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Payne: It's a bird, it's a plane . . . it's the 702-horse Ram TRX supertruck

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Flying at over 65 mph in a 2021 Ram 1500 TRX — four feet off the ground — is when you realize that there’s not much pickups can’t do anymore. Hold that image, and let me catch you up.

The 702-horsepower TRX — pronounced T. rex — is the most powerful truck made.

But it’s much more than a rocket-sled. It's like the recent crop of insane high-performance supercars I’ve tested — McLaren GT, Porsche 911 Turbo, Chevy Corvette C8 — that defy the laws of on-road physics while surrounding you in luxury. The TRX is an off-road weapon with the interior of a Bellagio Hotel suite.

This remarkable versatility has made pickups the new halo vehicles for brands — as desirable as luxury performance cars. Call them supertrucks.

I punished the TRX on Nevada’s off-road trails, rocky terrain and Wild West Motorsports Race Track. Yes, the Wild West Motorsport Park. Wild West, for the uninitiated, is home to serious off-road racing. It's a twisted, four-turn torture chamber that puts Baja 1000-capable racers to the test with extreme jumps, slippery turns and severe drops.

OK, back to that flying truck …

Dropping seven stories down the ski slope-shaped Turn 4 — the supercharger screaming over the roar of the 6.2-liter V-8 — I pushed 70 mph and launched the 6,350 pound-beast into the sky over the main straight jump. My body tensed for the impact ...

WHUMP! The behemoth landed with remarkable composure, its underbelly skid plate armor slapping the dirt. With 14 inches of suspension travel, TRX’s specially tuned Bilstein shocks rebounded with poise, sparing my helmeted head from going through the roof. Another 1.2 miles of drifting turns, punishing jumps and high-speed straightway followed. The Ram begged for more.

Not only did the pickup emerge unscathed after four laps, but so did I. No bruises. No back trauma. No kidding.

The United States is awash with club tracks (see M1 Concourse in Pontiac) catering to the owners of Corvettes, Porsche 911s and Ferraris who want to push the limits of their supercars in their natural habitat. Maybe they’ll build off-road club track for trucks like the TRX one day. Like supercars, its capabilities can’t be truly realized unless you’ve taken it off-road.

Unlike supercars, however, the ranks of supertrucks are few. Like two (three if you count the coming Hummer EV).

The $70,095 TRX joins the segment-busting 450-horse, $55,150 Ford Raptor as pickups with upgraded hardware to handle off-road extremes.

The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX builds on the Ram 15000 pickup with a fortified chassis and 702-horse Hellcat engine for extreme off-road capability.

These vehicles are most intriguing, however, because of their bandwidth. I have marveled at the dexterity of the new mid-engine $59,995 Corvette C8, with interior amenities that match its mechanical bravado. It’s a car you can track on Sunday afternoon, then take to the country club for an evening meal. Ram’s super-truck takes this capability to the next level.

My loaded TRX tester could be hammered around Holly Oaks Off-Road Vehicle Park on Sunday afternoon, valeted at the club Sunday night, then filled up on Monday for the family vacation trip.

Let’s take each dimension one-by-one.

Off-road: If you guessed TRX’s 702 ponies come from the same Hellcat engine that have made legends of the Dodge Challenger/Charger — you’d be right. But where those hammers can shred a quarter-mile faster than any Mustang or Camaro competitor, their ancient chassis limit them in the twisty bits.

The TRX, by contrast, sits on Ram’s state-of-the art bones, battle-hardened by Fiat-Chrysler’s SRT performance shop. I’ll read with interest Car and Driver’s Jurassic Park Raptor vs. T. rex comparo test. But with 252 more horsepower, Bilstein shock technology and frame rails the size of skyscraper girders, the Ram costs $15,000 more for a reason.  

Flogging the Raptor and TRX back-to-back, the Ford feels nimbler thanks to its lighter (5,500 vs. 6,350 pound) frame. But it’s no secret that Raptor fans pine for the monster’s rowdy, first-generation V-8 over the current twin-turbo, 450-horse V-6.

Gold rush. The 2021 Ram 1500 TRX can go most anywhere on- and off-road. Here it is near Virginia City, Nevada — a famous gold rush town. You'll need to put down $89,000 in gold to afford this pickup.

The TRX holds nothing back with the Hellcat furnace.

Toggle the launch-control button on TRX’s dash. Mash the brake. Mash the throttle. Release brake. The predator’s primeval roar mated to its quick-shifting 8-speed tranny will raise goosebumps on your neck, just like a supercar. I hit 60 mph in 3.9 seconds compared to Raptor’s 5.1 (Car and Driver figure clocked the TRX at 3.7). Let’s do it in the dirt, too. With 4x4 traction, engineers recorded 5.1 seconds on Wild West’s dirt flats.

Valet: Roll up to the club and grown men’s knees will buckle. The TRX shares sibling Ram Rebel’s aggressive face and then some. Menacing LED lights flank the jack-o-lantern jaw.

A hood scoop feeds air to the beast within. Three lights glow inside the opening (required by highway law because the TRX’s width has grown to over 80 inches). Eight-eight to be exact, thanks to massive, 13-inch-wide, 35-inch-tall Goodyear knobbies under the swollen fenders. Give this truck a steroid test.

Climb the TRX’s 12-inch ground clearance and there’s more wow inside. Ram spared no luxury, making standard a 12-inch, Tesla-like screen and materials that have made 1500 pickups the envy of your neighborhood. The rotary dash shifter is replaced by a hive of drive-mode buttons (4WD High, AWD Low, etc.), while a proper shifter sprouts from the console for easier V-8 rowing. A flat-bottom steering wheel rounds out the performance cockpit.

Road trip: I expect to see plenty of TRX’s towing boats and race cars across Michigan. The beast’s standard crew cab will easily swallow a family. Option a $695 tonneau bed cover and toss in back all the luggage/supplies you need. With 8,100-pound tow capacity and 650 pounds of stump-pulling torque, the TRX will haul your boat — and be the envy of the dock slip.

The 2021 TRX is proof that the 21st-century electronics revolution can transform even the wildest automotive beast. Built on an old-fashioned ladder frame, TRX is a one-vehicle auto show. It boasts 1) the ruggedness of a pickup with bed and tow-hauling capabilities; 2) roomy, leather-trimmed interior to rival any luxury vehicle; 3) mega-screen housing everything from infotainment to 0-60 mph performance pages; 4) a sports car suspension with massive brake rotors, coil springs, multi-link arms and Bilstein shocks.

Move over supercars. Supertrucks have arrived.

Mean machine. At more than 80 inches wide, the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX is required to sport three lights. TRX puts them in the hood intake.

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Vehicle type: Four-wheel drive, four-door, five-passenger pickup

Price: $70,095, including $1,095 destination charge (est. $87,170 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.2-liter, supercharged V-8

Power: 702 horsepower, 650 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph (4.5 seconds mfr., 3.9 seconds as tested; maximum towing, 8,100 pounds

Weight: 6,350 pounds

Fuel economy: EPA mpg 10 city/14 highway/12 combined

Report card

Highs: On- and off-road capability; interior opulence

Lows: Hard to park; gets pricey

Overall: 4 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.