2021 Ram 1500 TRX Off-Road Tested on Sand, Dirt, Rocks and Snow

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Front View In Sand Dunes

Cars.com photos by Matt Barnes

By Matt Barnes

Ram built the 2021 1500 TRX pickup truck to compete in a market the Ford Raptor created — a market that has been without competition until now. It’s clear that Ram benchmarked the Raptor in key areas like suspension travel, ground clearance and wheelbase along with approach, departure and breakover angles, which are all nearly identical. I took advantage of a week of testing the Ram 1500 TRX in Utah to put it in as many off-road situations as I possibly could over three days: One for high-speed desert and sand at Little Sahara Recreation Area, one for rock crawling/steep hill climbing at Little Moab and one for snow up in the Wasatch Range.

Related: 2021 Ram 1500 TRX Is on the Hunt for Raptors

When entering a new market where there is already a clearly defined champion, it's important to bring a captivating feature. Ram has gone with a 702-horsepower, supercharged 6.2-liter V-8 with 650 pounds-feet of torque versus the Raptor with its twin-turbo 3.5-liter V-6 that puts out a still-impressive 450 hp and 510 pounds-feet of torque.

Dirt/Gravel

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Rear Angle On Dirt Hill

Rather than take the easy, paved route to get to the local sand dunes, I found a road that included as much dirt and gravel as possible. This turned out to be about 30 miles of fun. The road was rough, rutted, bumpy and muddy along with a couple miles of smooth sailing. In the TRX, I was able to cover those 30 miles in as many minutes. For this section, I selected the Baja drive mode, which transfers the four-wheel-drive torque split to 25/75% front/rear.

With over a foot of suspension travel and Bilstein 2.6-inch remote reservoir shocks, the TRX seemingly floated over all but the biggest bumps. Steering was well controlled and stayed on center, and even the largest undulations never caused the truck to bump steer.

Often, I would approach a large dip and tense my body for the impact only to float over it, barely feeling a thing. It took some getting used to, but once I realized how great the TRX is, the driving fun only increased.

The final section of the dirt road included a few miles that was supposed to be for a railroad that never came to fruition. That meant the road had an excellent base, was very flat and had wide sweeping turns. I was able to comfortably push the truck to speeds that would be unsafe in other vehicles.

Sand

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Side Profile Against Sand Dunes

There are two key vehicle features needed for driving on sand: A high power-to-weight ratio and a large tread-print-to-weight ratio. As far as factory-equipped pickup trucks go, the TRX has the most horsepower and largest tread print, making it ideal for blasting through the dunes.

The sand was in a moderate condition the day I went to the dunes. It wasn’t as soft as it normally is in the heat of summer, but it wasn’t as cold or wet as can be after a winter rain or snowstorm. Given the conditions, I decided to air the tires down to 20 pounds per square inch. For comparison, when I took the Tundra TRD Pro to the sand dunes, the sand was so hard that I nearly popped a bead running at 20 psi.

The TRX is a sand monster. Having 702 hp on tap makes climbing even the steepest of dunes a nonissue as long as you stay on the throttle. Despite the massive tires, the heavy TRX weighing in at approximately 6,500 pounds can still sink in moderate to soft sands.

Rock

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Rock Crawling

Massive suspension travel is key to keeping the wheels on the ground when slow-speed rock crawling. 

Even with the eight-speed transmission, which has a 4.71:1 1st gear ratio, the TRX only returns a crawl ratio of 44.1:1; a Gladiator Rubicon, for example, is 77.24:1 with an automatic transmission. On the TRX, this is largely due to the 3.55 axle ratio. Despite this, I was still able to creep the TRX over some very rocky terrain by selecting Rock mode on the drive mode selector.

Among other things, Rock mode reduces throttle sensitivity, which greatly helps for slow-speed maneuvers. Of course, a rear differential lock is standard and can be engaged with the transfer-case in any position and any drive mode. Along with that, Ram offers Selec-Speed, which allows the driver to set a desired speed using the shift lever or paddle shifters. This is a great feature for maintaining control while descending hills so steep that the crawl ratio doesn’t provide enough gear reduction. It also is a big help for inexperienced off-road drivers when climbing steep hills.

The biggest issue I had when crawling through the rocks was the huge width and large turning diameter. This meant being more precise in wheel placement and often having to make three-point, or more, turns. On the other hand, the high ground clearance of 11.8 inches and 35-inch-tall tires make many obstacles that are difficult for other vehicles a nonissue in the TRX.

Snow/Ice

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Side Profile In Snow

After spending some time down low in the desert valleys, I took the TRX into the mountains to play in the snow.

Once again, the large tires and a high ground clearance helped the TRX. Traversing 8 inches of snow was much easier in the TRX than in other vehicles. Using Snow mode reduces throttle sensitivity, adjusts the traction control and stability control systems to limit slip, and changes the transfer-case power distribution to 45/55 front and rear.

I found Snow mode to be useful for the most control and traction when in the snow, especially on road. When the snow got extra deep or more tail-whipping fun was in store, I switched to Baja mode, which reduces computer intervention to allow for more wheel slip.

Custom mode is great for dialing in personal preferences. I found the optimal settings for the conditions I was in to be 4-High with the rear differential locked, the steering in Sport and the stability control in Baja. This locked the front-to-rear power split at 50/50 and still allowed for some wheelspin to dig through the snow to better traction.

One downside to the wide tires was driving on ice. Wide tires don’t bite as well as skinny tires, which allowed the TRX to slide a little. Ice is one of the few areas where a skinny tire will typically outperform a wide tire, and that rang true with the TRX.

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Fuel Mileage

Motoring down the highway with 650 pounds-feet of torque on tap is an exhilarating experience, but it comes at a cost: fuel consumption. I was surprised to find that even when cruising at 75 mph I was barely getting 11 mpg on the trip computer. On the other end of the spectrum, I was surprised to find that after spending full days of aggressive driving on dirt, gravel, sand and snow the trip computer was reading 10.2 mpg. It appears that no matter what the TRX is doing, it’s going to be drinking fuel at a fairly constant rate.

At the End of the Week ...

2021 Ram 1500 TRX Side Profile Against Snowy Woods

The TRX is a monster off-road toy. One gets the feeling that the TRX doesn’t like being on the pavement. Rather, it feels at home cruising at absurd speeds across incredibly rough terrain. Sure, a similarly capable vehicle could be built off a regular half-ton truck platform, but the TRX has been beefed up in ways that just can’t be done in the aftermarket. The frame, suspension, entire powertrain and drivetrain, brakes and computer tuning have all been specifically designed and upgraded over a normal half-ton to make this truck what it is, and what an excellent job Ram has done.

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2021 Ram 1500 TRX Front Wheel

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2021 Ram 1500 TRX Shocks

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