In a New Zealand new-vehicle market where the likes of the Ford Ranger Raptor is now completely normalised, think of the Ram 1500 TRX as the next step in what’s possible – and, let’s face it, acceptable – in this type of off-road adventure truck.
American-style pickups like the Ram and Chevrolet Silverado are much, much bigger than NZ’s favoured one-tonne utes anyway, of course. But the TRX truly takes things to extremes. It’s not a work truck by any stretch; it’s a dune-bashing toy with a 6.2-litre supercharged-petrol “Hellcat” V8 (same as you get in US Dodge SRT muscle cars like the Charger and Challenger), 35-inch all-terrain tyres and extensively modified suspension that includes bespoke Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive shock absorbers. There are eight different drive modes, including everything-up-to-11 Baja; for bad behavior.
The regular Ram is a monster. The TRX is 203mm wider and 50mm taller, but the extra dimensions are beautifully executed; the TRX-specific composite guards give it an hourglass shape that’s almost elegant.
The TRX’s natural rival is the Ford F-150 Raptor R. But even that doesn’t quite match the Ram’s aura of excess and peak power figure and besides, you can’t buy one of those here in NZ right now. So the TRX offers a unique package of all-terrain insanity for Kiwis right now.
It’s an epic machine no matter which way you look at it. Even at low speed there’s all kinds of aural drama with the big supercharger whirring away; as engine speed builds, the thunderous exhaust noise takes over. Not just the cabin; the neighbourhood.
If you think 0-100km/h in 4.5 seconds sounds crazy for a 2.9-tonne truck, then so be it. The TRX is crazy.
It’s not a vehicle that takes itself entirely seriously. The name references T-Rex – a real threat to any Raptor, of course. It has orange and red lights dotted around the exterior, like a proper truck. There’s even a plaque on the centre console that tells you it has 702hp; thanks for that.
But the vehicle’s abilities should be taken very seriously indeed. It really is designed to be the ultimate all-terrain truck (as opposed to the more sober and grown-up business of “off-roading”): all about speed and big jumps, with a dual-path induction system and monster air filter keeping the dust and dirt away from the engine, and a special Dana 60 solid rear axle and locking differential for maximum traction on rough surfaces.
You could argue the TRX is the truck equivalent of a specialist sports car, like a Porsche 911 GT3. We don’t always get the chance to test sports cars in their natural environment, the track; similarly, we didn’t have the opportunity to test the big Ram on rocks and sand.
But like many really good specialist sports machines, the TRX is genuinely capable on road; which, let’s face it, is where it will likely spend most of its time. The billowy tyres and trick suspension mean it rides effortlessly over any road surface (or kerb or judder bar), and tackling corners at speed is no problem. It can look like a problem from the outside, with a comical degree of body roll and rear-axle squirming from the tall tyre sidewalls, but from the driver’s perspective it’s all stable, secure and speeding on to the next one. And that Hellcat V8 is the ultimate party trick.
The fancy suspension means the TRX is a whole tonne down on tow rating compared with a regular RAM 1500; it can still haul 3500kg, which is as much as a traditional one-tonner. But payload is down to 767kg, which is a whole lot less.
These are minor niggles compared with the fuel consumption. Weirdly, Ram’s NZ distributor doesn’t quote an official fuel figure. It’s 19.6l/100km under the Australian standard and that’s do-able in open-road driving. Around town, it’s 25/l100km if you drive carefully and more like 30l/100km if you drive, well, normally.
You can argue fuel economy doesn’t matter to somebody with a quarter of a million dollars to spend on a 4x4 toy (it's an extra $87k over a "regular" Ram 1500 Limited!) and that’s probably true. But if it’s a daily driver, it’s still sobering when you’re doing your second $370 fill of 98-octane in the space of a week.
Quality-wise the TRX is as good as ever; or as good as other right-hook Rams, which is very good indeed. American Special Vehicles (established in 2015 in Australia, as a joint venture between Ateco Automotive, which also distributes Ram in NZ, and Walkinshaw Automotive Group) has been “remanufacturing” Rams to right-hand drive with approval/assistance from the factory for a long time now and it’s pretty accomplished. The company has now produced over 13,000 trucks for Australasian customers, and inspired GMSV (Silverado) and Ford (F-150) to undertake similar programmes.
We won’t delve too deeply into the Ram’s interior architecture, because a lot of it is familiar. But the TRX features a flat-bottom steering wheel, paddle shifters and a “reimagined” centre console that’s home to the floor shifter (nobody wants column-change on their racing truck) and a bunch of controls including the mode selector and launch control. Yes, launch control.
The TRX is all about big numbers and excess and it should really offend, but everybody we encountered just seemed really enamoured of this monster truck. Possibly because it’s not just an awesome piece of engineering, it’s also a bit silly – and knows it. The pickup truck for people who should know better.
RAM 1500 TRX
ENGINE: 6.2-litre supercharged petrol V8
GEARBOX: Eight-speed automatic, AWD with low-range transfer
0-100KM/H: 4.5 seconds
CONSUMPTION: 19.6l/100km (ADR)