I’m surprised it’s taken this long to get a formidable competitor to Ford’s F-150 Raptor. Launched eleven years ago, the Raptor took a regular F-150 pickup and transformed it to an off-road “race truck” of sorts, able to be off-roaded at high speed while remaining (mostly) street friendly. It’s now 2021, and the men and women of Stellantis (formerly FCA) have put up one hell of a competitor in the form of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX. Given the Hellcat-all-the-things mantra that’s propagated nearly everything at this point (I’m still waiting on a Pacifica Hellcat, y’all), it should come as no surprise that the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX comes standard with a 702 horsepower, supercharged V8 as its mode of propulsion. And yes, it has “Baja mode.”
My intent with this review was similar to every other thing-with-hitch test we conduct. How well does the Ram TRX tow a trailer? Of course, when you’re lent an adult-sized Tonka truck, it’d be ridiculous to conduct the entire review within the paved confines of a city environment. So, I called up a friend and his wife, who own a horse farm a few hours outside Washington, D.C., and spent a day towing with the TRX – and probing its off-road capabilities as best as we could given we don’t live near any sand dunes.
What Is It?
This is a 2021 Ram 1500 TRX. It is, as mentioned, Ram’s answer to Ford’s Raptor. Technically, it’s not a “Hellcat truck” as “Hellcat” is branding reserved just for Dodge. However, the supercharged 6.2 liter V8 is pulled straight from that Hellcat family, though de-rated a bit given what Ram did to allow for extreme off-roading. In any case, “de-rated” means 702 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, which is still 252 horsepower and 140 lb-ft more than a 2021 Raptor.
I’d normally caution that horsepower isn’t everything – weight is also a big factor in how fast anything can get moving. While the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is about 700 pounds heavier than the Raptor, the big blown V8 can whine and snort and stomp its way to 60 miles per hour in a Ram-claimed 4.5 seconds. Car & Driver got their TRX to do it in 3.7 seconds, which is as fast as a 3.0 liter Toyota Supra. Yes, the TRX has Launch Control to make this all happen. Bringing things to a halt are 15″ brake rotors front and rear.
All of the not-Hellcat power is shoved through a strengthened version of the Mopar/ZF eight-speed automatic and a full-time four-wheel drive system with two-speed transfer case and locking rear differential. The truck’s frame is also strengthened compared to that of a traditional Ram 1500, as it should be given what Ram did to the suspension. Bilstein shocks with remote reservoirs are standard, providing variable damping based on drive mode and allowing up to 13 inches of suspension travel. The TRX has nearly a foot (11.8″) of ground clearance and can go through 32″ of water.
Ram claims the 2021 TRX will tow up to 8,100 pounds and can carry 1,310 pounds of payload – both statistics beat the Raptor by about 100 pounds.
All of this ridiculous, excessive fun comes at a price. My 2021 Ram 1500 TRX carried a MSRP of $87,570.
Towing with the 2021 Ram TRX
Though I’d normally throw my enclosed trailer behind a truck like the TRX, I was presented with a Plum Crazy 1971 Dodge Challenger and couldn’t pass up the photos of a Mopar towing a Mopar. So, we hooked up Jeff’s 22′ aluminum open trailer and said Challenger and hit the road. Jeff’s trailer weighs about 2,500 pounds and the Challenger’s curb weight is about 3,015 pounds, so we were all in at 5,500 pounds, give or take.
That tow weight was easy for the truck and I didn’t have to worry about payload, as I would have with something heavier. While Ram claims a 1,310 pound payload, my truck was equipped with the second, bed-mounted spare wheel and tire. Payload on my specific truck, according to the door sticker, was just 1,000 pounds. My enclosed trailer would have left me with just 100 pounds of capacity after considering its tongue weight and my body weight. For those looking to tow somewhat-heavy with a Ram TRX – choose your options carefully.
Payload aside, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX made easy work of the Challenger and open trailer. Chassis squat was very minimal, and stability on back roads and at highway speed was excellent. Power was, of course, no problem and with more load on the engine, the glorious supercharger whine was even more prevalent. The “Tow” drive mode changes the suspension stiffness, among other things, to help with ride quality and control.
Braking was the Ram’s weak point. Unloaded, the pedal was quite soft and offered minimal feel and confidence. Initial bite was lacking and I found myself under-braking, then adding too much pedal pressure to compensate. Smooth stops were difficult in the TRX. Adding the trailer behind the TRX – and thus, more weight – changed the brake feel somewhat. I was more confident with my stops while towing, but still found the pedal feel to be generally lackluster.
Ram’s blind spot monitoring continues to be excellent, as it can automatically detect the length of your trailer. Ford offers a similar system that requires the driver to input dimensions before driving.
Would I tow an enclosed trailer behind a 2021 Ram 1500 TRX? Depending on size, maybe. My 20′ enclosed would have worked fine behind the TRX, though I’d be very careful with tongue weight given my specific truck’s low payload rating. I suspect a TRX without the bed-mounted spare would have that higher 1,310 pound payload and be the smarter choice for those who will use the hitch. Larger enclosed trailers – those longer than 20′ – would be better pulled by a non-TRX Ram 1500 or a larger offering in the Ram lineup.
“And Now, it’s Time to Hoon” – Off-Roading the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX
Jeff and Anne’s farm offered two types of fields for my hooning pleasure. The groomed horse fields, used for training, were long and smooth, with rolling hills. The “back field” was more rutted, with a few hills to climb and water to ford.
I would have taken the TRX down a true ORV trail, but it’s wide. The TRX is eight inches wider than a “normal” Ram 1500 thanks to its fender flares that accommodate the 35″ tires. Our trails truly aren’t wide enough for the TRX, unless I wanted to return it covered in surprise pinstripes. So, farm fields were my next best choice.
In the back field, the TRX’s capabilities were impressive. The Bilstein shocks provided a comfortable ride across rutted terrain, and speed was just not an issue. Judicious throttle would allow for some tail-out fun through a turn, yet the truck remained relatively flat, composed, and easy to control. I felt confident doing silly things with the 6,400 pound T-Rex – we were a team and both on the same page about having some fun.
I attempted a water crossing, but stopped when I felt the truck sliding toward the center of the unknown-depth pond. The locking rear diff and all-terrains put in some work and I backed out with minimal hassle. I drove over to a dirt pile that was as high as the TRX’s hood. The front-facing camera was useless here, showing me a screen full of dirt and grass. Jeff spotted me and confirmed the approach angle of the TRX would work. I eased the truck up the hill more and more, until the nose was pointed skyward. “If you go any further, the hitch is gonna dig into the ground,” Jeff said. We got some photos and I carefully eased the truck rearward.
Finally, we took advantage of the horse training fields and their long, straight, groomed surface. It was the perfect scenario to get the fancy Bilsteins, set to Baja mode, unloaded as much as possible. Yes, Launch Control works in the grass. Getting the suspension anywhere near its full extension feels like you’re taking flight, even with all four tires still on the ground. I did as many “passes” of the field as I could before Anne’s students arrived, and each time, I gained more confidence in the TRX. It handled as well off-road as it did on the pavement – if not better. The TRX encourages hoonery and is entirely composed as you mash the skinny pedal, flail at the steering wheel, and stand on the brakes. It’s really quite impressive.
The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is a showcase in “what if” engineering. The big V8 and its supercharger pulley whine bring out the kid in all of us, doubly so with the too-wide fenders and spare tire in the bed. It’s all tremendously silly-yet-functional and while it’s the wrong truck for most truck buyers, it’ll be perfect for some. I do wish the brake pedal instilled more confidence, and while the TRX’s interior is class-leading, it could use seats like the Recaros available in Ford’s Raptor to really round out the “performance truck” vibes. Fuel economy is predictably awful (I think I averaged nine) but… what do you want from a studio apartment on wheels that can jump things?
Ram introduced the TRX to the media out in Nevada, where sandy, soft deserts abound. I think the truck makes the most sense if you live out west, somewhere with sand dunes or big fields to romp around. It doesn’t seem to make much sense on the denser East Coast, but then again, does a truck like the 2021 TRX need to make much sense at all?