The pickup truck power war is on, and Ram is reaching for the top spot in the high-performance pickup truck class with its all-new 2021 Ram TRX. The Ford Raptor has long been considered king of the hill, but that crown may have just been handed to the Ram TRX.
There are so many things to talk about after driving the 2021 Ram TRX. We could begin by telling you about one of its many off-road friendly features, such as the 360-degree Surround View Camera system. The camera system includes a protected forward camera that allows the driver to see trail obstacles blocked from view by the front hood. You might also want to hear about the full LED Adaptive Front-Lighting System (AFS) that includes twin two-function projector headlights offering up to 15 degrees of directional control with steering input. Those who haul trailers would want to know about its tow rating of 8,100 pounds and the Trailer Reverse Steer Control system that offers a dial to point the trailer in the right direction while the truck takes control of the steering wheel.
Seriously, we could jabber on for days about all the things that make the 2021 Ram TRX a huge hit, but we know there are three main things you want to know about most. We’re going to focus on the powertrain, drivetrain, and suspension characteristics of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX that make it a break-through pickup truck in the high-performance segment.
Forced Induction Power
Feeding the 6.2-liter HEMI V-8 engine with a steady diet of fuel and cool clean air, the twin-screw supercharger features a pair of charge air coolers integrated into its housing. The coolers have separate and dedicated systems using a pump, coolant reservoir, and heat exchanger. Running a drive ratio of 2.36:1 and an integrated electronic bypass valve, the supercharger can make boost pressure as high as 11.6 psi.
Underneath all that is a cast-iron block with water jackets between cylinders, a forged-steel crank with induction-hardened bearing surfaces, tuned dual mass crank damper, forged-alloy pistons, powder-forged rods with carbon-coated pins, piston-cooling oil jets, aluminum alloy heads, sodium-cooled exhaust valves, and hollow-stem intake valves.
The 2021 Ram TRX is claimed to have a top speed of 118 mph. Ram also says it can do 0-60mph in 4.5 seconds, and mark a quarter mile time of 12.9 seconds at 108 mph. We didn’t have time for track testing, but we did have the chance to use the Launch Control feature. When engaged, it controls tire spin during take-off by using wheel-speed sensors to detect wheel hop, and sending signals to the powertrain control system to manage engine torque and maintain traction. We can tell you that on a straight piece of Mojave-desert blacktop, the 2021 Ram TRX pushed us back into our seats with a gut punch when the pedal hit the metal.
Power To Ground
A specially designed high-torque-handling TorqueFlite 8HP95 eight-speed automatic transmission made power transfer quick and delivered firm gear changes that came surprisingly fast. It also had a manual shift selection that allowed drivers control of shift points, a feature we found ourselves using more often than not when piloting the TRX off-road. Behind the eight-speed transmission is a new Borg Warner 48-13 full-time active transfer case that features upgraded internals and a 2.64:1 low range. It came in handy during a mild rock-crawling episode on our off-road test-drive route. The new T-case also allowed the 2021 Ram TRX to be flat-towed in neutral.
An all-new IFS built from high strength forged upper and lower control arms is designed to allow greater wheel travel, and under the rear end of the 2021 Ram TRX is an all-new five-link coil system that delivers up to 13 inches of travel for the Dana 60 rear axle. That’s impressive when you consider that the rest of the Ram 1500 lineup offers just 9 inches of rear wheel travel.
Active damping control front and rear is provided by a new Bilstein Black Hawk E2 adaptive performance shock system. The system works in concert with the Ram-proprietary Active Terrain Dynamics suspension management system to control body roll and overall handling. The Bilstein shocks feature three-tiered progressive bottom-out control to achieve peak compression damping during extreme off-road driving conditions.
Street Drive Choices
The 2021 Ram TRX’s selectable dynamic four-wheel-drive system uses performance-tuned software to create four different on-road drive modes. Auto mode delivers a 40/60 torque split and adapts to a wide range of traction conditions. Sport mode tightens up shift times, adds stability control, adjusts the four-wheel-drive and steering systems for a more “enthusiast” level driving style, enables paddle shifters and a tighter tune on the suspension, and ramps up the torque split to 30/70.
We didn’t have the opportunity to use Snow or Tow mode, but we did find out what they were meant for. Snow mode is said to cut engine power a bit and introduce a torque split of 45/55 for better control on frozen ground. Tow mode controls the torque feed off the line for smoother pulls, uses a 45/55 torque split, and adjusts the suspension for increased trailer control.
Most of our pavement driving was spent going back and forth between Auto and Sport. We much preferred Sport mode. It made a lonely stretch of blacktop a heck of a lot more fun. At times, the truck had a “heavy” feel, but it handled corners remarkably well for a full-size pickup. When under full throttle, it seemed like all that weight melted away and the Ram TRX rocketed down the straight stretches.
Dirt Traction Action
Three off-road driving modes are also part of the sophisticated 2021 Ram TRX drivetrain system. We got to know this trio better than the rest. Mud/Sand mode creates a torque split of 45/55 and manages engine power and throttle input to minimize wheel spin and improve traction, and it got used once or twice during our test. Rock mode was only implemented once when we came across a tight squeeze that also featured a rock-strewn axle-twisting approach. Accessed in 4Lo only, Rock mode recalibrated the rear locking differential and hill-descent control and split the torque 50/50. With help from a spotter and precise brake and throttle control on the part of the driver, we got through with no trouble at all.
Baja mode is where we spent most of our dirt-driving time. It used a 25/75 torque split (as close to two-wheel-drive as you can get in this truck), activated the paddle shifters and reduced the transmission shift times (cut by more than half from Auto mode). Baja mode also set the suspension to maximum damping control, and tuned the stability control, four-wheel-drive, and steering systems for high-speed “desert” performance.
In Baja mode, the 2021 Ram TRX came alive. We could power down long stretches of desert canyon, floating atop the sand, carving through the twisting and turning canyon bottom. A blip of the throttle, when a touch more power was needed to maintain control, brought the truck back into the right line in a snap. The quicker shifts following throttle input made wheel spin easy to manage and enabled us to maintain a steady speed over changing terrain conditions. Steering control in loose gravel and sand was greatly enhanced, and any washboard on the trail was soaked up completely by the Bilstein active suspension system.
Day-long Joy Ride
We found the 2021 Ram TRX an exciting and enjoyable vehicle to drive on- and off-road. At first it seemed complicated, and it certainly is a complex vehicle with a steep learning curve for the first-time driver. However, within a short period of time, we found ways to make the most of its potent power and terrain-mastering traction capabilities. As a matter of fact, the only time we felt let down was at the end of the day, when we knew it was time to go home.