How the ’23 Ram Rebel sparks the excitement in Mopar’s 2500 HD line

  • In addition to the Hemi gas V8 and a Cummins diesel inline-6, the Ram Rebel HD offers 20-inch off-road rubber, limited-slip differential, locking rear axle, 3-link front and 5-link rear suspension.
  • Serious off-roaders will want the grumpy 6.7-liter Cummins, which generates 370 horsepower and a ghastly 850 lb-ft of torque for towing 16,870 pounds. There’s just no stopping it.
  • With 4WD LOW and the rear axle lock selected, and the big diesel clambering out from under the bonnet, the Rebel literally crawled – excruciatingly slowly but relentlessly – up any tricky bit of trail.

    With the aggressive Rebel already bolstering Ram Trucks’ 1500 Series, and the lifted, winch-equipped Power Wagon offering rock-crawling credentials in the 2500 Heavy Duty (HD) Series, Ram’s lineup of enthusiast pickups had a hole in the middle. Mopar’s answer? Creating the very first Rebel trim for the 2500 HD Series, and offering it with a choice of diesel or gas engines. The result is a sporty, stylish and capable new Ram 2500 HD Rebel trim for 2023.

    Sitting between the Laramie and Power Wagon in Ram’s 2500 lineup, the Rebel HD aims to bring out the Rebel 1500’s gutsy good looks, at a slightly more affordable price than the Power Wagon. Features include unique Rebel exterior treatments, aggressive 20-inch off-road rubber (with 18-inchers optional), a limited-slip differential with locking rear axle, off-road tuned 3-link front, 5-link rear suspension and skid plates.

    Ram recently introduced the Rebel 2500 HD to the media in Pioneertown, California, a spooky little town in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park with an old Western movie-style main street and a rustic motel. Our twisty day ride included two U.S. Forest Service lanes and jeep trails, and an off-road “playground” with some short, almost Moab-caliber climbs and descents.

    We started the day in the Rebel 2500 gas version. Parked in front of the crew cab and six-foot bucket was Ram’s 6.4-liter gas-powered Hemi V8 with variable cam timing and cylinder deactivation. With 410 horsepower at 5600 rpm and 429 lb-ft of torque at 4000 rpm, it’s strong but doesn’t feel off-the-charts fierce. Cruising from Pioneertown to 2000 meters. Big Bear Lake ran the V8 smoothly and quietly – a refined aural experience for an HD truck.

    Although, with exactly no load in the cab or cargo bed, nor a trailer adding weight to the hitch, the ride was noticeably firm. By actually putting the truck to work this could be overcome; so far rear air suspension is optional. Interior noise levels were moderate (bordering on annoying with a measured 80 dBA on rough road surfaces), and the leather-trimmed seats were distinctively comfortable, a Ram trademark.

    Ram event staff had a specific ride pre-programmed into the navigation system, displayed both visually on the large touchscreen and through turn-by-turn voice instructions. The touchscreen is attractive, but we found the pinch-to-zoom feature to be faltering. Later, when we followed the programmed USFS route, some paths were not displayed at all. Maybe add a Garmin navigator to your personal gear?

    2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel interior.

    Stellantis

    A rotary shifter operates the 8-speed automatic in the Hemi-powered Rebel, while the diesel Rebel has a column shifter for its 6-speed automatic. Anyway, selecting 4WD LOW (a 2.64:1 reduction) is done by slowing or stopping the truck, shifting into neutral, then pressing a drive select button on the dash. A few seconds later you’re in. The feature greatly multiplies the drive force on the tires, which the Ram team sent out to 43-46 psi for our off-highway sections, from 63-66 psi on the road.

    The gasoline engine proved fully capable of moving the big truck around the jeep track, including climbing and descending, water holes, and a few modest rocky sections and wash-outs. The LT285/60R20 (aka 33 inch) Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires offered an aggressive tread pattern and added to the truck’s off-highway experience. Locking the rear axle was as easy as touching a second button at the 2WD/4WD switches.

    Despite the excellent seating comfort, there’s no escaping the roll of the high-riding truck as it encounters rocks, ravines and off-camber sections. But really, that goes hand in hand with off-highway travel and proved the Ram’s worst dynamic habits. Choose lines carefully to minimize.

    We switched rides at a lunch stop and hopped in the Rebel diesel. The 6.7-liter Cummins turbo inline six-cylinder is a grumpy beast, putting out 370 horsepower at 2800 rpm and raging 850 lb-ft of torque at a low 1700 rpm. There’s just no stopping it, and like the gas-powered Rebel 2500, it has a towing capacity of 16,870 pounds. This despite the fact that the engine in the heavier diesel version weighs about 600 kilos more than the gas engine. The payload of both trucks is rated at 3140 pounds.

    2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel with the Hemi V8 loves the trails.

    Stellantis

    You might wonder why the class-leading Power Wagon doesn’t offer a comparable diesel. The answer is unexpected and rather academic. Fitting the diesel required additional cooling capacity, which would interrupt the Warn winch arrangement at the front of the Power Wagon. No winch, no Power Wagon. Ergo, no diesel Power Wagon. Sounds like an aftermarket challenge! (By the way, the 2500 Rebel only offers a factory-installed 12,000-pound Warn winch on the Hemi version.)

    Stellantis executives revealed that the latest Rebel will pry some sales from the Rebel 1500 and Power Wagon. Their projection is that the new 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel will capture about 5% of HD sales volume from 2023, reducing Rebel 1500 sales to 2-3% from the current 5%.

    The off-highway route passed through a pleasant mix of pine and juniper, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, prickly Joshua trees and scrub. Throughout, the Ram 2500 Rebel handled the changing conditions with a bouncy sort of confidence. This continued when we paused midway through this 20-mile sand segment to try something more difficult: a steep “playground” full of rocky, rugged climbs, descents and switchbacks.

    The gas rebel lost forward momentum on a steep section that the diesel had driven straight up.

    At first glance, this rollercoaster of a gymkhana surpassed what I would normally attempt in a truck with a 149-in. wheelbase and probably weighing more than 3 1/2 tons. But with members of the Trails 411 group acting as spotters – and the maxim “Not my truck!” – in mind, we went.

    With 4WD LOW and the rear axle lock selected, and the big diesel clambering out from under the bonnet, the Rebel literally crawled – painfully slowly but relentlessly – up every tricky bit. They’re well dug out of four scores and many more 4WDs that have preceded us over the years – dugouts that once wobbled the Ram half way up the climb as it crawled for grip in opposite corners. Still, the descendant of Rudolph Diesel pulled like a log, a formidable result for such a huge vehicle. And then the Hill Descent Control provided an extremely confident and reassuring descent.

    Cummins’ six-cylinder turbodiesel is the upgrade powertrain in the 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel.

    Stellantis

    Inside, in the Ram HD Rebel’s new foot-wide instrument panel, five “tiles” can be configured to display various data such as individual tire pressure, body roll, body pitch and similar dynamics. A plethora of cameras help climb or navigate technical sections; of these electronics, we found the front view camera to be the most useful.

    The Hemi Rebel made it too, after we swapped trucks and tried again. The difference was – and this is anecdotal at best due to time constraints – with only half the brute diesel’s torque, the gas rebel lost forward momentum on a particularly steep section the diesel had driven straight up. The problem wasn’t the couple; it was that the Hemi Dumper exhibited some wheelspin and wheel jumps that required a bit of finesse to overcome. That made the big Cummins—in our experience, at least, this time—king of the climb.

    After this “playground” experience, the forest trails gradually pulled us south, down and back into the high desert. The Rams lazed here, their drivetrains were unloaded and their chassis handled faded stretches of trail with no problem.

    Fuel economy? Naturally, it takes a beating off-road, so we averaged the two engine variants before we left the tarmac. For the 74-mile climb to Big Bear, the gasoline engine averaged 11.5 mpg and the diesel averaged 13.4 mpg. Your mileage may vary!

    The starting price for the 2023 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel is $68,940, and it will go on sale by the end of the year. However, the MSRPs on our test units were $80,295 for the Hemi gas version and $92,875 for the Cummins turbodiesel.

    That’s hard work, man.

    Is the 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel on your shopping list for off-road fun? Leave a comment below.

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