A Victory & Reseda review of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX
Back in 2014, the head of Dodge and SRT, Tim Kuniskis, made a very audacious statement when he unveiled the 2015 Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat at the Vinsetta Garage during Woodward Dream Cruise week. His justification for dropping the 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI V8 underneath the Charger’s hood was simple: There was "no business plan" for doing so.
Some things do not need a business plan. Well, they actually do, but some companies get away without presenting one to justify doing something that would benefit the business. For example, the call across Stellantis North America to "Hellcat all things!"
Since 2014, the Hellcat engine appeared in three Dodge models and a Jeep. You can add a Ram pickup truck to that list of Hellcat infusions underneath the hood of one of their prized vehicles – the Ram 1500.
This combination of the Hellcat engine and the pickup truck considered the “best in the business” is called the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX.
The Ram 1500 TRX is not just Stellantis’ answer to the high-performance "trophy truck" segment. It is a response. A response delivered with the most powerful factory-produced engine in the half-ton, full-size pickup truck segment. Yet, it also delivers a purpose that only off-road enthusiasts would only imagine.
In all, this is a desert runner. It could also tackle a logging road in the woods. Hell, it might just get you the attention you wanted – whether you asked for it or not.
In my hands, I had to comprehend whether the business case to "Hellcat all things" applies to this pickup truck. After all, I am the "perfect" person to drive such a vehicle around to find that answer.
Enough self-depreciation! Let’s dive into the Ram 1500 TRX, shall we?
First, I must address the most important piece of this pickup truck: The Hellcat engine. The (in)famous 6.2-liter HEMI V8 has a supercharger sitting on top of it. In a Dodge Challenger, Charger, Durango, or Jeep Grand Cherokee, it spews out 707 horsepower or more of unabashed performance. The Ram 1500 TRX offers up only 702 horsepower. That’s good enough for desert running, right?
It is connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission and a two-speed four-wheel-drive system. It is worth noting that there is a real shifter in the console – not some rotary dial to switch the quadrants on the transmission.
The result is a nothing short of badass. The throttle response is extraordinary, full of exhaust noise. However, the engine is bolted down to the frame extremely well through a set of fluid-filled engine mounts. Therefore, no physical rumble to report. When it’s chillin’, it’s pretty tame. It will cruise at highway speed or on the street, but don’t think that it wants to be unleashed into the beast that it was engineered to be.
There is one thing you cannot deny…that supercharger whine. When you press the accelerator, that sound is pure bliss. Normally, I do not wax poetic about something like a supercharger, but any enthusiast will tell you that such sounds are a part of why people love automobiles…and trucks.
I would be remised if I did not report on the fuel economy. In my turn with the Ram 1500 TRX, I averaged 10.4 MPG. Let’s be honest, it is not a fuel sipper as, say, a Ram 1500 with the EcoDiesel engine. In this truck, all you have to do is fill ‘er up with Premium and return to your playground.
You can tow with a Ram 1500 TRX. It is rated at 8,100 pounds, when equipped. Let’s be honest, would you actually tow with a Ram 1500 TRX? You could, but I would never recommend using this pickup truck as your primary tow rig.
While one would assume that the Ram 1500 TRX is all Hellcat and no substance, that is completely untrue. Ram did their engineering homework. To handle the mass of power from the Hellcat engine along with tackling rougher terrain, the frame received extra strengthening. This is the stoutest Ram 1500 I’ve ever experienced.
Even with existing four-wheel independent suspension, Ram added Bilstein Black Hawk e2 shocks for better dampening and articulation. While it has an 11.8-inch ground clearance, the Ram 1500 TRX has 13 inches of front suspension travel with 14 inches at the rear axle. In all, you have a soft, smooth ride that handles everything from new freeway surfaces to uneven trails way off the highway.
What will surprise you is the suspension is very controlled, even in the corners. There is some roll and lean present, but there is a lot of stability when it is kept within the limits. Yet, those big 325-wide knobby Goodyear Wrangler tires, sitting on 18-inch beadlocked alloy wheels are what keeps the Ram 1500 TRX on this planet – no matter the terrain it actually grabs onto.
As well, the steering system will also surprise you with how tight the turning circle is for this kind of pickup truck. It is a relative tightness that enables you to fit the Ram 1500 TRX into a parking space that is wide enough for no one to tap their door onto it. That is, if you can find such a parking space. Yet, the steering action is very good with minimal play at the wheel and solid response down to the ground.
Stopping power on the Ram 1500 is just fine. Pedal feel is good, as long as you square your feet onto the center of it. The system returned solid stops in normal, panic, and winter situations.
All of these driving impressions are important to understand the reasoning behind dropping the Hellcat engine underneath this Ram 1500’s hood. Yet, you cannot see all that is going on that makes these impressions. You do see is what I’d like to call a work of rugged architecture.
What draws you to the Ram 1500 TRX is a purpose-built machine that comes out of the Sterling Heights, Michigan factory – not some aftermarket kit. The entire front clip and fenders were shaped to attack all terrain possibilities for this pickup truck. The grille, the hood’s big center scoop, and all other elements that make up the Ram 1500 TRX's front end were formed not for looks, but for purpose. The center vent on the hood dome sucks up air into the massive airbox in the engine bay for additional cooling for both the orange block V8 and the supercharger sitting right on top of it.
The stance will awe you. Perhaps is the wide Goodyears on the beadlocked 18-inch alloy wheels. It is also the absence of a big side rail step that ruins most off-road kits. The step itself is subtle, but strong. However, you can pick up all of the elements that make a Ram 1500 a Ram 1500 – and that helps for those of us who love this truck but want more recreational purpose from it.
Stepping inside the Ram 1500 TRX and you are reminded why this pickup truck gets more love than is competitors. The overall space of the Crew Cab is large, with excellent back seat space. The seats are much more comfortable than in other trim levels, with its bolstering locking you into place.
The big surprise is right on the center console. There is actual shifter actuating the transmission – not some rotary knob on the dashboard. It is light to the touch and quick to throw to drive or reverse. This shifter, along with a pair of steering-wheel mounted paddles, is exactly what the Ram 1500 TRX needed to attract those of us looking for a truck that induces play time.
On the 12-inch Uconnect screen, you do get access to Performance Pages, with readouts for acceleration, lateral performance, and to set up the launch control. You can also set up the custom mode to your driving standards on those screens.
While you’re rocking off the highway, there is a set of 19 Harman Kardon speakers for your soundtrack to your adventure. My tester had them among many options it came with. So many to even list here. It just seems that I had a Ram 1500 TRX that was made for exploring the deep woods, as well as to show up at some nice restaurant on a date.
As for the price of admission, this ride is not…ahem…cheap. The base price for the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is $69,995. My tester came with a sticker price of $91,205.
Even at that lofty price tag, it is indeed a ride worth taking. What Ram Trucks accomplished is to push the boundaries of what some of us want in a pickup truck.
Let me make one thing clear: It is an insult to call the Ram 1500 TRX a "bro-dozer." This is a mature and well-executed vehicle to be thrown into the realm of shoddily-executed "lifted" trucks found broken along the side of any road on a regular basis. You might call it a "trophy truck," but are you going to take one on the Baja 1000?
However, there is only one phrase to describes the Ram 1500 TRX: The "best pickup truck in the business." Rather, it provided further justification towards the rationale behind giving it such a moniker.
Yet, I have not found any business case that would support this truck. Who needs one, to be honest? If that business case is to "Hellcat all things," then the Ram 1500 TRX is the perfect justification to do so. And, if this truck is the last application of the Hellcat motor under Carlos Tavares' leadership of the newly merged corporate entity, then perhaps we should celebrate it.
After all, it was Tavares that said that he wanted Stellantis to be "great." The Ram 1500 TRX is the epitome of that company's vision.
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Stellantis North America
All photos by Randy Stern