The Apex Predator Truck – For Now
by Brendan R. Appel
Since its debut in 2009, Ford’s F150 Raptor has been the default king of the off-road truck. I say “default” because no other manufacturer has produced a truck designed to run a Baja-style off-road race with big tires and long travel shocks. And with its menacing, blacked out F-O-R-D grill (and the fact that most owners kept them on the pavement), the Raptor soon became the on-road apex predator truck as well. This made Ford’s most capable pick-up a tempting target for anyone else daring to enter the Baja-style truck market, and Ram was hungry for that top spot. Very hungry.
If you remember (probably from the Jurassic Park movies), the Raptor is an agile, smart and extremely vicious hunter. But it’s relatively small, barely bigger than a human. So, when Ram decided to take on this tough but diminutive creature’s nomenclature, it needed something bigger, better, and tougher; something that would not just eat a Raptor’s lunch, but would eat a Raptor for lunch. Enter the Ram 1500 TRX (read: the T-REX). Yes, Ram went right to the top of the dino food chain and summoned the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex as its namesake to take on the Ford. But does the name fit the truck? More accurately, does the truck fit the name?
In a word: abso-friggen-lutely. Unlike its Jeep cousin who started the current Grand Cherokee’s performance journey with the tamer, naturally-aspirated 6.4L Hemi good for 470hp, Ram went straight for Ford’s jugular by stuffing its top-of-the-line, 6.2L supercharged Hellcat motor under the enormous scooped hood of the TRX. This iteration of the Hellcat (so named for its supercharger whine that sounds like, well, a cat out of hell) muscles out 702hp and 650 lb-ft of torque, putting the current-gen Raptor’s output of 450hp and 510 ft-lbs of torque to shame. With this much power and full-time four-wheel-drive, the TRX rips off 0-60 pulls of 3.9 seconds in a snarl and will trap the quarter-mile in a mere 12.2 seconds at 96mph (as tested). Not long after that, you’ll hit the governed top speed of 118 mph, a limitation set by Ram because of the softer mud + snow tires. All this power equates to a payload capacity of 1,310 lbs and a towing capacity of 8,100 lbs.
Ram, however, didn’t just stuff a Hellcat under the hood and call it a day. Instead, engineers worked with legendary off-road suspension maker Bilstein to develop a true Baja inspired truck. This trick system features active dampers with forged and high-strength aluminum control arms along with TRX-exclusive front and rear 2.6-inch Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive performance shocks. Ground clearance is increased over a standard 1500 to a total of 11.8 inches, allowing the TRX to ford 32 inches of water. Ram says its five-link coil suspension is tuned to deliver the best combination of ride, handling and comfort no matter the road surface, and we’d have to agree. The ride is so smooth, you’ll forget you’re in a truck, and you’ll often find yourself going a good 10-20 mph faster than expected. If you do find rough terrain, the 13-inch wheel travel available at all four corners helps keep things smooth inside the cabin. These numbers put it on par with the current Ford Raptor that debuted in 2017 wearing 3-inch Fox shocks.
Ford, of course, isn’t taking this frontal assault lying down as it just announced an all-new Raptor is coming this year and has all but confirmed a new Raptor R (rumored to have the GT500’s supercharged 760hp monster under the hood) for next year. Looks like the little ankle biting Raptor isn’t going down without a fight.
So the TRX goes like hell and can handle just about any terrain, but what about when you’re not racing in the Baja 1000? The first thing you should know about the TRX is this thing is HUGE. Few vehicles on the road today with less than 18 wheels come close to the Ram in terms of sheer space occupancy. It’s extremely tall at 6’8”, which combined with the 11.8-inches of ground clearance makes getting in and out of the TRX a bit of an effort. Our test truck lacked the optional side rails, unfortunately, leaving us with just rock rails to step on to launch yourself in or out of the truck. Like a T-Rex’s tiny arms, these are so small as to be almost totally useless as step, so unless you’re over 6’4″, you might want to pony up for true side rails. At least you’ll get an upper body workout as you – quite literally – pull yourself up into the vehicle. Power retractable running boards would be a great idea for 2022. The TRX is also extremely long at 232.9” (that’s 19.4 feet!) and it’s so wide (at 88”) that by law it requires side marker lights. Let’s just say entering a bank’s drive thru lanes is a bit like trying to fit into your pants from high school. Luckily, the large side mirrors fold with the touch of a button, unlike my muffin top.
One good thing from driving enough mass (6,350 lbs) to create your own gravitational field is that other cars seem to be in a hurry to get out of your way. Whether it was our large black hood festooned with three menacing LED’s in the giant (and functional!) air scoop or the TRX’s impressive and loud exhaust note, we found other vehicles making hasty retreats to other lanes as we approached. Yes, sometimes it feels great to be the apex predator.
But when you want to park somewhere and go inside, that feeling slackens a bit as you’re searching not for the closest spot to the door, but anywhere that provides a little extra length or width or is far enough away that leaving little room for your neighbors in the lot won’t be an issue.
Inside this macho, hellfire breathing machine, though, is where Ram designers have really outdone themselves. Beautiful and comfy seats greet you along with a leather and Alcantara-wrapped flat bottom steering wheel. Large, clear analog gauges surround a digital center display and there’s even a HUD to keep your eyes on your prey. An absolutely huge 12-inch long UConnect screen dominates the center of the dash, and it provides an incredible multimedia experience. Our favorite feature was being able to split-screen CarPlay (Waze up top, music or HVAC controls below), and the screen was very responsive. The driving position is perfect and, being many feet off the ground, naturally provides you an expansive view of the road. A 19-speaker, 900-watt Harman Kardon system pumps out incredibly clear tunes.
Appointments and trims are worthy of the $91,000 as tested price, and space and plugs of every kind (USB-A, USB-C, 110v, 12v, etc) are plentiful. You will not run out of room for whatever it is you want to put away in the TRX’s cabin, be it a full-sized camera or even a full-sized laptop computer (both of which fit under the center console’s massive lid). There’s even a hidden compartment on the passenger side for even more places to store your valuables out of sight. And in case you needed to do some quick advanced math on the go, there’s a protractor and equations under the lid of the two-tiered center armrest. That’s where you’ll also find every TRX’s uniquely numbered plaque with things like the VIN, horsepower and torque figures, and even the type and PSI boost of the supercharger. It’s a nice touch, but we wonder what it’ll feel like on your forearm if you leave the panoramic sunroof’s shade retracted on a hot day. Maybe TRX badge brands will become a thing at truck meets.
The fact that the TRX is huge on the outside also means it’s huge on the inside. Like stretch your 6’1” legs out in the back seat while a 6’1” driver takes the wheel in front of you huge. Room for 5 very large people is as easy as eating a Raptor in a single bite. Which, incidentally, is what is depicted under the hood of every TRX. We’re not kidding – look:
All this power, heft and room does come at a very steep price, and I’m not talking about the window sticker. The EPA estimated mileage for the TRX is 10 city/14 hwy and 12 combined. Ah, the blissful optimism of an EPA regulator. In reality, the TRX will burn gasoline versions of long dead T-Rex’s at an astonishing, but not unpredictable, rate. Giddy with excitement every time we floored the pedal, we never saw more than an average 8.2 mpg in the Ram, and that was what the delivery driver dropped it off with. The combination of the supercharger whine, bellowing exhaust and catapult like thrust will keep you hitting the fossil-fuel depletion lever all the time. Luckily, the TRX has a 33-gallon fuel tank. Unluckily for your wallet, it only takes premium fuel.
So, who in their right mind would want a $90,000+ pickup truck that gets 8 mpg? Well, I would for starters. See, the TRX isn’t just a fast and heavy Baja ready truck. The TRX has the power, capability, sounds and presence a dad like me wants, it has the haul my craft-shop finds utility my wife wants, and it has the give me room and plugs for all my stuff the kids want. In short, this truck has something for everyone, and in that sense the TRX is the perfect family vehicle. The only question is, will the forthcoming Raptor and Raptor R be even more perfect. We don’t know, but we can’t wait to find out.
Watch our reviews of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX here:
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