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2021 Ram 1500 TRX First Look

Ram launches a performance truck with every intention of making the Ford Raptor’s off-road dominance extinct.

Aug 17, 2020
Photographers: Courtesy of Manufacturer
Since 2010, there has been a swear jar of sorts in the office. Every time someone either uttered the phrase "Raptor Killer" or tried to shove it into a story, another dollar was headed for the jar. Dollar after dollar, the office pot was filled, with a moratorium on the usage of the phrase until such a moment in time that a competing vehicle emerged as a legitimate contender.
That time appears to have arrived, because until now there wasn't a truck on the market that was worthy of an utterance of the phrase. After seeing the TRX for the first time and combing through the specs, we just tossed the jar into the trash and ordered pizza for the whole staff.
So, what gives the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX the go-ahead as the only truck on the market that can justifiably be mentioned in the same breath as a Raptor?
Okay, let's get the specs and high points out of the way before we dig in. The important things to know are that the TRX comes standard with a supercharged 6.2L Hemi (think Hellcat, but don't call it that) with 702 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque backed by an eight-speed ZF 8HP95 TorqueFlight automatic transmission that's mated to a full-time all-wheel drive Borg-Warner 48-13 transfer case with low range.
Ram estimates speeds of 0-60 mph in just 4.5 seconds, with 100 mph passing by in just 10.5 seconds and the quarter mile entering the rearview in 12.9 seconds at 108 mph on the way to a 118 mph top speed. Meanwhile, the current Raptor makes do with "only" 450 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque from a turbocharged 3.5L EcoBoost V-6.
The TRX is 8-inches wider than a standard Ram 1500 at 88-inches and carries a 6-inch-wider track. Sizeable 325/65R18 (35-inch) tires cycle through 13-inches of front and 14-inches of rear wheel travel with revolutionary Bilstein Blackhawk e2 adaptive dampers controlling the mass. The obligatory any-speed rear locker lives in a full-floating Dana 60 rear axle and minimum ground clearance comes in at 11.8-inches.
Even with this incredible level of performance, the TRX can still haul 1,310 pounds of payload or tow an impressive 8,100 pounds.
The crew-cab-only TRX will be available in three trim levels and represents the new Ram brand's halo product, merging the sporty Rebel with the luxurious Limited. Ram sees the TRX as a new benchmark in half-ton trucks.
Photo 2/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX 6
Compared to the in-your-face 2016 Ram Rebel TRX Concept, the production truck is pretty toned down, looking muscular and purposeful without all of the wild boy-racer elements from the concept. Don't get us wrong, the TRX looks awesome, it just wears a body that is more mature with a little less announcing about what's really going on beneath the skin.
Tastefully flared composite front fenders and new steel outer box stampings with flares extend the body width by 4 inches per side and cover those 12.8-inch-wide tires, all contributing to the TRX's awesome stance. If you look closely, you can see the results of the aerodynamic tuning the TRX underwent in the form of the fender air-curtain paths next to the headlights. These vents reduce high-pressure zones in the front corners of the TRX and allow the air to flow through the body and exit ahead of the front doors.
The aluminum hood features a functional hood scoop, which is also the home for the legally required clearance lights and the grille is by far the cleanest and best version of Ram's "Rebel" (and now Power Wagon) grille with a modified mustache location and giant flow-through R-A-M letters. Ram's full LED Adaptive Front-Lighting System gives the eyes of the TRX a futuristic look and has twin bi-functional projector headlamps and foglamps that can provide up to 15 degrees of lighting assistance when the steering wheel is turned.
Bumpers are modified versions of what you'll find on the standard Rebel, but include corner marker lights. In the rear, large R-A-M letters adorn the tailgate with the three center markers positioned similarly to how they are on the Ram Heavy Duty. Exhaust tips have been upsized to a girthy five inches (up from four on the Rebel).
The two-tone TRX will be available in five colors (Flame Red, Billet Silver, Diamond Black, Granite Crystal Metallic, Hydro Blue, and Bright White), with a special launch edition color (Anvil).
Photo 3/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX interior
Ram's aim was for the TRX chassis to be the star of the show, while making the interior accoutrements tiered to allow for different levels of technology and luxury, and ultimately be able to meet different price points. Available in three trim levels, the TR, TR1, and TR2, TRX buyers can decide if they want rugged, luxury, or sporty luxury.
The base TR interior comes with an abuse-resistant premium cloth and vinyl with black and Dark Ruby Red accents. Opting for the TR1 or TR2 delivers an interior based on the class-leading Ram 1500 Limited's luxurious appointments and uses an all-black color scheme with leather and suede complimented by Greystone stitching and Graphite Metallic accents. Choosing the TR2 equipment group opens up optional red stitching and real low-gloss carbon fiber interior accents, along with a 60/40 reclining rear bench seat.
All TRX grades have improved front seats with a 25mm narrower bolster for better support and the TR1 and TR2 trims include MOLLE/PALS systems on the front row seatbacks. The dial shifter that is a centerpiece of the standard Ram 1500 driving experience has been replaced on all TRXs with a console shifter that allows for manual mode selection and is supplemented by steering column-mounted shift paddles. The steering wheel is now a fat-rimmed and flat-bottomed SRT-signature piece with enhanced hand grips and leather wrap.
Photo 4/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX transfer case switches and drive modes
In the real estate formerly occupied by the dial shifter is the new vehicle control bank, which offers the traditionally placed rear-locker control, T-case selector, and launch control. There is also a hot button for direct access into the TRX's Drive Modes menu.
In addition to the standard 12-inch center display and 7-inch driver information center that is standard on all trims of the TRX, the TR2 adds an optional and configurable full color 10.2-inch heads up display (HUD). Another exclusive to the TRX TR2 is the availability of Ram's new 9.2-inch digital rearview mirror which has two times the field of view when compared to the standard mirror and uses anti-flicker technology to mitigate the flickering seen on vehicles with LED lighting. A new Trailer Reverse Steering Control system is also limited to the TRX T2 and is a Ram first. This system works similarly to Ford's offering, but without the setup and stickers that the Ford system requires.
All TRX trucks get a cool center-armrest-mounted data plate that lists engine, boost, horsepower, and the vehicle's VIN number.
Photo 5/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX chassis with engine and transmission
Starting with a supercharged 6.2L Hemi V-8 that is based on the Hellcat, but isn't called Hellcat (that's Dodge's branding), the TRX mill will be familiar to any gearhead. With a 2.4-liter twin-screw supercharger pumping in up to 11 psi, the TRX engine uses a unique intake tract, upgraded exhaust manifolds, and a deep-sump oil pan to provide reliable oil flow at the fringes of the TRX performance envelope.
The dual-path induction system splits air intake duties between the hood scoop and the top half of the grille. Once the grille air enters the tract, it is funneled through tailored panels to the bottom of the front part of airbox, while the hood scoop air is ducted to the bottom of the rear of the airbox through special ports that seal out hot engine air when the hood is closed. By guiding air to the bottom of the airbox, water and debris can settle out before air reaches the twin filter elements. A one-way drain evacuates water from the bottom of the box, even while the vehicle is moving, and with an intake placement above the engine, the filters are easily accessed for field cleaning and water-fording ability is rated at an impressive 32 inches.
The air-filter elements together measure 12x8-inches and provide 198.4 square-inches of filter surface area. If you were to unfold the filter media, you would have 13.3 square feet material. Ram claims that the TRX has four times the dust-trapping capacity when compared to the "closest competitor" and also beats it when it comes to the amount of dirty air that can be ingested before a drop in performance is detected.
Photo 6/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX Launch Edition sand dune front 3/4
Exhaust gasses are routed through a true dual 3-inch system with a crossover pipe, and before someone wonders why the TRX is rated at 702 horsepower and not 707, we are told it has to do with a more restrictive intake and the extra exhaust piping that comes with a vehicle that is more than two feet longer than a standard Hellcat application and not a tuning decision.
The ZF-sourced 8HP95 eight-speed automatic transmission, which is the same unit used in the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, has been developed to be durable behind the 6.2L Hemi and monitors all sorts of parameters to guarantee the transmission shifts quickly and crisply, while ensuring the correct gear is selected for the driver's needs.
Part of the TRX's awesome acceleration performance is due to the full-time Borg-Warner 48-13 transfer case. Thankfully Ram chose to use a two-speed case, so a suitable low range at 2.64:1 is available for those times the TRX is needed for more technical driving. To put up with the increased power, the T-case has beefed up internals that include upgraded bearings, pinion gear, clutches, and chain. A Neutral setting is also available for flat towing.
The other part of the TRX's superior get up and go is the Launch Control setting, which is a technology on other FCA performance vehicles that manages tire slip to give the vehicle repeatable straight-line performance. When Launch Control is selected wheel-speed sensors are used to monitor potentially destructive wheel hop and within milliseconds can modify engine torque to regain traction.
Photo 7/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX chassis with brakes
In order to blast down desert roads at close to 100 mph, Ram engineers had to completely overhaul the TRX chassis. With every single bolt on the truck scrutinized during development, the TRX comes to the party with a chassis that's 75 percent new. Ram says the TRX frame is composed of up-gauged, optimally shaped, and strategically placed high-strength steel that has low-torsion attributes to increase durability and stability. Sections of the frame are hydroformed for dimensional accuracy and the rails are fully boxed. Front rails also use high-strength hydroformed steel to ensure the front crossmember has the stiffest foundation possible for the suspension. In layman's terms, it's a damn stiff frame.
The TRX uses a full-floating Dana 60 rear axle with a kicker shock to control wheel hop and has an electronic locking differential that doesn't have any speed restrictions. One of the few disappointments on the TRX is the use of the same open 215mm aluminum front axle housing out of the standard Ram 1500 Rebel. We would have liked to have seen a mechanical limited slip to supplement the electronic traction control in a cast-iron housing for durability. Both axles house 3.55 final drive gearing.
To control all that mass, the TRX is fitted with the largest brakes of any truck in the segment (as standard equipment) and features 15-inch front rotors with an inverted hat design for improved cooling. These plates are gripped by dual-piston monoblock calipers for incredible stiffness and consistent braking performance. The rear also gets 15-inch rotors, but use a single-piston caliper design. An electronic parking brake is carryover from the standard Ram 1500.
These improvements not only support the approximately 600 pounds of additional mass, but also give the TRX a GVWR of 7,800 pounds. Again, the 8,100-pound towing capacity should excite anyone who wants a play truck and a work truck in one vehicle.
Photo 8/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX suspension
The real magic of the TRX lies in the suspension system. In order to achieve 13 inches of front and 14 inches of rear wheel travel with 35-inch tires, the Ram team lifted the TRX 2 inches, moved the front axle forward 20 millimeters (putting the tires further away from the firewall), and widened the track 3 inches per side.
The all-new front short-long arm (SLA) suspension consists of wider, stronger forged aluminum upper and lower control arms with special attention paid to caster and camber changes during suspension cycling. A stronger steering gear was developed, and high-travel CV axles use a ball-spline sliding shaft.
The rear suspension is still Ram's signature five-link, but with improved geometry from longer steel links and the industry's tallest coil spring in a non-commercial production application. These progressive coils measure 600 millimeters in height and provide a better ride, precise control, and improved articulation than a leaf-spring system.
So, what do the front and rear suspension have in common? Well, just the most sophisticated shocks ever installed on a production truck, that's what. Ram's need for the TRX to be the most versatile truck on the market required a novel damper solution. Enter the 2.5-inch aluminum Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive performance shocks.
The Bilstein Black Hawk e2s are comprised of precision-machined, single-piece aluminum bodies for exceptional heat dissipation and rigidity. Using a three-piston design, the Black Hawk e2 shocks use dual electronic proportional valves that continuously and infinitely adjustable damping forces on both the compression and rebound circuits. In addition to urethane jounce bumpers, the shocks also include a three-stage Jounce Cut Off (JCO) for progressive bottom-out control during extreme compression events.
Photo 9/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX front suspension on frame
The case-hardened steel piston rod has best-in-class case hardening thickness, chrome harness, and chrome thickness. The shafts ride in a pressure-activated triple rod seal to prevent contamination and leaks and a high-strength rock shield protects the rear shafts against pitting and trail damage. A hot-formed, zero-leak tube closure is used for the remote-mounted nitrogen-charged reservoirs with corrosion and abrasion resistant stainless-steel braided high-pressure hoses (rated to 5,800 psi) connecting them to the main body. The body of the shocks are machined with directionally aligned cooling fins and the whole thing is anodized in military-spec hard anodized coating.
The shocks are controlled through Ram's eight dynamic drive modes: Auto, Sport, Tow, Snow, Custom, Mud/Sand, Rock, and Baja. A Valet mode is also available to keep wily parking staff from jumping ramps in the parking structure at your favorite restaurant. Each one of these modes has a different profile to give the driver the best control in whatever situation they might find themselves facing. The TRX also has Jump Detection, which uses accelerometers at each corner, along with wheel-speed and ride-height sensors to identify when the truck is airborne and act to prepare it for landing and prevent shock loads that can damage the driveline. We will have a deep dive of the Bilstein Black Hawk e2 technology in an upcoming story.
Two 18x9-inch wheel styles will be offered, one is beadlock-ready, and both options will be wrapped in 325/65R18 Goodyear Territory tires that are specially designed for the TRX. These tires not only carry a 118 mph "T" speed rating, but also a "D" load rating, and are said to be robust enough to carry the high speeds from the highway to the desert without breaking a sweat or just breaking. A fullsize spare will fit under the bed, but Mopar is offering a special bed-mount spare-tire carrier that will support a 37-inch tire. So, does this mean the TRX is package protected for a 37? Our sources say "yes." Will a 37 fit under the bed? Our sources also say "yes."
Photo 10/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX driver's side profile in motion
Looking through the spec sheet, the TRX matches the Raptor SuperCrew's 30.2-degree approach angle, barely edges out the Raptor on breakover (21.9 degrees versus 21.8 degrees) and has a better departure angle (23.5 degrees versus 23 degrees). Despite liberal use of aluminum in doors, hood, tailgate, engine mounts, upgraded steering gear, and transmission crossmember, the curb weight on the substantial TRX is 6,350 pounds, compared that with the relatively svelte all-aluminum bodied F-150 Raptor SuperCrew at just 5,697 pounds.
The TRX does have an advantage in ground clearance (11.8 inches to 11.5 inches), though, and despite the extra height, it is well protected with a total of five skid plates that cover the critical components. This coverage includes the lower front fascia, front axle, transfer case, transmission pan, and fuel tank. Steel rock sliders will be available as an option. For recovery, oversized tow hooks are mounted at each corner.
Photo 11/107   |   2021 Ram 1500 TRX side-by-side
Ram added thousands of miles of extreme environmental testing to the TRX's already rigorous development cycle, testing that ranged from the blistering heat of the southwest to the freezing cold of Minnesota and Michigan, with high-altitude testing in Colorado.
A new test track was even developed for the TRX and the Ram engineering team didn't rest until their truck was significantly faster than anything else on the market. They wanted to be sure the TRX lives up to the hype and expectation of the company's customers and will be backing it with a 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty on top of the standard 3-year/36,000-mile bumper-to-bumper warranty.
The best part is that the TRX isn't going to be the $100,000 truck everyone was anticipating, production is not limited, and you won't have wait until next year to get one. Pricing starts at a reasonable $69,995 plus destination for the base model and can be ordered from your local dealer starting on Tuesday, August 18th with the first deliveries expected before Christmas.
For those who want something a little bit special, the Launch Edition will be a loaded TR2 model, limited to a run of just 702 (in honor of the horsepower, of course) and will be a still reasonable $88,570 plus destination. Special brushed-aluminum badging and exclusive Anvil exterior paint will be part of the package.
As excited as we are about the TRX, we are just happy someone didn't steal the swear jar for a down payment. Although, we would have understood if they did. With the next-generation Raptor on the way and also sporting coils in the rear, we are excited to pit these two Godzilla's of off-roading head-to-head as soon as we can. But for now, we are content to help Ram name their version of the 6.2L Hemi. How about the "HellYeah"?