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2021 RAM 1500 Test Drive Review
Always the bridesmaid but never the bride, the Ram 1500 enters the fray of high-performance off-road vehicles with cocksure confidence. Second place in truck sales last year, Ram earns the first-place podium in superpowers with its new SRT Hellcat-powered TRX trim level as it looks to make moves to climb the sales charts. Or, maybe, just literally drive over its competition.
Look and Feel
As a whole, the 2021 Ram 1500 is a carryover model as the lineup was completely redesigned for 2019. So, design-wise, the 1500 offers nothing new in terms of cosmetic embellishments on the inside or out. Configurations remain the same mix-and-match pairings of a quad or crew cab, the latter of which can be had with either a five-foot, seven-inch bed or a six-foot, four-inch bed. The two-door Ram 1500 is solely equipped with the longer box. Regardless of how many doors, either one can be rear-wheel drive (RWD) or four-wheel drive (4WD).
Of course, the biggest news for 2021 is not the addition of the Ram 1500 Limited Longhorn 10th Anniversary Edition. While a Stetson hat tip to the trim level lined with luxury (and a farewell to the Laramie Longhorn it replaces), the all-new TRX is the Ram 1500 turning heads. Before the measuring tape is even brought out, the Ram 1500 TRX is a notably commanding presence.
Purpose-built and inspired by off-road rally races like the Baja series and Mint 400, the 1500 TRX is no poser with its functioning hood scoop, massive grille, fender vents. Using the existing Rebel trim's styling as a baseline for the Ram Rebel TRX Concept that debuted at the 2016 Texas state fair, the production version is muted in style but still maintains its functional outdoorsy form.
The TRX is a crew cab-only 4x4 outfitted with the smaller 5-foot, 7-inch box and has the same overall length of 232.9 inches of any Ram in that configuration. But that’s where the similarities end. The 1500 TRX sits on a 145.1-inch wheelbase (144.6 on a non-TRX truck) with a height and width of 80.9 and 88 inches, respectively. The standard Ram 1500 measures 77.6 inches tall and 82.1 inches wide. In fact, at that girth, the TRX straddles what the U.S. Department of Transportation considers commercial vehicle territory and as such must sport identifier lamps, which would be the three amber lights within the TRX hood scoop and red lights above the rear license plate.
Other notable dimensions? The Ram 1500 TRX has a skid plate-equipped ground clearance of 11.8 inches, 9.4 inches under the front axle, and 8 in the rear. For others in the Ram lineup, the corresponding figures are 8.7, 8.2, and 8.7 inches. The Ram TRX can fjord through up to 32 inches of water.
To be fair, the TRX does benefit from large 325/65R18 35-inch all-terrain tires versus the standard 275/55R20. And, as expected, there is the TRX label, a widely-kerned “R-A-M” badging on the grille and the tailgate, all-black surround for the LED headlamps, composite fender flares, and a new Ignition Orange paint.
And as much ready-to-get-dirty attitude as the exterior presents, the interior of the TRX befits the rest of the Ram brand: first-class comfort and technology. The cabin takes cues from the Ram Rebel but is elevated in both durability and luxury. Standard upholstery is a black premium cloth and vinyl pairing featuring red accents. Available leather and suede materials can be paired with red or gray contrast stitching and interior finishes such as carbon fiber and graphite metal.
The SRT-signature flat-bottom performance steering wheel is as comfortable as it is purposeful. The hand grips are leather-wrapped and the wheel can be optioned with suede and carbon fiber. Oh, and you can’t miss the standard 12-inch Uconnect infotainment display. It commands the center console but somehow isn’t obnoxious, given how the dark interior colors allow the touchscreen to blend in.
There also is a vehicle-specific ID marker affixed to the console storage lid. This metal plate lists the engine type, power specifications, and vehicle identification number. And if you’re one for Easter Eggs, open the lid and, yes, the underside will feature measurement tools and rulers, which is standard on all Ram trucks, but the TRX also has a scale chart featuring the heights of an adult male, a Ram TRX, a Tyrannosaurus rex, and a velociraptor. This not-so-subtle reference to that other performance pickup sold by the company with a blue oval logo is stamped into the bottom of the storage bin.
The Ram 1500 TRX certainly looks the part of a sand dune-jumping cactus crusher, but can it actually do such things without the help of aftermarket parts and CGI for YouTube? Um, well, in the history of silly questions...
Under the hood is a 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 engine paired to an eight-speed automatic transmission. You know, the powertrain FCA puts in all its mean machine SRT vehicles? That one. The Hellcat engine. And it is just as bananas in a pickup truck. Power is rated at 702 horsepower with 650 pound-feet of torque. Payload capacity is 1,310 pounds with a maximum towing capability of 8,100 pounds.
With the high-torque-capacity eight-speed automatic transmission, the Ram TRX will accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds or to 100 mph in 10. 5 seconds. Its quarter-mile time is 12.9 seconds at 108 mph. The top speed for the TRX is listed as 118 mph. The Ram 1500 TRX also is the fastest of all the Rams to consume everything in its 33-gallon fuel tank. Requiring 91 octane, EPA-tested fuel economy for the TRX is 10 mpg city, 14 highway, 12 combined mpg. Hooray. But no one is going to buy this truck for its fuel economy.
During a daylong test, Ram allowed invited media to put its new 1500 TRX through all kinds of driving scenarios. Starting from Lake Tahoe, the drive route took us through ski villages hidden in the fir and pine forests of the Sierra Nevada range, along sweeping mountain highways with seemingly infinite overlooks, and bypassed the almost-forgotten mining towns in the desert below. The Ram TRX offers eight on- and off-road drive modes, including a newly calibrated Baja mode.
On the road, the Ram TRX was comfortable to drive in the slow-and-go city commute and no trouble whatsoever during open throttle sessions. The vehicle did everything we asked it to when we asked it to. The signature whine and growl of that supercharged Hemi was the soundtrack of the day.
Off-road fun was to be had at our eventual destination, the Wild West Motorsports Park in Sparks, Nevada. At the famed off-road racing venue were a few options: an off-road loop, a rock hill climb, a race track, and an acceleration test. All of the above, please.
First was the introductory recon lap around the dirt track to get a feel for its bumps, humps, and off-camber lumps at a school-zone speed. The experience proved to be an emotional cocktail of fright and “Alright!”
Nevertheless, with a pro driver now riding shotgun, we were egged on to go faster during open track time. Okay, fine. Not our truck, right? Booting off the hills and finding a rhythm over the smaller speed bumps at 55 mph was rather glorious. The course didn’t open itself up to higher speeds, but you don’t need to go 65 mph around the corner unless you want to be part of the corner. The Ram TRX certainly held its own while churning the soft dirt in the corners, maintain grip through the straights, and staying in one piece on the hard landings. Straight from the factory, what more do you need?
The three-mile off-road loop was less intense but just as exhilarating since, “Look, ma, no guard rails.” There were moments when the front-facing camera came in handy. We’ve already established that the TRX is a big truck, so naturally, it has a big hood. This might be a challenge for shorter drivers.
To be honest, the TRX’s capability on the mountain course was not necessarily impressive because it was expected. For example, utilizing the Selec-Speed Control feature (think cruise control in 4-low) and controlling speed using the paddle shifters was too easy but, hey, there’s enough stress going around so why not use off-roading as your moment of zen.
As for the acceleration test, the standard launch control feature in the Ram TRX is no different from FCA’s other performance vehicles. Activate the system, mash the brake pedal and hold until 1,200 RPM is reached, then full-throttle on the gas pedal; wait for the symphonic engine calibration, release the brake, and voila! It’s like a video game but more fun. Much more fun.
Form and Function
As much attention has been given to the overall functionality of the new Ram TRX as to its performance prowess. Available full-length rock rails not only offer an extra step upon entering the cabin, but they also add extra body protection when traveling over rough terrains. Traditional full-length running boards are also available. Another appreciated detail is that the spare tire is a full-size spare with matching wheel design. The standard LED headlights and taillight provide crisp illumination of the nighttime roads with optional auto high beams.
Even though the exterior proportions of the TRX are larger than the standard Ram, its interior dimensions are identical. Front headroom and legroom measure at 40.9 inches with the rear seats offering 39.8 and 45.2 inches, respectively.
There are plenty of nooks and crannies for everything you and four passengers could possibly want to store in the cabin. The center storage bin features a large top tray with cavernous main compartment.
The front seats in our TRX Level 2 package-equipped test truck were compliant. Not too stiff or too plush. The powered-adjustable pedals are a Godsend and really something every large truck and SUV should offer. Comparing the Ram 1500 to its rivals, its seating position offers the most adjustability. The GM twins offer more cushioning but the seat bottom can’t be lowered to keep shorter drivers comfortable. Ford, in general, designs its seats like its vehicles are school buses. On long drives, little touches like that along with the functional and comfortable steering wheel go far to prevent driver fatigue.
Standard on all iterations of the Ram 1500 is a 12-inch touchscreen featuring the Uconnect 4C infotainment system with navigation. With a fully customizable display, owners can drag and drop frequently used controls and settings to the bottom menu bar for quicker access. For even more personalization, the screen can be configured as a single-panel or split-screen display. While this level of individualization is certainly appreciated, the touchscreen itself presents no haptic feedback and its glossy coat is a massive fingerprint magnet.
The physical positioning of the display also is directly aimed at the rear seats rather than tilted, even if slightly, towards the driver. This leaves the Ram 1500 with a non-driver-centric feeling instead of a cockpit-focused one, which is surprising, especially for a purpose-built performance model like the TRX.
Nevertheless, techie-friendly features abound. Performance Pages provide vehicle calculations regarding lap times, g-force, and engine performance—all of which can be download via USB and shared at will. Similarly, Off-Road Pages display ride height, pitch and roll, and other accessory gauges.
The Uconnect system also offers wireless charging, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration, Bluetooth connectivity, and ports for AUX, USB-A, and USB-C connectors. For entertainment, there’s HD Radio, 4G LTE WiFi hot-spot capability, and a six-month all-access SiriusXM Radio trial subscription. Standard audio comes in the form of a 10-speaker Alpine system with a 19-speakers-plus-10-inch subwoofer Harmon Kardon premium audio package available.
Additional SiriusXM enhancements include a five-year subscription to its travel services, which monitor everything from traffic speeds and road closures to local weather and sports news. The Ram 1500 can also be optioned with conveniences like remote start and keyless entry.
All-new for the 2021 Ram 1500 is a full-color head-up display (HUD), which also is the first time the system has been applied to any vehicle in the Fiat Chrysler Automobiles family. Fully customizable via the seven-inch instrument cluster display or Uconnect touchscreen, the new HUD can feature up to five pieces of real-time driving information such as navigation, speed, gearing, speed limit, and advanced driver-assistance systems (ADAS) settings. The speed limit notifications are GPS-based rather than camera-based, meaning new highways, neighborhood subdivisions, and school zones might not be in the system yet and, therefore, actual speed limits could vary from the on-screen one. This is something we experienced with surprising frequency during our 150-mile journey through the Sierra Nevada mountain range.
As an apex annihilator, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is built to not only terrorize the terrain but also withstand its unpredictability, on- and off-road. Although crash-test safety ratings courtesy of the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) are not yet available, at launch, Ram’s performance pickup will be offered with more than 100 safety and security features, including a number of luxury automaker-level ADAS systems. But, like those premium brands, the snazzy safety features will cost extra.
For example, a rear backup camera with dynamic guidelines is standard. But if you want a 360-degree (including forward-facing) view of the truck while towing, off-roading, or navigating the Costco parking lot, you’ll have to purchase the Advanced Safety Group package. This add-on bundle also includes adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, and pedestrian detection with emergency braking.
A new-for-2021 digital rear-view mirror that can be toggled between the conventional mirror and a 9.2-inch LCD monitor, and a brake-activated center high-mount stop lamp are part of the Advanced Tech Group. Other available ADAS features for the Ram 1500 TRX are adaptive headlights, hill-start assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, trailer sway control, lane-departure warning, and front and rear park assistance with automatic braking.
Passive safety includes an auto-reverse feature for the windows and sunroof, which, as the name suggests, will prevent them from closing should an obstruction be detected. Also, to assist first responders, an enhanced accident response system will automatically unlock the doors, illuminate interior lighting, and enable a fuel cut-off when the airbags deploy.
With the addition of the all-new TRX, the 2021 Ram 1500 is available in 10 trim levels. The entry-level Ram Tradesman two-door with RWD starts at $32,245 (destination charge is $1,695 extra). The chart-topping Ram TRX starts at $69,995. The TRX Launch Edition, which is limited to only 702 units (hint, hint, horsepower) starts at $88,570. Our test vehicle, which was optioned with a number of add-ons, had a final MSRP of $85,975.
The Ram 1500 TRX’s competitor is the longstanding Ford F-150 Raptor, which starts at a seemingly bargain price of $53,455 (sans $1,695 destination fee). However, to say it is a direct rival, in spite of all the tongue-in-check ribbing, is rather inaccurate. The Raptor has been around since 2009 and, until this year, was the only high-performance off-road truck available. There are murmurs of a possible entry from Chevrolet in the form of a Silverado 1500 ZR2 but its earliest arrival wouldn’t be until 2022. You can't buy a Nissan Titan nor a Toyota Tundra that comes close to the Ram TRX.
That being said, the Raptor’s drivetrain consists of a 3.5-liter EcoBoost V6 and 10-speed automatic. Its power rating is respectably potent 450 hp and 510 lb-ft of torque. Also, its SuperCrew model does hold 3 more gallons of premium gas than the TRX, and it returns better fuel economy with 15/18/16, but it won’t win any zero-to-60 mph sprints against the 702-hp TRX. Still, traditional off-roading does not consist of 100-mph jaunts. Slow and smooth and zen.
Also, the Raptor does not have the luxury of being a new model, unlike the TRX. No word from Ford whether a Raptor model will join its redesigned 2021 F-150 lineup but let’s just assume so because why not. Are these trucks necessary? No. Will they be sold in high volumes? Absolutely not. Does the pricing even make sense? Hardly. So, what’s the point then? We guess you’ll just have to experience a high-speed jump or mountain road drifting to find out.
Beverly Braga has a multifaceted history in the automotive industry, with experience in journalism, fleet management, and public relations. She is currently a freelance writer and communications consultant based in Michigan. A perennial fan of road trips and exploring, she has traveled to every state in the U.S. except for one: Alaska.
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