What it's Like to Drive Ram's 702HP TRX Off-Road Machine
“These are just sighting laps” Josh Hall says to me over the radio. “So let’s take it easy.” Son of late off-road racing icon Rod Hall and an accomplished competitor in his own right, Josh’s version of “taking it easy” is actually closer to what most people would consider hustling, and his TRX soon starts to vanish in a cloud of dust as I chase him around the track at Wild West Motorsports Park in Sparks, Nevada. Entering into the main straight on the final practice lap around the course, I decide to dip into the throttle a bit more in order to close the gap.
Suddenly I find myself approaching the largest jump of the circuit at a pretty decent clip. The suspension unloads and the exhaust from the supercharged V8 blares as the TRX goes airborne.
But there’s a tinge of panic: I’m not actually supposed to be doing this right now. I don’t have an instructor riding shotgun with me, explaining what speed I’m supposed to take these different sections at. Hell, I don’t even have the truck’s drive mode set. But the truck lands with a solid thud and… that’s it. The TRX shrugs it off like a speed bump.
I smile wide. It’s going to be a fun day.
Inside And Out
As we detailed in our deep dive, there’s a lot more going on here than just a standard Ram 1500 with a Hellcat engine. Sure, there is a supercharged 6.2-liter Hemi V8 under the hood making 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque, but it’s almost a side note amongst the arsenal of weapons-grade hardware that this truck is outfitted with.
It all starts with the frame, which Ram says is 74% unique versus a standard 1500. Along with its fully boxed side rails, sections of the TRX frame have been hydroformed to reduce weld points, and high strength steel replaces the standard material in areas that will see the most abuse.
The front shock towers are particularly noteworthy, as TRX chief engineer Jeff Roselli pointed out during the technical presentation, because they’re made from the thickest steel that Ram could possibly stamp. “We designed this truck to outrun and outlast the competition,” he explained. “And that starts with a strong foundation.”
Bolted to that foundation is a significantly upgraded suspension system that consists of a five-link with a Dana 60 solid axle in the rear and an independent setup up front with unique, forged aluminum control arms that are designed to accommodate more wheel travel and axle track width. The dampers are the real party piece here, though: Developed exclusively for the TRX by Bilstein, these 2.5-inch adaptive shocks are equipped with dual electronic proportional valves that continuously adjust damping force as well as nitrogen-charged remote reservoirs that keep fluid temperatures down and extend the life of the shock.
To address not only with the TRX’s requirements for mud, sand, snow, and rock crawling capability, but also its 118 mph top speed, Ram turned to Goodyear for a specially developed all-terrain tire as well. The 35-inch rubber is wrapped around an 18-inch aluminum wheel as standard, while an 18-inch, beadlock-ready wheel is optional.
As with the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk, the Ram 1500 TRX sends the blown Hemi’s grunt to all four corners through a ZF-sourced eight-automatic transmission. Unlike standard Ram 1500 models, the TRX has a traditional console-mounted shifter that allows for manual control over the gear changes, either by bumping the handle over to the left while in gear or by grabbing the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles.
The interior differentiates itself from garden-variety 1500s in other ways, too. A unique flat-bottomed steering wheel gives the cabin a racier look and feel, while the a “TRX” button on the dash loads up a unique version of Performance Pages that combines go-fast telemetry data from the SRT side of things with the Ram Rebel’s off-road information. Below that button is a toggle for the truck’s various drive modes. There’s seven in total, ranging all the way from the street-oriented Auto and Sport modes (the truck reverts back to the former each time the engine is started) to Rock and Baja modes. The latter adopts a more aggressive transmission schedule and reduces shifts times to keep the engine on boil, puts the dampers on high alert, and relaxes the traction and stability control software to allow for more oversteer before the systems intervene.
The TRX also visually stands out from other 1500s not only due to its unique aluminum hood and taller stance, but also because of its eight-inch increase in overall width, which comes as a result of the composite fender flares up front and new steel outer box stampings in the rear.
Judging by the laundry list of upgrades here, it’s clear that Ram has sweated the details from top to bottom with the TRX. But is it actually any good to drive out in the real world? Earlier in the day, I decided to take the long way from the hotel in Lake Tahoe to the track in order to find out.
Behind The Wheel
Considering the sheer dimensions of this truck, which is only available in short-bed, crew-cab configuration (at least for the time being), one might expect this off-road focused pickup to be a bit unruly out on the street. While you’re always cognizant of its substantial footprint, it’s actually a surprisingly civil machine that tracks straight and offers no shortage of luxury features and useful technologies.
The big sidewalls and adaptive shocks offer ride quality that’s downright supple in Auto mode, and while the Sport setting noticeably corrals body motion, it still maintains plenty of compliance. For those seeking a Goldilocks setting, the Custom mode allows you to pick and choose all of your preferred vehicle attributes if you, for instance, want to use the Sport mode suspension setting but maintain the transmission behavior and steering weight of Auto mode.
The 6300-pound TRX weighs almost a ton more than a Challenger SRT Hellcat, but it still moves out with some serious haste under the right circumstances. While the truck’s mid four-second sprint to 60 mph and high 12-second quarter mile ETs won’t make potent sports cars sweat at the stoplight, dropping the hammer from, say, 50 mph is still an awe-inspiring experience that will push the truck into triple-digit territory in a stunningly short amount of time.
The journey to Wild West Motorsports also gives me a chance to check out my tester’s optional digital rear view mirror and heads up display, both of which make their debut here with the TRX for the first time in any FCA vehicle. Ram’s tech game has been strong for some time now, and the TRX only pushes this notion further.
The evidence comes not only by way of features like these and an array of active safety tech on the options sheet, but also from clever tricks like Trailer Reverse Steer Control, a standalone option that lets you use a uses a dial on the center stack to point the trailer in the direction you want it to go while the system takes control of the steering wheel. Off-road capability is the TRX’s bread and butter, but Ram has gone to great lengths to make this truck into something of a jack of all trades.
Still, there’s no doubt that this truck is at its best where the pavement ends.
After my impromptu flight behind Hall, I head back to the pit area at Wild West Motorsports Park and get ready for the proper hot laps. The truck’s tires have been aired down and I’m instructed to switch over to the Baja drive mode, but other than that, it’s ostensibly the same vehicle I drove to the track. Lap after lap the TRX dispatches jumps without protest, and although the whoops section gives the suspension a proper thrashing, the truck remains unfazed, ready for more.
After the track exercises I head out on a three-mile “Baja loop” using the same settings. The varied course through the rugged terrain surrounding the track not only showcases the generous amount of power on tap in the high-speed sections, it also allows me to play around with the Rock drive mode as well as Speed-Selec function in the slower stuff, which automatically maintains a specific pace between 0.1 and 5.0 miles per hour during steep hill climbs and descents so the driver can devote more of their attention to the line they’re taking.
From there it’s on to proper the rock crawl, where I employ the (rear) Axle Lock and 4WD Low functions. After spending several hours keeping the truck on boil, I get a little bit overzealous with the throttle over some larger boulders in one of the early sections, and I’m suddenly very thankful for the five skid plates installed underneath the chassis. The indiscretion prompts a mild scolding from my spotter, but the truck still doesn’t seem to care. I get the sense that we’re still well below the limits of what this truck can truly handle.
The last exercise of the day showcases the TRX’s drag launch function. After airing tires back up to standard pressure, I roll over to the starting line and press the Launch button. This brings up a readout on the gauge cluster that displays the real-time brake pedal pressure. As with other SRT-derived performance vehicles, the TRX requires firm left foot braking in order to engage launch control.
Once the proper amount of pressure is established, I bury the throttle and the exhaust belts out a staccato rumble not unlike an SRT Demon before I side-step the brake pedal. The Goodyears spend half a breath crawling for traction on the loose surface before the truck digs in, and then the truck blasts down the dirt drag strip without a hint of wheelspin.
After a few more passes for the sake of posterity, I punch up the hotel on the navigation system and jump back on the highway with the 19-speaker audio system turned up and my seat adjusted for maximum coddle-factor.
Beyond its worth as a response to the off-road performance capability of the Ford F-150 Raptor, the TRX proves to be a truck that requires no apology in almost any context. Make no mistake about it: Ram has thrown down the gauntlet.
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