2023 Ram 2500 Rebel First Drive: Heavier than a rock crawler

PIONEERTOWN, Calif. — A vocal subset of Ram truck enthusiasts have long been clamoring for a particular combination: a Power Wagon with a Cummins turbo diesel. Well, they still don’t get one. But the 2023 Ram 2500 Rebel is meant to be next best, as it does indeed offer that long-coveted turbodiesel while adding and subtracting in a few places to create something that’s more of a heavy truck and less of a rock crawler.

First, what the Rebel shares with the Power Wagon. The only body choice is a Crew Cab and six-foot bed, with a choice of seating for five and six passengers. Buyers can choose between the same BorgWarner part-time transfer case, with a choice of electronic or manual shift control regardless of engine. It includes 4Hi and 4Lo (creep ratio of 2.64:1), the latter requiring you to shift to neutral. At the rear, the Rebel inherits the same electronic box and electronic differential lock. The 20-inch wheels are wrapped in 33-inch all-terrain rubber. The same skid plate package is shared, as well as the same general appearance, save for a slightly different grille mesh and 20-inch wheel design. In short, other than the lack of the POWER WAGON decal on the bed side, it would be very difficult to tell the two apart.

Standard on the Rebel is the Power Wagon’s only engine option: the 6.4-liter Hemi V8 good for 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. An eight-speed ZF automatic transmission is standard.

Now, what the rebel doesn’t get. Up front there’s no electronic front box, nor the detachable sway bar and additional rear suspension linkage that allows for the Power Wagon’s absurd suspension setup. To that end, the Power Wagon has softer rear springs than other 2500 Rams, but the trade-off for all that rock-crawling is a significantly lower 10,590-pound towing capacity and 1,630-pound payload.

The Rebel gets firmer rear springs, which zap the articulation, but provide vastly improved heavy-duty trucking. Towing capacity jumps to 16,870 pounds with the 6.4-liter, while payload goes up to 3,140 pounds. Towing goes down about 2,000 pounds with the Cummins, because the engine weighs so much more. However, what you gain is almost double the torque. The 6.7-liter straight-six sends 370 horsepower and 850 lb-ft of torque through a six-speed automatic transmission. Sorry, you can’t get the 1,075-lb-ft High Output version, but let’s not be picky beggars.

You also can’t get the 12,000-pound Warn Zeon-12 winch if you go with the Cummins, because there’s not really enough room in the front for both the winch and diesel to coexist. That’s a big reason why the Power Wagon doesn’t offer the diesel. However, if you’re okay with the 6.4-liter, the winch can be added to the Rebel.

On the road, the Rebel feels like a heavy truck with a heavy-honking diesel engine in every way. Accelerating can feel lethargic at the same time, and then downright angry stump-jerker. The six-speed automatic transmission is harmless enough under normal conditions, but as it climbed several thousand feet into the mountains to Big Bear Lake, California, it showed a reluctance to downshift. It’s worth wondering if you’d prefer the 6.4-litre and its extra two gears when towing despite the torque deficit.

The all-terrain tires add vagueness to the steering, but the hydraulic system thankfully still manages to provide just enough response to avoid ghostly moments while keeping the truck in a straight line. However, the Ram HD does not have a telescopic steering column, so for those who sit a bit back it can be difficult to find an ideal position. Even worse, your head could hit the B-pillar while off-roading, ask me how I know.

While I didn’t get a chance to drive the Power Wagon and Rebel back-to-back, the hardware differences and past experience would lead me to believe that the Rebel won’t be as comfortable on road or off road. The firmer springs and the lack of the detachable stabilizer bar are the main culprits. This is definitely a solid-driving truck, and while it won’t beat you up (okay, so if you’re driving down a rock-strewn track, it’ll beat you up), you do have to pay a price for opting for it a heavier truck. This certainly applies when comparing the 2500 Rebel to its 1500 Rebel sibling: You’ll be a lot happier driving the 1500 daily, even if you can’t tow a small house.

That said, the 2500 Rebel still has coil springs in the rear with the added option of air suspension versus the leaf springs found in Ford and GM heavy-duty pickups. This not only results in superior driving comfort, but also in improved handling and trailer control. Theoretically, the Rebel may not be as livable as a Power Wagon, but it should be nicer than a Ford F-250 Tremor or GMC Sierra 2500 AT4. Theoretically at least.

Off-road, the Rebel may be less capable than the Power Wagon, but that’s about the highest bar you can try to set in the realm of off-road trucks. A stone-strewn track with nasty ruts was traversed without a second thought, confident that the truck’s ground clearance, articulation and giant all-terrain tires would shake it all off. For a much bigger challenge, several comically steep, rutted hill climbs were made simply by holding the throttle and letting the 4Lo, trunk and Goodyear Wranglers do their thing. Hill-descent control is included, but my right leg and brake pedal work proficiently enough. If you’re looking for newfangled Selec-Terrain style off-road modes, you won’t find it here. This is old-fashioned off-roading where the hardware and driver take precedence over the computers.

Now, it’s not like the trails and off-road “playground” we tackled in the Rebel are likely to be anything special. A Wrangler driver would probably shrug and say “no problem.” It’s that they can be tackled in a heavy truck that can tow three of those Wranglers to that trail.

Should you try, the Rebel offers the same range of trailer aids as other 2500s. Chief among these are several cameras, including a new rear-view camera mirror that not only displays the usual view from the tailgate, but also adds the option for a split side view (the cameras have been added to the otherwise standard electrically retractable pull mirrors) that expands your blind spot cover. You can also connect an extra camera that mounts to the back of a trailer, or even inside the trailer, if you want to keep an eye on horses or alpacas or pesky kids you’ve relegated to the toy hauler (don’t do this).

There’s also a forward-facing camera, which may seem like a newfangled extra in this old-school off-roader, but this is also a massive old-school off-roader with a hood taller than many people. Seeing exactly what’s above that ridge is harder than most, and without a spotter, good luck. With the camera you always have that spotter. The forward view remains active up to 20 km/h and returns to it when you dip below 20 km/h again.

Pricing starts at $68,940, including the hefty destination fee of $1,895. That’s barely less than the 2023 Power Wagon, whose price had increased by $4,000 to $71,240 for ’23. You can therefore best see the Rebel as a different type of off-road Ram 2500 than as a lesser version. Oh, and it’s going to be a lot more expensive. There are multiple option packs that replace cloth with leather, blank panels with cameras, and an empty grille with a winch (in addition to several luxury items). Exact option prices weren’t available at the time of writing, but the big entry, the Cummins, was a $9,595 option on the 2022 Ram 2500. So yeah, all that torque doesn’t come cheap: A diesel rebel will be pushing $80,000 and will probably approaching 90 large when loaded. That’s ultimately not so outrageous in the heavy truck world, especially when you consider that you’re getting a pickup that can pull, tow, and off-road to the extreme.

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