August 13, 2021
If we drift back to the late `70s and the go-fast desert scene, headlines put us in the seat of a Dodge Ram W-150 with racing legend Rod Hall. He took the checkered flag in one of the most grueling races on the planet, which began a 37-race winning streak that has yet to be broken. It was an era of dominance, a decade of supremacy, when competitors regrettably acknowledged that if you could not beat Ram you would not win a race. Fast-forward to 2021 and the introduction of the TRX 1500, and it is clear that Ram has re-entered the go-fast game with a vengeance. They say it is the fastest and most powerful production 4-wheel-drive ever produced, and Ram has placed its crosshairs squarely on the competition. We recently spent a few days behind the wheel of a TRX in Northern Nevada. As for becoming the apex assassin of the desert, we can confidently say this is one impressive rig.
Art of an Assassin
We made our way to Wild West Motorsports Park to release the beast within. Having spent months, maybe years, south of the border, I scrolled through the Uconnect’s off-road screens and found Baja Mode (there are multiple street and off-road modes). Baja modifies shift points, tightens throttle response, and relaxes algorithms for the transfer case and stability control. Massaging the accelerator and doing a few warm-up turns to get a feel for the vehicle, we headed out on a desert loop. The warm- up period was short-lived, and I quickly realized the TRX just wanted to run, and run fast. But a good desert truck needs more than a big mill. That power and the mass it motivates must be controlled when hitting rollers at speed, through hard cornering, and returning to earth after air traffic control has picked you up on their radar.
Ram engineers worked extensively with Bilstein to develop the TRX’s e2 electronically controlled 2.5-inch Black Hawk damping system. Constructed from a single piece of rigid aluminum, it features independent compression and rebound damping, as well as internal hydraulic bump stops. Remote reservoirs enhance cooling and allow for additional wheel clearance, and rock shields protect the shocks from flying debris.
Moving to the closed-course racetrack allowed us to vet our fragile egos against the vehicle’s capabilities. Diving into corners, a light tap on the brakes brought the back end around with control. Gently applying pressure on the skinny pedal (with 700 horsepower, gentle is the definitive term) rendered controlled and predictable drifts. Twelve-inch whoop-de-dos: no issue. Four feet of air under the tires (moments that induce an “oh, crap”) and repeated G-outs, the TRX landed on the run without missing a beat.
Did I mention Jump Detection? Yep, the suspension’s computer evaluates ride height, wheel speed, and signals from accelerometers at each corner. Faster than you can blink, it has already adjusted rpm, torque biases, gear selection, and damping rates to keep your happy right foot from ramping up landing-wheel speed. I’ve driven a lot of vehicles, both stock and race-modified, and I must say this new Ram has the most capable off-the-showroom-floor suspensions I’ve tested.
And lest I forget: Launch Control, a.k.a. dragstrip mode. It works similar to a trans brake on a dragster (even has a red, yellow, green Christmas tree), but allows you to program a set RPM that the vehicle will engage first gear and launch when you lift your foot from the brake. Brake system algorithms eliminate wheel slip for maximum traction and reserve torque rockets you off the line like an F-16 from an aircraft carrier. Shift Light Mode works in a similar way, allowing the driver to manually set shift points for each gear.
On deserted tarmac roads in the mountains of Northern Nevada, the TRX was surprisingly agile—especially for a 6,300-pound vehicle. Steering through tight constant-radius turns was predictable and balanced. The ride was firm with nominal yaw, and return-to-center cycles minimal when exiting hard corners. With the speedometer eclipsing twice the posted limit during much of the run, the TRX took it in stride and instilled a high level of driver confidence—a killer suspension down below and 700 ponies behind the grill didn’t hurt the equation.
Speaking of 700 horsepower, the HEMI will push the needle from zero to 60 in a head-snapping 4.5 seconds. No issues merging with traffic when it will hit 100 mph at 10.5 seconds and a quarter-mile in 12.9 seconds. Legal disclaimer: professional driver on a closed course, and don’t try this at home or you will piss off your neighbors something terrible. I can attest that this is not our grandpa’s old Dodge D100. It does still retain enough of that heritage to maintain a leadership position.
Drivetrain and Under the Hood
With a clear understanding that you can’t eliminate the competition without serious ponies behind the radiator, Ram’s engineers raised the bar by stuffing a 6.2-liter supercharged HEMI under the hood. Yes, the one we find in the Hellcat Challenger but retuned for desert performance.
Cranking out an extraordinary 702 horsepower and 650 lb-ft of torque, its big lungs require more air than a standard intake can accommodate. The solution was a dual-path induction system: 50 percent is drawn through a new scoop on the hood and the residual via conventional means. Flows join in a dual-element cleaning unit designed to dispatch particulate matter before it hits the filter. The HEMI is backed by a TorqueFlite 8HP95 8-speed automatic transmission, and a BorgWarner full-time active transfer case distributes power fore and aft.
That rear axle is the venerable Dana M250 full-floater fitted with 15-inch disc brakes, an electric-locking differential, and 3.55:1 gears. The upgraded five-link setup has a solid track bar and longer links and a kicker shock to reduce axle wrap under heavy acceleration. The front sports forged aluminum A-arms, and there is more than 13 inches of travel at all four corners—a big plus when hitting whoops at 60 mph. The TRX also boasts a 32-inch fording depth, nearly 12 inches of running ground clearance, and payload/towing capacities of 1,310 and 8,100 pounds respectively.
Walkaround and Cockpit
The TRX’s burly posture is reminiscent of a Trophy Truck: sleek, broad, and confident and eight inches wider than a base 1500. A scoop on the hood feeds the aforementioned air intake and sports an array of LED marker lights. Additional vents are positioned on the fenders to enhance engine bay cooling, and its new adaptive headlights will mirror driver input to the steering wheel up to 15 degrees, reducing blackout areas when running at night. Down below is a set of Goodyear Wrangler 35-inch all-terrain tires on aluminum wheels, and bead locks are an available option.
Sliding into the leather-wrapped driver’s seat and pressing the ignition button, the instrument panel cycles through prelaunch screens as the supercharger spools up and the HEMI comes to life. Pronounced seat bolsters hug your body firmly, urging you to slide the console-mounted shifter into gear—it would be sacrilegious to put a dial shifter in a 700-plus horsepower machine. With hands gripping the flat-bottom steering wheel, brushed-aluminum paddle shifters are at a finger’s reach. Most systems can be managed from the control panel at the center of the wheel, including the new heads-up windshield display. Overhead, we find Ram’s digital rearview mirror, which displays the feed from a tailgate-mounted backup camera.