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8 Things you should be most hyped about in the 2021 Ram 1500 TRX

The new Ram 1500 TRX has the Ford Raptor in its sights.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Ever since Fiat Chrysler Automobiles announced the 6.2-liter HEMI Hellcat engine, the truck world imagined what it would be like to put that monster in a pickup truck. During the 2016 State Fair of Texas, Ram Trucks showed a concept truck that was powered by that engine. Ram said at the time that it was strictly a "concept," but we all hoped they were lying.

What they were doing, however, was waiting for the new Ram 1500 to build the platform upon. Now the 2021 Ram1500 TRX is here. It makes an unruly amount of power. It also has some new technology that hasn't been used yet on any product from the U.S. portfolio of vehicle, along with some tried-and-true components to make this one of the fastest off-road trucks on any terrain.

Supercharged 6.2-liter not-a-Hellcat V8

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

In the Ram 1500 TRX, the supercharged V8 HEMI makes 702 horsepower and 650 pound-feet of torque. Ram claims that horsepower number is a result of the TRX having the longest exhaust of any vehicles equipped with this motor, along with extra intake plumbing to handle dirt, dust, sand, and other off-road debris.

That's gloriously 127 more horsepower than the Rebel TRX concept that debuted at the State Fair of Texas.

Just don't call it a Hellcat engine. While yes, it is the Hellcat, the folks at Dodge are the ones that are given use of the name in their vehicles. In the Jeep Trackhawk and the Ram TRX, it's just a supercharged 6.2-liter HEMI V8. But, we'll forgive you if you call it a Hellcat.

Launch control

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

I can't say for certain if this is the first pickup truck ever equipped with launch control, but I also wouldn't be surprised if it is. Located next to the transfer case buttons, pressing the Launch button sets the truck up to accelerate the quickest.

That means a zero to 60 mph time in 4.5 seconds and a quarter mile run at 12.9 seconds with a 118-mph speed limit. Yes, that's quick, especially for a pickup.

Bilstein adaptive suspension

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

The 2019 Ford Raptor picked up Fox's LiveValve technology for adaptive dampers. After driving a Raptor back-to-back with the old tech and the new tech, LiveValve is the way to go. Ram knew they needed to offer a comparably bonkers off-road suspension, so they called up their friends at Bilstein.

Designed exclusively for TRX, the truck features 2.5-inch Bilstein Black Hawk e2 adaptive shocks. They have external reservoirs for heat management. While we haven't driven the truck yet, Ram claims that this suspension will allow the truck to perform exceptionally both at high speed and in the air. Noted.

No more rotary shifter

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

If you've driven a modern Ram half-ton, you'll notice that the gear selector is a rotary knob on the dash. In off-road use, I've found it annoying when trying squeeze out of a tight spot that requires frequent engaging of drive and then reverse. For the TRX, Ram removed the rotary shifter and replaced it with a normal shifter in the center. Just as God intended.

There's no official word if Ram will do this swap on all Rams, but there's a chance they might.

Head-up display

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

New for Ram Trucks is a full-color head-up display (HUD) available on the top trim TRX. Ram describes the TRX as an apex predator hunting prey, so it makes sense that the driver would have a HUD to help them lock in in the competition.

In reality, it shows everything a HUD should; speed, navigation information, rev counter, and more. It changes based on the drive mode that the truck is in and has some level of customization to it. It also allows drivers to keep their eyes up on the dunes ahead while still seeing relevant cluster info - a big plus.

Trailer Reverse Steer Control

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Available on TRX – and something we wouldn't be surprised to see offered across the lineup – is Trailer Reverse Steer Control. It works like Ford's Pro Trailer Backup Assist, letting the driver intuitively use a knob on the dash to position a trailer directly where it needs to go. This takes the stress out of trailer backing up, boat ramps, camp sites, and more.

Unlike the Ford system, Ram's doesn't require any measuring of the trailer or placing a sticker on the tongue of the trailer. Using cameras and sensors, the Ram figures it out own its own.

Baja Mode isn't just for Raptors anymore

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

When the Raptor returned in 2017, it featured a Baja drive mode. This mode keeps the revs up, engages the four-wheel drive system, and sets up the anti-lock braking system to perform the best when jumping sand dunes along the Mexican peninsula, or anywhere else you find yourself hitting dunes at high speed.

The Ram TRX has a similar mode. It, too, adjusts everything including the suspension the make sure the truck is as quick as possible across the dunes. Ram doesn't come right out and say that the Raptor is a direct competitor to this truck, but it's obvious that Ram has every intention of being competitive against the class leader.

Bigger tires, more capability

2021 Ram 1500 TRX

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Finally, the Ram TRX features exclusive-to-TRX Goodyear Wrangler Territory tires. Those 325/65/R18 All-Terrain 35-inch tires are the largest fitted to a factory pickup truck.

With improved ride height the TXR has 11.8-inches of ground clearance and can ford up to 32-inches of water. That's actually two more inches than the Jeep Wrangler.

Despite the off-road credentials, the payload rating on the TRX is still 1,310 pounds and the max tow rating is 8,100 pounds, which is similar to a Ram 1500 Big Horn.

Ram calls the TRX it the ultimate expression of their 1500 half-ton pickup. It's not designed to replace the heavy-duty Ram Power Wagon, but rather suit a different type of buyer. While Ram doesn't mention the competition by name, their insistence of calling this an "apex predator" implies heavily that they're after the Raptor in more ways than one.

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The CX-50 is surpsingly capable off-road.

Mazda

I have driven all of the Mazda vehicles that have been sold in the US market over the past three decades. On everyday roads and on racetracks. I’ve appreciated their “zoom-zoom”. Good power. Punchy torque just where it was needed. Well-balanced and sporty handling. A bit of growl for the versions that called for it. Plus, tasteful-but-modest styling and more or less elbow room, depending on the model. Mazda’s have been made for sports-car enthusiasts and to ferry families. But, I had never known a Mazda called an “overlander”. Until now.

2023 Mazda CX-50Towing capacity extends to 2,000 pounds.Mazda

The 2023 Mazda CX-50 moves this traction-sophisticated automaker into the lands where the pavement ends and now takes the brand ‘off-track’. Although it’s not a new thing for many of today’s carmakers to add a backcountry model or two to their lineup, it’s new for Mazda. I traveled to Santa Barbara, California to check out this all-new crossover built on Mazda’s seventh-generation small SUV platform that is shared with the smaller CX-30. This 5-passenger utility is longer, lower and wider than the CX-5 that rides on the previous generation’s underpinnings. The CX-50 has been crafted with a roomier second row and more cargo room for the goods and gear that weekend warriors and adventurers want to carry.

The CX-50 comes with a choice of two engines: a 2.5-liter, 4-cylinder engine with cylinder deactivation that gets 187 horsepower and 186 pound-feet of torque, and Mazda’s Skyactiv-G 2.5-liter turbo-charged powerplant with 256 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque; both shift through a six-speed automatic transmission. The sport ute can tow up to 2,000 lbs. with the naturally aspirated motor and up to 3,500 lbs. with the turbo-charged mill and Intelligent Drive Select (Mi-Drive) that brings a tow mode as well as Normal, Sport and Off-Road. The newest Mazda model has been made for North America only and is built in Alabama. It is the first Mazda vehicle with auto start/stop that can be deactivated.

2023 Mazda CX-50Mazda is a master of upscale interiors. Mazda

The new crossover starts at $26,800 and comes in S, S Select, S Preferred, S Preferred Plus, S Premium, and S Premium Plus with the base motor. Turb-charged versions come in Turbo, Turbo Premium, and Turbo Premium Plus that tops out at close to $42,000. A long list of technology and safety features are standard or available. Mazda says that Meridian, a fourth turbo trim will arrive soon with even more off-road cred; it will be set up with 18-inch black wheels AT, hood graphics and other backcountry goodies.

When you look at the CX-50, the first thing you’ll notice is exterior styling that speaks to its adventure-ready mission. Muscular bodywork, such as extra cladding, wide fender flairs and larger, more aggressive tires mean that this crossover has been designed not only to give a nod to the looks of a rugged crossover but to provide enhanced traction and a tad more suspension stretch for motoring over uneven terrain and along bumpy dirt roads. Planted on its haunches with functional air vents, it eschews minivan styling with a low and wide footprint that allows owners to have easy access to high-strength roof rails for loading gear on top; the roof has been made stronger than other Mazda crossovers to accommodate heavier loads, such as a roof-top tent. A panoramic moonroof- a first for Mazda- and attractive antiglare hood graphics and are tasteful additions.

The interior is attractive and roomy, with horizontal lines and “cleanable” surfaces as a nod to outdoor endeavors. Our Turbo Premium Plus model had bright orange reverse stitching that popped the cabin that has been crafted with uplevel trims and materials and brought heads-up display. A 7-inch infotainment screen is standard, while the top models get a 10.25-inch version. A wireless charging pad and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are standard on all trims. Of note, is the rear power and programmable liftgate to the wide and deep rear cargo compartment, with a load floor that flush with the liftgate opening to help slide heavy items in and out of the back. An available line of cargo accessories makes stowage easier.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 is family roadtrip ready.Mazda

How did it handle over the 200-plus miles of our ride and drive? The Turbo Premium Plus CX-50 offers a lot like; many of its driving attributes are consistent with Mazda’s tuning and handling priorities across its product line. Traveling along coastal highways, carving mountainous twisties with tight turns and accelerating on flat and straight well-graded pavement, it has great Mazda manners: i.e., there is enough power and torque in the right bandwidth to move it well; precise steering with a slightly heavily-weighted leather-wrapped steering wheel and well-modulated brakes, especially with towing a 3,500-lb. load. We enjoyed using Sport mode for carving corners, as it brings elongated shifts from the six-speed automatic; a crisp response comes when sport shifting in “manual mode” and provides a quick throttle response.

We tried out the Off-Road mode on a course that included flat and uneven dirt roads, as well as hill climb and descent. Although there is no downhill descent control system, the brakes worked well, along with manual gearing. Of note, Mazda would be wide to add downhill descent engineering for steeper and slicker terrain. We were able to test the difference between Normal and Off-Road over a special section of the course with sandy corners and a winding track at a speed of 30 mph showing the improved traction in the Off-Road programming and the aid of Mazda’s G-Vectoring Control that brings a bit of magic to transfer torque to the wheels where it is needed to keep the intended track-think of it like an enhanced traction control program that helps with steering and yaw control.

2023 Mazda CX-50The CX-50 comes with off-road driving modes. Mazda

Other aids for off-road and backcountry travel are: the i-Activ All-Wheel Drive system that is standard equipment on all CX-50s, with a 50/50ish power transfer front to back; 8.6 inches of ground clearance; an 18-degree approach angle and a 24-degree departure angle; and an optional 360-degree camera system.

*EPA reports: base motor fuel economy 24 city/30 highway mpg, while the turbo option gets 23/29 mpg and can run on regular or premium fuel.

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The IIHS may increase the speeds it uses to test advanced driver aids.

Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) recently announced that it is considering changing the speeds it uses to test vehicle-to-vehicle front crash prevention systems. The agency currently tests the systems at 12 and 25 mph, but says that the speeds don't accurately represent the types of crashes the safety tech is meant to prevent.

Front crash preventionwww.youtube.com

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) is designed to notify of a possible collision and help respond with automatic application of braking. Just like a human using the brake pedal, it can stop the car, but higher speeds make it difficult to stop in time. The new tests would be conducted at 35 to 45 mph, which is the range where a large number of rear-end crashes occur. As Automotive News noted, an IIHS study showed 43 percent of rear-end crashes occur at speeds of 45 mph or less, so it's important to have a test that shows how well the tech performs at those levels.

A whopping 85 percent of 2022 vehicles earned a "Superior" rating in the current testing regime, so the IIHS will remove it from 2023 testing and Top Safety Pick award evaluations. Their view is that, since the majority of vehicles meet the criteria, it's no longer an accurate way of evaluating performance. In its place, the agency introduced a night test for automatic emergency braking systems that will begin next year.

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