2021 Ram 1500 Review

2021 Ram 1500 - A tamed beast in an urban dwelling, an un-hinged monster in the wild.


Last summer we were introduced to the world's most powerful pickup, the RAM 1500 TRX, which looked to be impressive on paper. Now that it's officially here, I can confirm it's even more impressive on the road. In the current automotive environment where every other story is about electric vehicles and high MPGs, the RAM TRX is the "anti-EV"... and as an enthusiast, I applaud RAM for owning their lane. The first-ever 1500 TRX is powered by a 702-horsepower, supercharged 6.2L HEMI V8 and delivers a top speed of 118 MPH. Prices start at $72,120, but when upfitted with every RAM and MOPAR accessory or package it could top $100,000. This truck may not be for everyone, but for the right buyer it is one that will be a lot of fun to drive, take off-road, haul cargo, and show off!

During my time with the Ram 1500 TRX, we put it to the ultimate family test and hauled our 1987 Jayco pop-up camper up to a Jellystone park and made a lot of new friends along the way. For starters, pulling the camper was like adding a radio flyer wagon to the back, it made no difference in the drivability of the TRX and I needed to be reminded that it was back there as the TRX rode so smoothly at higher speeds. Everyone fit comfortably (including the dog) and the juxtaposition of a high-tech, high-power truck pulling this vintage pop-up was a comical sight. Whether at the gas station for a fill up or while sitting around the campfire, the "nice truck" comments were continuous and usually followed by a lengthier conversation on the truck. The TRX turns heads for many reasons so let's dive in and see why.

Let's start with the aforementioned Hellcat V8 under the hood. This is a powerhouse engine that delivers 650 lb.-ft. of torque with a supercharged 6.2L Hemi V8. RAM estimates a 0-60 time in 4.5 seconds and other media outlets have recorded sub-4 second times... in a 6,350-pound truck! From the moment you push the start button, it's apparent there's something special under the hood. The loud rumble from the dual exhaust with integrated 5-inch tips is music to an enthusiasts' ears. And while all that power is intended for this beast of a truck to conquer the wild in mud, sand, rocks, and water, one of the most surprising attributes was how refined it was on the pavement for everyday use.  

All of the tuning that RAM put into its software works together to deliver a smooth-riding truck. It clearly has enough passing power on the highway, but steering was also responsive and tight enough for comfortable maneuvers in traffic. While it's not a nimble sports car, it also did not feel like a loose cannon at high speeds, which can be the case in large trucks fitted with off-road tires. Road noise is loud thanks to both the dual exhaust and the aggressive tires. Overall, it was a pleasant surprise to find the TRX as a solid everyday commuter vehicle with typical road manners found in the truck segment.

With all this power comes a few neat tricks such as standard Launch Control.  Launch Control manages tire slip while launching the vehicle to give the driver consistent straight-line acceleration. It's an intimidating feature in a new car, but one that RAM makes easy to use. The first step is to find a safe, open straight road (not an easy task in Chicago) and then activate it by hitting the Launch Control button on the dash or within the digital touchscreen. The steering wheel must be straight for it to activate and if it's not, the truck will let the driver know. From there, follow the guidance in the digital cluster, sit back, hit the gas pedal and enjoy the thrill.

Among its many features related to the powertrain are a variety of drive modes.  Performance-tuned software configures ideal setting for modes that include auto, sport, tow, snow, and custom which enables drivers to select the mode that best matches their current needs and conditions. Modes can be selected through the large touchscreen. Separately from these on-road modes are three dynamic off-road modes for mud/sand, rock, and baja which caters to very different terrains and off-road driving. All of the on and off-road driving modes control several systems in the truck including four-wheel drive, throttle response, transmission, paddle shifters, suspension, and steering.  Luckily for the driver, selecting the modes is the most complicated part making it that much easier to take the TRX off the roadway for some adventures.  

RAM also thought of one more mode that may come in handy if you need someone else to drive your truck and you have reservations. Valet mode will significantly reduce horsepower to a limited 4,000 RPM, disable launch control, paddle shifters and all of the drive modes. Drivers can activate and deactivate valet mode with a personalized four-digit pin so you can rest easy (sort of) when leaving the keys with a valet while grabbing a bite to eat.

While I did not get the chance to take the TRX off-road I'm very confident it can do everything Ram says it can. It features an advanced air intake system that ensures only clean, cool air reaches the engine and prevents dirty air and debris from diminishing performance.  A reinforced steel frame provides greater rigidity, improved handling, and durability that pairs with a new suspension system inspired by desert off-road racers. Forged aluminum front and lower control arms allow for added wheel travel and an independent front suspension with active damping maintains strength and durability. Standard electronic rear differential, front and rear 2.6-inch Bilstein performance shocks, and a five-link coil suspension work seamlessly to deliver solid off-road performance.  Wheel travel is greater than 13" at all four corners and increased ride height provides 11.8" of ground clearance. The TRX is also capable of 32" of water fording, 1,310 pounds of payload, and a maximum trailer tow of 8,100 pounds.

As one might expect, this is a pretty thirsty truck. When it arrived with a full 33-gallon tank it offered 339 miles of range.  EPA estimates for fuel economy are 10/14/12 MPG city/highway/combined. Over the course of a week, including a highway drive pulling a camper, I averaged 10.5 MPG.  It also runs on premium fuel so expect those trips to the gas station to be costly.

The Ram TRX is unmistakable in its appearance. It was designed with the intention to be an extreme performance truck and that it is.  Up front the TRX has a unique grille with R-A-M spelled out in flow-through lettering.  The hood includes additional air vents to cool the Hemi engine in the center and on both sides. Clearly noted on the side vents are '6.2L Supercharged' badging and three additional amber marker lights are in the center scoop. The TRX is 8-inches wider than the standard 1500 thanks to wider front fenders which give it a very muscular presence.  Those wider fenders accommodate the meaty 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory All-Terrain 325/65/R18 tires that were designed exclusively for TRX. A full LED adaptive front-lighting system includes functional headlamps, fog lamps and taillamps with up to 15-degrees of direction control based on steering input. The LED lights paired with amber marker lights on the fender and hood let everyone know there's a beast lurking at night.

The side profile of the TRX is highlighted by the flared fenders in front and back, 5.7' truck bed, and crew cab design. It comes standard with 18-inch polished black aluminum wheels and optional are a set of 18-in Beadlock aluminum wheels which give it a custom-built look. Also available are two versions of Mopar side steps and running boards which may be a good idea if you need a boost to get into this lifted truck. Around back, R-A-M is spelled out across the tailgate with the TRX badge in the lower left corner. Center red marker lights are also added above the license plate between the bumper and tailgate. Mopar offers accessories for the bed including a RamBar ($1,895) that can be outfitted with additional LED off-roading lights or a bed-mounted tire carrier ($995). Adding the bed-mounted tire will take up a large portion of the bed and will limit hauling capabilities. The TRX is a mean, aggressive looking truck that will have most motorists getting out of your way if you roll up behind them.

Counter to the tough exterior is a very sophisticated and classy interior. Technology is ahead of competitors, the materials are a step above and are aslo durable enough to withstand off-road adventures. There are three available interior options that include premium cloth and vinyl, premium wrapped leather and suede, or premium wrapped leather and suede with red and carbon fiber accents. Drivers face a traditional dial cluster with an information screen at the center and a flat-bottom steering wheel with enhanced hand grips and aluminum paddle shifters. A new head-up display unit is also available and can show up to five different areas of interest including features like current speed, speed limit, navigation, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control and lane departure.

At the center of the dash is a standard 12-inch fully configurable touchscreen powered by Uconnect 4C NAV.  The TRX is the first Stellantis vehicle to incorporate the drive mode and off-road selections within the Uconnect infotainment screen.  Also built into the screen are all audio functions including an available Harmon Kardon sound system, climate controls, camera views, navigation, and seat controls. The TRX is compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. Ram offers three different equipment group packages that will upgrade seat materials, add driver assist technology, additional lighting options, remote-start and more. Level 1 packages are $3,420. Level 2 are $7,920, and the third is a Carbon-Fiber package that runs $1,295.

Within the center console is a large storage bin that includes a custom spec badge on the lid that includes specs from the truck, horsepower, Vin# and more... think of it as a certification badge of coolness. Underneath the lid are some more treasures in addition to a large storage bin including an etched drawing that depicts the image of a human, the TRX truck, a Tyrannosaurus Rex dinosaur, and a Velociraptor (a dig at its Ford Raptor competition) all to scale.  

The seats are very comfortable with additional support to keep the driver secure and comfortable on the high-speed sand dune drives. There is plenty of head and leg room for all passengers. Three adults can comfortably sit across the back row which features 60/40 split seats that can fold up for a flexible cargo options and access to under seat storage. Heated and ventilated seats are available for both front and rear passengers. TRX is embossed in both front seats as well.  Above the cabin is an available dual-pane panoramic sunroof that provides an open sky visual to all five-passengers.

Safety and security are not forgotten on this truck. Ram offers more than one hundred different features to ensure passengers are safe no matter what terrain they take the TRX on.  Other driver-assist features include adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, forward collision warning, brake assist, lane departure warning, park assist and more. And for those that want to take the TRX off-road the LED lighting system, hill-start aids, 15-inch brakes, electronic locking axles, roll mitigation and more will all play a role in your safety.

Ram sought out to build an off-roading powerhouse that challenged the Ford Raptor, which has owned this segment of two since 2010. The TRX offers impressive power, muscular transformer-style looks, a refined and technologically advanced interior, and road manners suited for any terrain (including the suburbs). This is an impressive truck to add to their large portfolio of 1500 trucks that will certainly put Ford on notice. And to add fuel that competitive fire, look under the hood of the TRX and you'll find a hidden easter egg... in the form of a T-Rex eating a Raptor.

Test Vehicle: 2021 Ram TRX Crew Cab

Exterior Color: Granite Crystal Metallic

Interior Color: Black Leather

Notable Options: Technology Group ($1,095), TRX Carbon Fiber Package ($1,295), Level 2 Equipment Group ($7,920), Harmon Kardon Premium Sound ($1,195), Aluminum Wheels ($1,895), Bed-mounted Tire ($995), Rock Rails ($995), Advanced Safety Group ($995) and more.

MSRP as tested: $89,565

Jim OBrill

Jim is Director of Marketing for the Chicago Automobile Trade Association and Chicago Auto Show and a co-host of Drive Chicago Radio on WLS 890 AM Chicago. His passion for cars started young and he’s often referred to as the ‘car-guy’ among family and friends. As a former auto detailer, he has an eye for identifying solid used cars and tags along on many car buying adventures. Early in his career he worked at several car dealerships in various areas of the business. As a co-host on Drive Chicago and member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, Jim has had opportunities to attend track school and drive vehicles on multiple circuits such as Road America and Gingerman Raceway. With a background in photography, taking pictures of vehicles has always been a hobby.

Jim also enjoys the trails and taking trucks like his 4Runner off road. He has a special appreciation for older cars and can often be found spending free time at cruise nights or home washing one his four vehicles. Jim resides in the northwest suburbs with his wife and three kids. Follow Jim on Instagram at @jpcars22 for new vehicle content or @forgotten_survivors.312 for shots of older cars still on the streets of Chicagoland.