By Gary Witzenburg
President, North American Car, Truck and Utility Vehicle of the Year (NACTOY)
“This truck is designed to do things at 100 mph off-road that will break other trucks,” Ram 1500 senior manager Carl Lally says of the Ram 1500 TRX. “We know, because we’ve tried.”
Gary Witzenburg | Oct 23, 2020
If any of us on our recent media drive question the seriousness of the 702-hp desert-racer Ram 1500 TRX, that question fades when we hustle one around an off-road race course at Wild West Motorsports Park near Reno, NV.
In its Baja off-road-performance drive mode (one of eight available), the Ram TRX powers up dirt hills, drifts through rutted curves, flies gracefully to surprisingly soft landings over 55-70-mph (89-113 km/H) jumps and absorbs a series of aggressive yump-de-yumps as if they are barely there. On separate courses, it also demonstrates uncanny rock-crawling and sand-blasting capabilities.
“This truck is designed to do things at 100 mph (161 km/h) off-road that will break other trucks,” says Ram 1500 senior manager Carl Lally. “We know, because we’ve tried.”
How does this “Apex-Predator” truck (as they like to call it) differ from its ordinary Ram 1500 stablemates?
For starters, its 6.2L supercharged Hemi V-8 unleashes 702 hp and 650 lb.-ft. (881 Nm) of terrain-tearing torque through an 8-speed automatic to a Dana M250 3.55:1 solid rear axle with full-floating hubs, an electronic locking rear differential and an axle-hop damper for rough-surface control and traction. Its two-speed, variable-split, fulltime 4×4 transfer case divvies up that torque 25 front/75 rear in Baja (below), 30/70 in Sport, 40/60 in Auto, 45/55 in Mud/Sand, Snow and Tow and 50/50 in Rock Mode.
That supercharged Hemi needs a lot of air to generate all that output, so a dual-path induction system provides all it can gulp – half through the grille, the other half through its large, functional hood scoop.
A huge air filter scrubs it through dual elements with four times the dust-trapping capacity of its closest competitor, FCA says, and a 7.9L dry sump helps keep the oil cool and clean. With Launch Control, it can power through 60 mph (97 km/h) from rest in 4.5 seconds and a quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds at 108 mph (174 km/h) to a 118-mph (190 km/h) top speed.
The Ram TRX’s frame is 75% new with extensive high-strength steel for torsional stiffness, stability and durability. Its all-new, high-strength-aluminum, independent front, five-link, coil-spring rear suspension uses forged aluminum front control arms with desert-racer-like active damping and special attention to caster and camber angles during suspension cycling.
Its track is 6 ins. (152 mm) wider and its 13-in. wheel travel more than 40% longer at all four corners compared to other Ram 1500s, and its new front and rear 2.5-in. (6.4-cm) Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive performance shocks (designed exclusively for TRX) “provide fast reaction time, unbeatable damping and improved heat dissipation for traversing harsh terrain at speeds greater than 100 mph,” according to FCA.
The truck rolls on exclusively developed 325/65/R18 All-Terrain 35-in. Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires on new 18-by-9-in. aluminum wheels, with or without bead-locks. Its 15-in. (38-cm) brakes are the segment’s largest, and a 2-in. (51-mm) ride-height increase provides 11.8 ins. (300 mm) of ground clearance and up to 32 ins. (813 mm) of water-fording capability. Its maximum rated payload is 1,310 lbs. (594 kg) and its towing capability 8,100 lbs. (3,674 kg).
Aggressive composite fender flares and the gaping hood scoop – with yellow LED clearance lamps inside both it and the front bumper flares – visually telegraph the Ram TRX’s extreme capabilities. Fog lamps and taillamps are LED, and full-LED adaptive front lighting features twin bi-functional projector headlamps that rotate up to 15 degrees with the steering,
The spacious, carefully crafted Ram TRX interior (pictured below) offers all-day-comfy seats and a choice of premium cloth and vinyl (TR trim), wrapped leather and suede (TR1) or ultra-premium leather and suede (TR2 with available red and carbon-fiber accents). Its new flat-bottom steering wheel has leather-wrapped grips with aluminum paddle shifters extending both above and below its spokes.
The center console features wireless phone charging, five (Type A and C) USB ports and a large storage bin. Switches for the drive-mode selector, transfer case and launch control are within easy reach on the lower IP. A new head-up display can show up to five different content areas at once, and the standard 12-in. (30-cm) Uconnect touchscreen includes SiriusXM 360L and Pandora personalized stations listenable through a 900-watt, 19-speaker Harman Kardon audio system.
Optional safety features include trailer reverse steer control, which uses a dial to point the trailer in the desired direction while it controls the steering wheel, and a digital rearview mirror with a 9.2-in. (23-cm) LCD monitor.
“We designed this truck to outrun and outlast the competition,” says Ram 1500 TRX chief engineer Jeff Roselli, but FCA won’t predict TRX sales or its percentage of Ram 1500 deliveries.
On a variety of roads, the Ram TRX is surprisingly quiet and civilized with (depending on drive mode) a reasonably comfortable ride and good handling given its massive size, 6,350-lb. (2,880 kg) curb weight and prodigious power. Not surprisingly, fuel economy is not a strong suit.
EPA numbers will not sit well in California: 10/14 mpg (24-17 L/100 km) city/highway. We averaged just 11.7 mpg (20 L/100 km) during our on-road drive.
Ram 1500 TRX prices start at $69,995 plus destination charges.