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With supercharged V-8 engine, Ram TRX takes on Ford Raptor

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

The Ram 1500 will battle with Ford Motor Co.’s F-150 Raptor for high-performance pickup buyers as it gets a modified Hellcat engine in the new 2021 TRX.

The Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV brand unveiled its halo truck at noon on Monday. At $69,995 plus $1,695 destination, the TRX is available for more than the 2020 Raptor’s $53,455 price tag. But while the Raptor’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo high-output Ecoboost engine offers 450 horsepower and 510 pound-feet of torque, Fiat Chrysler says the TRX’s 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi V-8 sets benchmarks for power and performance with 702 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque and the ability to accelerate to 60 mph in 4.5 seconds.

“The Ram 1500 TRX is truly the apex predator of the truck world,” Mike Koval Jr., head of the Ram brand for North America, said ahead of Monday’s debut. “And to put that in Jurassic vernacular, the t-rex destroys raptors, and that’s just what you would expect from a company committed to being America’s off-road truck leader.”

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is the top-of-the-line high-performance vehicle with off-road capability.

Dealers starting Tuesday can accept orders for the vehicle, which will begin production in Sterling Heights in the fourth quarter. Deliveries will begin by the end of the year. Only 702 models of a special $88,570 launch edition in anvil gray will be available in the United States.

Only 702 models of the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX launch edition will be available in the United States.

The Ram 1500 gets an “aggressive” upgrade on the TRX, according to the automaker, with a new steel frame, a body 8 inches wider and a new aluminum hood. The hood features a lit scoop that with the grille draws in outside air to an airbox that filters out dirt, sand, debris and water before cooling the engine. Thirty-five-inch Goodyear Wrangler Territory all-terrain tires boost ground clearance to 11.8 inches with 32 inches of water fording. They offer a top speed of 118 mph — still shy of the 2004 Dodge Ram SRT-10 with a Viper-sourced V-10 engine that boasted a maximum of 154 mph.

The Ram 1500 gets an "aggressive" new look with a wider body and new aluminium hood on the 2021 TRX, according to Fiat Chrysler.

The TRX is for the pickup enthusiast looking for off-road adventures, Koval says: “The TRX expands the light-duty lineup in our showrooms today, and I think frankly this will bring new buyers into the brand perhaps that never considered Ram before.”

The popularity of the Raptor proves the demand for high-performance trucks, said Karl Brauer, an auto analyst and former publisher at Kelley Blue Book. First-generation models from 2014 still list between $37,000 and $42,000 in the used market.

“This Baja racer-ready, off-road, extremely powerful truck really stood alone,” Brauer said. “It’s long overdue for some competition.”

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX can tow up to 8,100 pounds, and its maximum payload capacity is 1,310 pounds

Even if the vehicle does cannibalize lower trim levels, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, says Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst for IHS Markit. Providing upgrades to an existing model is less expensive than starting from scratch.

“The developing, engineering and resources costs should pay off with some strong margins,” she said. “And if it’s really what the customer wants, and the customer is happier, everyone wins.”

Special editions like the TRX, however, do come with some difficult timing. Although truck sales have remained resilient through the COVID-19 pandemic, forecasts predict around 14 million U.S. vehicle sales — a drop from the more than 17 million last year.

 “There’s appetite and demand for what I would say is more of an express-your-personality sport pickup like this,” Brinley said, “but we are going into a period where the volumes will be shy of what they initially planned on.”

The TR2 interior option on the 2021 Ram 1500 features leather and suede materials with carbon fiber trim.

But Koval remains optimistic, noting Ram just had its best July ever: “Americans are returning to work, and the demand for trucks remains, whether for business or for the family. The truth is they’re shopping, they’re buying, and we’re building.”

The TRX can tow up to 8,100 pounds, and its maximum payload capacity is 1,310 pounds. A new automatic trailer reverse steering control comes optional. The vehicle is a “mixed martial arts fighter in a tailored tuxedo,” according to Fiat Chrysler, that combines the off-road capability of the Ram 1500 Rebel and the high-end luxury of the Limited trim.

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX features a new airbox that filtrates air from the grille and hood scoop to cool the engine.

"Really this was all about creating a Jekyll and Hyde interior," said Ryan Nagode, Ram's chief interior designer. "It is something that is refined, yet at its heart had attitude. It was noble and powerful. It was polished, yet it had some grit.”

Aluminum paddle shifters on the steering wheel make their debut on a Ram truck to allow drivers to choose the proper gear with their fingertips. The 1500’s rotary shifter disappears for the center console to allow for a manual mode. Five on-road driving modes and three off-road modes, including the new “Baja” selection for desert environments, are accessible through the dashboard and now the 12-inch, fourth-generation Uconnect touchscreen. Performance pages with information on timers, g-force, gauges, ride heights and more also are accessible through the system.

Six exterior color options are available. Mopar also will offer more than 100 parts and accessories for the vehicle. The automaker tested the TRX over thousands of miles in the Arizona heat, in the Michigan and Minnesota cold, over sand dunes and over rocks in Moab, Utah.

Drive mode options are accessible through the 12-inch infotainment screen in the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX.

The ultimate test will come in the marketplace when the TRX faces the Raptor — just like Ford is positioning its new off-road Bronco SUV against FCA’s Jeep Wrangler.

“Whenever two automotive titans go after each other and are trying to make the best version of the given product,” Brauer said, “all of the customers win.”

bnoble@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble