, which can be ideal for sand dune drags.
Those willing to shell out the premium price for a Ram TRX can rest assured that they are not buying a 702 hp Ram 1500 with a simple graphics package and wheels. The TRX has a functional air intake hood scoop. It features widened fenders to accommodate suspension travel from its standard 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires featuring a “traction focused” thread unique to the Ram TRX. Anyone with a base model Ram 1500 will need more than a TRX graphic to fool people.
Holding the TRX up are a set of Black Hawk Bilstein shocks providing 13-inches of suspension travel in the front and 14-inches of travel in the rear. In total, the 2021 Ram TRX has 11.8-inches of ground clearance. The TRX drove over the Texas Truck Rodeo off-road obstacle course without breaking a sweat. The engine provides more than enough torque to pull itself over rocks and inclines without needing to touch the accelerator. All you have to do is steer it away from trees and let the Hemi do the work for you. Front-facing cameras let you see where the tires are going during steep uphill climbs allowing for precise steering correction. Driving the Ram TRX felt like I was only using ten percent of its full off-road potential, and it yearned for the real challenge that only a place like Moab, Utah can provide.
The TRX drove over the Texas Truck Rodeo off-road obstacle course without breaking a sweat. The engine provides more than enough torque to pull itself over rocks and inclines without needing to touch the accelerator.
The TRX features eight different drive modes: Sport, Snow, Custom, Mud/Sand, Rock, Baja, Auto, and Tow – no eco mode. It also includes a valet mode that limits the amount of horsepower. Each setting changes how the power gets delivered to the wheels. The Ram TRX has a max towing capacity of 8,100 lbs and a payload rating of 1,310 pounds. Plenty of muscle to haul or tow a variety of weekend toys.
The starting price for the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is $71,690, and if you manage to find one at any price under $80k, then your name must be on the side of the dealership. Don’t expect these trucks to go for anything higher than $85k after dealerships tax on their special “in-demand” MSRP. The Ram 1500 TRX Launch Edition starts at $92,010 featuring an Anvil grey color option unique only to this edition and fully-loaded options list. Orders for the Launch Edition trucks are already sold out.
Nevertheless, available options on the Ram TRX include Level2 equipment package that adds a TRX exterior graphic package, red interior accents with carbon fiber trim, and Beadlock-capable 18-inch wheels. Additional optional accessories include a bed-mounted spare tire carrier for that Baja 1000 trophy truck look and a RamBar light bar.
The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX was designed to be a jack of all trades and master each one. It sounds powerful, looks tough, and provokes fun. Ford has already confirmed that the next-generation F-150 Raptor will be using a supercharged 5.2-liter V8 borrowed from the Shelby GT500 with a rumored 725+ hp rating. The war is on, and no matter which side you choose, or which side ends up having the last engine rev, we as the consumers and enthusiasts have a front-row seat to what is shaping up to be an epic battle of supercharged proportions.
Special thanks to Kevin McCauley for providing some photos featured in this article. Follow his automotive photography at Capture the Machine.