THREE - PEAT
Motor Trend|February 2021
THE RAM BRAND DOES IT AGAIN WITH ITS STELLAR PICKUP PLATFORM RUN RIOT
CHRISTIAN SEABAUGH

The least interesting thing about our 2021 MotorTrend Truck of the Year is that it’s powered by a 702-hp supercharged V-8.

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is a truck that resets the standard of what’s possible. It is a game-changer, both on and off-road: a truck equally capable towing and hauling as it is ripping donuts in a field or whipping sports cars in drag races. The TRX is not just the 2021 MotorTrend Truck of the Year— the unprecedented third consecutive time Ram has won—but the new benchmark that all super trucks must beat.

At its core, the Ram 1500 TRX is an engineering exercise, and a remarkably impressive one, at that. Although the TRX shares its 1500 badge with our 2019 Truck of the Year, truthfully it’s easier to point out the few similarities than the differences.

The extensive reimagining that the Ram team did to create the TRX started with its chassis. Although the TRX is nominally related to the 1500, Ram engineers modified 74 percent of the frame in order to meet the ambitious goal of making the TRX the ultimate go-anywhere performance vehicle. The TRX’s frame is thicker, shaped differently, and boxed, and it uses more high-strength steel to ensure this Ram can avoid the fate that befell many early Ford F-150 Raptors—bent frames from off-road jumps.

The new frame also allowed the Ram team to modify the axles and suspension mounting points to support the TRX’s street-legal trophy-truck mission. The front axle shifted forward to help fit 35-inch Goodyear Territory All-Terrain tires (custom specced for the Ram) on 18-inch wheels, and the beefy Dana M250 rear axle is mounted to the chassis via new five-link rear suspension mounting points. Thanks to the new axles and tires, track width increased by 6.0 inches versus the standard 1500.

The new frame and axles are all ostensibly designed around the Ram TRX’s party piece: its Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive dampers. Although it’s easy to dismiss as just another nitrogen-charged remote reservoir shock system—albeit one with massive 2.5-inch pistons—there’s more than meets the eye here.

These Bilstein shocks combine rigid aluminum construction for strength and heat dissipation with electronic valve damping that allows the Ram team to independently control compression and rebound damping. What that means in practical terms is that it gives Ram engineers the freedom to dial in different shock settings for daily driving, sporty driving, towing, dune running, rock crawling, and even the occasional flight. It’s some seriously impressive tech.

Powering the 1500 TRX is FCA’s infamous Hellcat engine—which, to be pedantic, is technically only called a Hellcat in Dodge products. Regardless, Ram’s iteration of the Hellcat gets some changes not seen in the Dodge Challenger and Charger, or even the Jeep Grand Cherokee Trackhawk. This 6.2-liter supercharged V-8 is actually the least powerful Hellcat variant yet, producing “just” 702 hp and 650 lb-ft of torque.

There’s actually a good reason for this—the TRX has a vastly different duty cycle than the Dodges and Jeep. Hellcat engines run hot, so it’s no surprise that one of the biggest changes Ram engineers made to the V-8 is in how it breathes. Like GM did with the 2017 update of its Duramax-powered HD trucks, Ram added dual air intakes to the TRX. One air intake sits in the functional hood scoop (complete with clearance lights), while the other—taking another page from GM—sits behind a Flowtie-style “RAM” badge in the grille. These twin intakes sport two heavy-duty air filters and one-way drains to ensure no dust, dirt, sand, or water reaches the engine and that it can deliver all 702 of its ponies at a moment’s notice.

For those of you who think 702 hp is overkill: We’re living in an era when some pickup trucks’ towing capability is so great that you need a commercial vehicle driver’s license to legally drag some things behind you. Yes, we know horsepower and torque (as in the 1,050 lb-ft of towing grunt that the Ford F-Series Super Duty offers) are different things, but we’re talking about what can be considered excessive. And we Americans love to push the limits of excess.

But it’s so much more than simple horsepower. The other major change to the Hellcat is at the bottom of the TRX’s castiron block. A new deep-sump oil pan allows the engine to stay lubricated at extreme off-road angles. Farther back, a new exhaust manifold and X-pipe (exiting via 5-inch exhaust tips tucked up in the rear bumper) round out the engine changes. A new high-torque-capacity eight-speed automatic and full-time four-wheel-drive system with a 2.64:1 crawl ratio and electronically locking rear differential complete the TRX’s engineering package.

The combined effect of these TRXspecific modifications is a truck that simply excels at towing, hauling, off-roading, and performance driving. Whatever you throw at this Ram, it can hang.

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