"Now, as you come around to the ramps, you'll want to be doing about 55, 60 miles per hour," my co-driver shouts over the roar of the engine while rocks and dirt blast the pickup's undercarriage. "That'll get you the best height and distance for the jumps and set you up to start braking for the next turn."
Uh huh. Jumps. I'm behind the wheel of the 702-horsepower 2021 Ram 1500 TRX, one of the most extreme and overbuilt performance trucks Ram has ever produced. And as the wheels leave the ground and the cacophony is replaced with an eerie silence, I'm starting to understand just how insane this apex predator really is.
Ram's engineers followed a familiar formula: Take a popular Fiat-Chrysler product and dump the 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V8 from the Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT Hellcats into the engine bay. Pat yourself on the back; you've earned a beer.
Of course, there's so much more to it than that. In the Ram TRX, that engine breathes through a new dual-path induction system that mixes air drawn through its functional hood scoop and with intake from the grille at the underside of a massive 29-liter airbox. Ram tells me that this design helps to tumble the air inside the box, shaking out sand and water before it passes through twin 8x12-inch air filters. With a total of 198.4 square inches of filter surface area, Ram claims this is the "largest air filter in the segment." The TRX also features a unique, high-flow exhaust with 5-inch resonators and exhaust tips.
The changes to the Hemi's breathing mean the TRX makes just 702 horsepower (as opposed to the Hellcats' 717-plus) with 650 pound-feet of torque, which it sends though an eight-speed automatic transmission to a four-wheel-drive system. That's more than enough power to launch the 6,350-pound TRX from 0 to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds and onward to 100 mph in 10.5 seconds. The truck will even run the quarter-mile in just 12.9 ticks. The TRX launches quickly and powerfully, immediately finding traction, even on a dirt runway.
In many ways, the suspension and chassis upgrades to the Ram 1500 TRX are even more impressive than the powertrain because they're so much more extensive. The TRX's frame is based on that of a Ram 1500 Crew Cab, but is modified with over 70% new parts to improve strength and rigidity, and to completely change the truck's suspension geometry. The pickup's flared body is 8 inches wider than a standard Ram 1500, accommodating a 6-inch increase in both the front and rear tracks.
The TRX sits 2 inches taller than the standard 1500, boosting its ground clearance to 11.8 inches and its water fording depth to 32 inches. The front wheels are moved forward by 0.6 inch, increasing the wheelbase slightly and freeing up room for beefier suspension components and 35-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory all-terrain tires, mounted on 18x9-inch wheels (or optional beadlock-capable wheels of similar spec that allow ultra-low tire pressure for crawling).
You'll find an independent suspension up front and a solid rear axle with coil springs and forged aluminum components all around. At all four corners, you'll also find 2.5-inch Bilstein Black Hawk E2 adaptive dampers with remote reservoirs controlling the movement of the suspension. Up front, the TRX has 13 inches of wheel travel, with 14 inches of travel at the rear axle. (You can check our spec comparison to read -- and watch -- how the Ram 1500 TRX stacks up against the Ford F-150 Raptor.)
On paved roads, the TRX feels confident with, of course, great acceleration off the line and surprisingly smooth shifts from its eight-speed automatic transmission. The rumble of the V8 exhaust is ever present, but never annoying. The ride is still body-on-frame truck-like, but it's no more floaty than the standard 1500, which already has pretty controlled ride.
The TRX features a total of eight drive modes, plus a valet setting. Highway miles are best spent toggling between the default and nicely balanced Auto setting and Sport, which sharpens the steering, suspension, transmission and stability control. Ultimately, I found it best to create a Custom setting that blends the two. There are also modes for Snow, Mud/Sand, Towing, Rocks and Baja.
You interact with the drive modes using a combination of physical controls and the standard 12-inch Uconnect 4C infotainment system. Ram says that this is the first implementation of its Performance Pages software with the big 12-incher, which also features menus for monitoring off-road metrics like wheel articulation, steering angle and axle locker status.
Of course, the infotainment software still boasts all of the tech features that I like in the standard 1500, including SiriusXM 360L integration, standard Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connectivity, Uconnect Apps and more. You'll also find a ton of physical charging options for phones and tech, including a total of five USB-A ports and five USB-C ports split between the front and rear rows, as well as a wireless charging pad at the base of the dashboard.
The pickup can also be had with a modern suite of driver-assistance technologies, including blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, forward pre-collision warning with brake assist and lane-departure warning with lane-keeping assist. Keep checking boxes to add a full-color head-up display and a rear camera mirror.
Playing around at Wild West Motorsports Park in Sparks, Nevada, I'm able to first test the Ram TRX's crawling ability over a fairly steep rock hill climb overlooking the race course. Setting the drive mode to Rock, the transfer case to its 2.64:1 4WD Low range and locking the Dana 60 rear axle sets the truck up for high-torque, slow-speed climbing. With the aid of Ram's spotters and the TRX's generous approach (30.2), departure (23.5) and breakover (21.9) angles, the TRX makes short and relatively easy work of the climb.
While waiting for my turn on the track, I'm able to explore the rocky grounds surrounding the course, testing the Selec-Speed Control -- a sort of off-road cruise control inherited from the Jeep Wrangler -- on another low-speed climb up a loose grade. The TRX's dampers do a fantastic job of soaking up some huge bumps at speed, jostling me around in the deeply bolstered driver's seat quite a bit, but still feeling nigh unstoppable over a two-track trail.
Setting the TRX's drive mode to Baja lets the 4WD, gearbox, steering, and stability control systems know that it's time for business. Meanwhile, Baja sets the suspension for maximum travel and control needed for high-speed dirt driving.
I enter the course at the top of a huge hill. Then it's a stomach-churning drop down to the front straight and immediately over a small hop. Then it's into the whoops, a washboard series of bumps that test the Bilstein suspension and Ram's Active Terrain Dynamics software, which can react every 20 milliseconds to keep the truck balanced and controlled.
After a sweeping left-hander (that I was encouraged to drift), it's time for the big jump. Lining up for another downhill approach, I point the pickup at the dirt ramp and mat the accelerator, reaching the recommended 55-mph speed before taking to the air.
The TRX absolutely flies, and lands with such grace that I wonder if Ram should have instead called this tyrannosaurus a pteranodon. Looking back at my photos, I estimate the big jump was a little over 60 feet (about three and a half truck lengths) from takeoff to landing, reaching a height of about 24 inches. All 13 inches of suspension travel are used when landing, the dampers allowing for full compression while progressively firming near the end of travel with up to one ton of damping force at each corner to prevent bottoming out.
Wheels back on the ground, I let out a whoop of my own before getting hard on the 15-inch, four-wheel disc brakes for a sharp left-hander. Kicking up a big rooster tail, I snake my way back up the hill to do it all again… five more times.
Starting at $71,690 (including a $1,695 destination charge), the Ram 1500 TRX is significantly more expensive than the $58,135 Ford F-150 Raptor SuperCrew's. Fully loaded, you're looking at around $95K for the TR2 trim level with all the optional fixings. Plus, the T. rex's 10 miles per gallon city and 14 mpg highway ratings are worse than the Raptor's 15 city and 18 highway estimates, meaning you'll also pay more at the pump.
That said, the TRX is a bigger, more powerful predator than the Raptor with just over 250 more ponies at its beck and call. It's also got a more advanced suspension, particularly at the rear axle where the Raptor's still rocking leaf springs. (Rumor has it that Ford could strike back with V8 power and a coil spring setup of its own for the next-generation Raptor.)
The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is not a practical truck, but it is quite possibly the most fun and most insane pickup you can buy today.