Four-wheeler pickup truck of the year contender

If there’s one thing that Ram fans and off-road enthusiasts alike have been clamoring for decades, it’s the desire for a Cummins diesel-powered Power Wagon. As anyone who has been paying attention knows, the Ram Power Wagon has only ever been offered with a HEMI gas V-8 engine, first a 5.7-liter and currently a 6.4-liter. Well, after much whining and gnashing of teeth, Ram has answered the call with the new 2023 Heavy Duty Rebel.

Essentially a “Power Wagon lite,” the Ram Heavy Duty Rebel adds some of the most desirable Power Wagon features, such as Bilstein shocks, progressive coil springs, a skid plate package, Goodyear off-road tires and an electronic rear locking differential to the standard 2500 Heavy Duty. And the company does this while maintaining the truck’s ability to pull and pull. Best of all, you can get the package with a 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 or the legendary Cummins I-6 diesel.

Ram and, pre-2009, Dodge pickups have won our test a total of 12 times since a separate Pickup Truck of the Year test was created in 1990. Of those, Power Wagon has won four trophies and the ½-ton Rebel has collected two. So to say we had high hopes for the new 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel would be an understatement. Does the truck live up to its origins? Read on to find out.

Bee rail

It should come as no surprise that the 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel is, well, heavy. Our test truck tipped the scales at just north of 7,000 pounds with the 6.4-liter HEMI V-8 engine, so we knew from the start that the drag strip wouldn’t be where the big Ram would shine brightest. This was especially true when you consider that the truck’s 6.4-liter engine produced the least power of any in our test, producing just 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. Given the state of the pickup market, we think these large gas-powered heavy-duty pickups could benefit from an increase in both power and torque right now, but we digress.

On the track, the Ram Heavy Duty Rebel set a 0-60 mph time of 8.18 seconds and ran the quarter mile in 16.24 seconds, breaking the jets at 88.0 mph (just barely enough to put it back in to send the time). The Ram was able to control its speed, going from 62 mph to a standstill in just 148.26 feet. Our test rider noted that the Ram had the best track performance with the traction control turned off and the Tow/Haul mode activated.

Interior comfort and exterior design

If there’s one thing Ram never skimps on, it’s interior design and comfort. We expect top-notch amenities when we step into a Ram truck, and the new 2023 Heavy Duty Rebel doesn’t disappoint. Our judges were impressed with the interior comfort and use of soft-touch materials throughout the cabin. The team appreciated the large 12-inch center screen in this truck as much as it did on its debut, and the latest generation of Uconnect software was simple and intuitive to use. More divisive was the new digital instrument panel, but mainly because some on the team are old and determined. The rest of us enjoyed the functionality and depth of information the new system can display. Everyone enjoyed the seating comfort and legroom, especially in the rear seats, and there were many comments about the enormous amount of storage space in the cabin. It was also noted that, save for the slightest tire noise, the cabin was almost whisper quiet.

The team’s love for the great Aries didn’t fade when it came to the exterior either. The overall exterior design was widely loved (and is quite outdated for a truck that is close to a refresh), but the Rebel-specific off-road parts really stole the show. Our judges loved both the look and functionality of the truck’s winch front bumper with the optional integrated 12,000-pound Warn winch. They also commented on the accessory rocker guard, though many felt that a little more material would have been a better purchase for use as an entry-level step. The truck’s new towing mirrors received much praise, except from the contingent that lacks the flip-up mirrors of yesteryear. And sadly there were the wheels, which, while the team didn’t mind the styling, drew a lot of ire for their 20-inch size…but more on that later.

On the highway

Since Ram introduced its five-link rear suspension for the 2500 Heavy Duty in 2014, it has remained one of the best-handling heavy-duty pickups on the highway, and our judges agreed that the 2023 Heavy Duty Rebel continues the tradition. While the Ram Heavy Duty Rebel’s Bilstein shocks are clearly not light, they provided great road manners while traversing the not-so-great roads of Southern California. The team noted that despite its size, the truck was quite nimble and actually handled winding mountain roads quite well. The biggest and really only complaints came at the expense of the engine. The team noted that the truck just felt underpowered on the highway and the engine performance was almost “lackluster”. Coupled with the average economy of 11.94 mpg, it didn’t exactly leave a great taste. Many wondered if the Cummins diesel engine would have been a better choice for the highway, as it would likely have been more fuel efficient, achieving almost double the torque. However, that Cummins diesel option comes with a price tag of $9,500.

When the pavement ends

Leaving the curb, things started to get a bit off the rails, and we can pin almost all of the complaints down to one area: tire and wheel selection. The 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel comes with 285/60R20, “E” Goodyear Duratrac load range tires mounted on 20-inch aluminum wheels. These are 33.5 inches long and 11.2 inches wide, with not much room left for the sidewall. Add to that the fact that our testing was done with street pressure tires, which is a whopping 70 psi for the Heavy Duty Rebel, and it doesn’t take a psychic to see where we’re going. It was pretty unanimous that the truck’s off-road ride was brutal at times. We know a 17-inch wheel will fit, because that’s what Ram outfitted the Power Wagon with, and all of our judges agreed that we’d be happy to give up some payload to have a better tire-and-wheel package. Even going to an 18-inch wheel would help significantly. And, as we learned from our first ride with the truck, lowering the tire pressure to just 40 psi significantly improves the off-road ride quality. Ram, if you’re listening, mount this truck with a 35-inch-tall tire on an 18-inch wheel and it will be unstoppable.

Tire issues aside, the 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel is far more capable than should be allowed. Outside of the Power Wagon, this is the only configuration to get a selectable rear locking differential. And while it can be a little finicky to engage at times, the limited-slip differential allowed the big heavy truck to go places it really shouldn’t be able to. The truck climbed with ease, the suspension flexed really well, and the Bilstein dampers did their best to soak up the bumps, despite the tire’s best efforts to rattle our kidneys.

Now we know you’re wondering, “Why not choose the Cummins diesel?” We decided to invite the gas-powered 6.4-liter Ram Heavy Duty Rebel for a number of reasons. First, we knew the off-road ride would be better with the lighter engine. We weren’t dragging or dragging either. And, most importantly, we wanted to show off the factory-installed 12,000-pound Warn winch, which we had to use a few times to rescue other vehicles. The winch performed flawlessly, as we expect from a Warn, but we noticed an interesting issue with the way Ram chose to install the winch. None of our judges could reach through or behind the bumper of the truck to engage the winch’s freewheel switch. Luckily someone at the factory had engaged the winch or we would have ended up in a world of pain.

It boils down

The 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel is a truck that tries to be everything to everyone, and that brings its challenges. It has a fantastic highway ride, but non-rebel trucks are better. It is sufficiently capable off-road, but the Power Wagon is better. It tows and pulls like a ¾-ton should, but not as much as the other 2500s. In short, this truck would make a great towing vehicle for someone who doesn’t need to tow to the max and doesn’t plan on getting too extreme with their ‘wheeling’. And quite simply, it’s a small wheel size change away from the perfect heavy-duty pickup for many people.

What’s hot

Available 12,000-pound Warn winch, available 6.7-liter Cummins diesel engine, electronic rear differential lock, immensely comfortable interior, stylish exterior design

What not

20-inch wheels, near-single-digit fuel economy, lowest horsepower in the group

Log Quotes

  • “This is the towing vehicle you’re riding in, not the wheel you’re towing.”
  • “Wheels super big, like a dirt ocean liner”
  • “Man, this truck looks good. I love the rugged exterior and off-road hardware.”
  • “17 or 18 inch wheels and this is the perfect truck. Somebody tell Ram to do it!”
  • “I love how quiet this truck is inside, it’s easy to forget you’re driving a heavy-duty pickup.”
  • “The interior of the truck is on point. It is much nicer than any pickup deserves.”

2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel: specs and details

  • Base Price: $67,045
  • Price as tested: $85,370
  • EPA Fuel Econ (City/Hwy/Comb): N/A
  • Tested fuel economy (average/best): 11.94/14.77
  • Engine: 6.4L HEMI V-8
  • Power: 410 hp at 5,600 rpm
  • Torque: 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
  • Transmission: 8-speed automatic
  • Acceleration 0-60 MPH: 8.18 seconds
  • ¼-mile: 16.24 seconds @ 88.0 mph
  • Braking 60-0 MPH: 148.26 feet

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