Living with the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX: On Road and Off
I watched with bated breath as the TRX carefully made its way through the gates and into my driveway. It’s normally an innocuous operation, but Ram’s new off-road pickup has proven to be the exception to many rules. Currently only available as a crew cab and wider than a standard Ram 1500 pickup by a full eight inches, the TRX wears clearance lights in the hood scoop and on all four fenders, a federal mandate that is normally applied to commercial vehicles.
“Man, I forgot just how gigantic this truck is,” I enthusiastically said to the delivery driver. He chuckled. “Yeah – it gets a lot of attention out on the road.” Considering the sheer volume of Priuses on the streets of Los Angeles, it’s obvious that it was a bit of a loaded compliment. LA may be the epicenter of car culture, but that doesn’t mean the concept is embraced by all of its citizens, and this truck is a statement piece just by virtue of its existence.
In an era that’s seen major players in the auto industry wholeheartedly embrace EV technology, it’s hard not to love how utterly unapologetic the TRX is about its celebration of traditional high performance. While there’s a stunning amount of technology underpinning this pickup, its bash personality is defined by the 702hp supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 under the hood and the pair of five-inch exhaust tips that authoritatively sing its song.
I spent some time with the TRX last fall and came away thoroughly enamored, but living with a vehicle outside of the highly curated confines of a media launch tends to shed new light on aspects of its use that might otherwise be overlooked. And in the name of scientific discovery, I figured I had to get it properly dirty, too.
Our Test Subject...
This time around Ram handed off the keys to a fully loaded example dressed in Hydro Blue. The blown Hemi, eight-speed automatic transmission, big brakes, electronically locking Dana rear axle, adaptive Bilstein shocks, and 12.0-inch Uconnect infotainment system are all standard on the TRX, as is the flat-bottomed steering wheel with shift paddles and the console-mounted shifter – both of which are currently exclusive to the TRX within the Ram 1500 lineup. If you can abstain from digging into the options sheet, a base TRX will set you back $69,995 before taxes and the $1695 destination fee, and it’s certainly not an austere proposition given the default equipment on hand. Of course, if you’d rather go hog wild, Ram is happy to oblige.
This particular rig rang up $89,165 with destination thanks to options like the TRX Level 2 Equipment Group, which includes eight-way adjustable heated and ventilated leather front seats, heated leather rear seats, a trailer brake controller, blind-spot and cross-path detection, and a host of other creature comforts. Mopar rock rails are on hand as well, as are the 18-inch beadlock-capable wheels, an optional tri-fold tonneau cover, a 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system, adaptive cruise control, and the Technology Group, the latter of which includes a heads-up display and a digital rear-view mirror.
Regardless of how the TRX is spec’d out, the truck is brimming with technology. The massive infotainment display is the cabin’s centerpiece, and although it’s not outfitted with the latest iteration of Uconnect that I recently checked out in the Durango SRT Hellcat, it’s a great system in its own right, boasting enough screen real estate to allow you to display two different menu screens simultaneously.
That means you can, for instance, run Google Maps through Apple CarPlay on the top half while keeping media controls or HVAC settings at the ready on the lower half. It’s also very responsive and not overly cumbersome to navigate, despite its wide range of features, all of which make this a system that’s actually enjoyable to use.
A bank of auxiliary switches is outfitted just below the screen, and beneath that are two USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, and a wireless charging pad.
The other piece of tech that immediately catches the eye is the drive mode selector just below the ignition. Pressing the TRX button brings up the performance menu, which allows the driver to make changes to drive mode settings and other vehicle parameters, while the two toggle buttons just below it allow you to cycle through the various drive modes. There’s eight modes in all – Auto, Sport, Mud/Sand, Rock, Snow, Baja, Tow, and Custom. Over time I think you’d probably start to memorize where each mode is relative to one another, but with so many choices on tap, an additional button that simply reverts the system back to Auto mode with one press would be welcome, at least in the short term. I found myself spending a lot of time staring at the 7-inch display in the gauge cluster as I cycled through the various options while trying to find my way back to Auto mode after stints in the others.
On The Road
From top to bottom, the Ram 1500 TRX looks the business. It’s a visually striking beast from just about any angle, and despite the big hood scoop, beefy 35-inch Goodyear all-terrains, the skid plates and just the sheer size of this beast, Ram somehow managed to keep the ostentation relatively in check. It’s not exactly subtle, but it’s not garish, either.
Don’t expect it to ever really fly under the radar, though. The active exhaust system keeps cabin resonance at bay, but unless that Hellcat engine is, you know...off...the truck is never what most people would consider quiet.
Driving around in the city, the truck’s footprint is impossible to ignore. Anyone who’s driven a full-size pickup with a crew cab already knows the trials and tribulations of parking something this long in lots designed for compact sedans, but in the case of the TRX, it’s the width that really requires some mental adjustment. While jamming down LA’s meandering freeways at speed, I had to disable the truck’s lane-keep assist feature – it unnecessarily intervened often enough to be a distraction, and eventually I decided that I already spend enough time arguing with inanimate objects.
Dimensions aside, the TRX is actually pretty easy to pilot around town. The 35-inch tires are pretty quiet when the nose of the truck is pointed straight ahead (the noise picks up significantly when cornering, though), and the cabin itself is well insulated from the outside world in general.
The TRX is also outfitted with unique sport seats up front that have deeper bolstering than the chairs you’ll find in a standard Ram 1500. While sport seats are often less than ideal for long stints behind the wheel, the TRX’s thrones buck the trend. Decked out in TR2 trim, these heated and ventilated leather buckets remained comfortable for hours at a time, and were willing to contort into just about any shape I asked for.
Even though the TRX weighs in at nearly 6400 pounds, the pull it delivers when you drop the hammer is awe-inspiring. It’s capable of hitting 60 mph from a standstill in 4.5 seconds on the way to a 12.9 second quarter mile and an electronically-limited 118 mph top speed, so passing slower traffic is an effortless endeavor at any remotely-sane pace. Sport mode is actually quite useful as well, as it tightens up the dampers and sets up the transmission for more immediate response without feeling twitchy, making it a great option for the mountain roads outside of north-east LA.
To hurl an object this large with that much urgency is a thing of beauty, but it’s actually the TRX’s suspension system that impresses the most. Considering the fact that the truck is designed to go airborne regularly and continue on without missing a beat, one could rightfully expect a punishingly harsh ride due to the stiff springs required to prevent a three-ton truck from bottoming out.
Yet that’s somehow not the case here – with the drive mode set to Auto (its default state), the TRX’s ride quality is downright cushy, even over bad pavement. We have the engineers at Bilstein to thank for that, at least in part, as they seem to have done the impossible with the TRX’s adaptive 2.5-inch Black Hawk e2 performance shocks.
But that got me thinking: Is this thing really as good in the dirt as I remember, or was I duped by a well-designed off-road circuit last fall? To find out, I assembled a ragtag crew and headed up to Hungry Valley State Vehicular Recreation Area in Gorman, about an hour north of Los Angeles.
And Off The Road
Hungry Valley SVRA is a menagerie of off-road delights with a wide range of trails and terrain. We didn’t find any TRX-sized jumps that day, sadly, but we did find plenty of other ways to put the brute through its paces, including a muddy pond that allowed me to test the TRX’ 32-inch fording depth capability.
Even in Hungry Valley, though, the TRX’s size proved to be out of step with the terrain at times. Some tight sections of the trails that our Jeep Gladiator-driving cohort passed through with ease required careful guidance in the Ram, but the TRX does make up for a lot of it with a surprisingly good turning radius that allows it to be a bit more maneuverable than you’d expect.
It also helps that the TRX will just effortlessly devour any kind of terrain you throw at it. On more than one occasion, I encountered sections of whoops that I was sure I was approaching too quickly. Each time I’d instructively brace for an impact that never came – the suspension simply soaked up the undulations like a Lexus going over a speed bump. Even the bigger obstacles that upset the other off-road machines in our crew were dispatched with one suspension motion in the TRX, and extended washboard sections that had other drivers begging for mercy felt almost non-existent with the Ram set to the Baja drive mode.
After watching the Gladiator struggle on a particularly difficult hill climb section, I put the TRX in the Rock mode, pressed the button for the rear axle lock, and the truck blasted up the hill without breaking a sweat – all while the ventilated seats also made sure that I didn’t break a sweat. I drove around looking for ways to challenge this thing and it just shrugged off every obstacle I threw at it. Hell, we didn’t even air down the tires. And when we were done, I put the drive mode back in Auto, fired up a playlist, and hit the highway.
Even though the TRX is huge, bracingly thirsty, and makes absolutely no sense for someone who lives in a city, I can’t help but want one. Judged by nearly any applicable metric, it over-delivers on the promises that it makes, and I can’t help but be charmed by it. If that’s not a whole-hearted endorsement, I don’t know what is.
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