The image of enhanced off-road capability, both real and imagined, has long been a part of the full-size-pickup formula. That attribute continues with the new-for-2019 Ram 1500. Its redesigned lineup includes an update to the dirt-slingin' Rebel trim level that was introduced for 2015.
While we've already driven a good chunk of the revised Ram 1500 model range, some additional Rebel seat time in the Arizona desert, as well as back in Michigan and at our test track, reinforced that it, too, greatly benefits from the standard half-tonner's wholesale makeover.
Serving as the little brother to Ram's heavy-duty Power Wagon off-roader, the Rebel slots, pricewise, between the new 1500's upscale Laramie and cowboy-chic Longhorn trim levels. It's easy to spot, with a vented, power-domed hood and blackened fender flares and exterior trim joining an updated take on the Rebel's characteristic interlocking RAM grille.
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It also has its own specific 18-inch aluminum wheels, up from the previous 17s, and is the only 1500 variant to ride on knobby, 33-inch-diameter all-terrain tires—now slightly larger at LT275/70R-18 versus LT285/70R-17. Ram says the new truck's switch to Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac rubber from the previous Toyo A/T Open Country tires was largely due to the desire for quieter on-road running.
And indeed, the new treads are surprisingly hushed on the tarmac given their aggressive profile, producing just a faint thrum that we only really noticed at slower speeds.
The big tires and a set of upgraded Bilstein monotube dampers (with external reservoirs for those at the rear axle) are what set the Rebel apart mechanically. The rest of its tough-truck gear—including a one-inch suspension lift over stock, hill-descent control, an electronically controlled locking rear differential, and skid plates for the front suspension, steering gear, transfer case, and fuel tank—can be had with the new Off-Road package.
It's available on all other four-wheel-drive Ram 1500 models for $795 (AU$1120) plus $545 for the locking diff. Non-Rebel trucks so equipped also gain a few Off Road graphics, slightly revised versions of the 1500's standard internal-bypass dampers, and 18- or 20-inch wheels with all-terrain tires, depending on the trim level.
Ram sought to enhance the second-gen Rebel's appeal by offering it in a greater number of configurations than before. Whereas the previous truck was crew cab only and rode on the 1500's optional air-spring suspension, the new rig also can be had as a less capacious quad-cab four-door with steel coil springs.
Rear- and four-wheel-drive setups continue to be offered, although the all-wheel-drive setup, made possible by a BorgWarner on-demand transfer case, is omitted from the Rebel build sheet. Ram says most Rebel buyers are just fine with the conventional 2WD, 4WD High, and 4WD Low modes.
The Rebel trucks we sampled were all outfitted with four-wheel drive, air springs, and the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V8 producing 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft (556Nm) of torque.
Also available is Fiat Chrysler's eTorque 48-volt hybrid system, which comes standard on the base, 305hp (227kW) 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and is optional on the Hemi; the eTorque setup is good for a brief boost of 90 lb-ft (122Nm) with the V6 and 130 lb-ft (176Nm) on the V8.
A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic controlled by a rotary dial on the dash is the only available transmission.
Move 'Em Out
It's important to remember when driving the Rebel off-road that it is merely a fortified version of a standard light-duty pickup and not a fully integrated performance rig in the vein of Ford's F-150 Raptor. The Toyota Tundra TRD Pro plays in the Rebel's space, and General Motors will soon join the mix with a Trail Boss variant of the all-new 2019 Chevrolet Silverado.
Tackle small jumps and undulating washboard-like terrain with too much aggression and the Ram's suspension will quickly kiss its bump stops. Yet, driven within its limits, the Rebel displays impressive composure when blitzing sandy washes and rocky, scrub-lined trails as its big Goodyears dig into corners to maintain momentum.
This massive pickup plays pretty hard when given the spurs. The combination of the upgraded dampers and the air springs—good for 10.8 inches of ground clearance in the loftiest Off-Road 2 setting versus 9.8 inches with the standard coils—earns high marks for comfort and control over rocks and at speeds that would be borderline abusive in the standard truck.
Electrically assisted steering that can feel a touch light on the street allows for quicker corrections in the dirt and sand.
The Hemi V8 produces a deep-throated growl from its dual exhaust outlets and ample shove when you wood the accelerator.
We wish Ram had developed a dedicated performance-oriented setting that sharpened the transmission's attitude for off-road driving (Ford and GM both include a Sport driving mode in their latest half-ton pickups), but the eight-speed remains smartly programmed in its standard tune and downshifts fairly quickly in response to throttle inputs.
The 3.92:1 axle ratios help drive the tires, with the transfer case's 2.64:1 low-range gearing further upping the Rebel's tanklike abilities to claw through loose ground and up steep slopes.
Although the Rebel's maximum departure angle (23.8 degrees) gives up a little to a comparable standard Ram 1500's because of its prominent tailpipes, its maximum angles of approach (26.7 degrees) and breakover (21.8) are notably greater.
As you'd expect, the Rebel's gnarly off-road tires somewhat taint the 2019 Ram's excellent on-road refinement and ride quality with their greater noise levels and reduced grip. Steering actions are slightly dulled, and a stab of the nicely firm brake pedal easily elicits a howl from the Goodyears as they scrabble for purchase.
Our crew-cab test truck clung to the skidpad with a meager 0.68 g of grip, and it required 204 feet to stop from 70 mph (113km/h) — nine feet shorter than before but still relatively lengthy. Yet, compared with the regular Ram 1500s we drove on the well-maintained roads outside Phoenix, both with and without the Off Road package, there's little compromise unless you plan to autocross your Rebel.
Similarly, we expect that opting for the standard, nonadjustable coil-spring setup, which doesn't filter out quite as many road irregularities as the air springs, would still return greater ride comfort than most full-size trucks.
Compared with the similar 2016 crew-cab V8 Rebel that we last tested, the 2019 Ram's weight-saving regimen is good for a 175-pound reduction in curb weight, now measuring a still chunky 5748 pounds.
At the track, the Rebel's zero-to-60-mph (97km/h) time fell from 7.0 seconds to 6.4, with the new truck shaving half a second from its predecessor's quarter-mile run, returning a 15.0-second pass at 96 mph (155km/h) versus the previous 15.5 at 88 mph (142km/h).
The new 4x4 truck's EPA fuel economy with the non-hybrid V8, estimated at 15 mpg city and 21 mpg highway (16 / 11 L/100km), is roughly the same as before; both Rebels averaged 14 mpg (16L/100km) overall in our hands.
Along with the diminished street performance of the off-road rubber, the Rebel's other trade-offs lie in its interior. While the new Ram's cabin is supremely refined and dotted with thoughtful storage solutions and high-tech gadgets, many of the Rebel's standard accents, including the door panels and the brightwork on the dashboard and center console, are rendered in a bold scarlet hue.
Likewise, the seats come as standard in a red-and-black cloth-and-vinyl two-tone scheme with the tread pattern of the Goodyear DuraTrac tires printed on the seatbacks and bottoms.
You either like it or you don't. Although the new $2995 (AU$4221) Rebel 12 package does little to curb the redness, it does bring some previously unavailable niceties to the Rebel, most notably leather upholstery and the 2019 Ram's massive 12.0-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen (a 5.0-inch unit remains standard).
The potential demand for the Rebel's nicer, newfound extras will, of course, center on how much buyers are willing to spend on top of its starting prices: a hefty $45,790 (AU$67,360) for a rear-drive crew cab with the V6 and a five-foot-10-inch cargo box, $46,490 ($65,528) for a four-wheel-drive quad cab with a six-foot-four-inch bed, and $49,290 (AU$69,495) for a crew-cab 4x4 with the shorter box. (The 76-inch box is available with the crew cab in other trims.)
The optional Hemi V-8 costs $1195 (add $1450 more for the hybrid), and the air-spring suspension adds $1795. The Level 2 Equipment Group (an 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, heated front seats and steering wheel, adjustable pedals, power-folding mirrors, remote start, and more) added $3000 to our test truck's sticker.
A dual-pane panoramic sunroof cost $1495. Blind-spot warning along with rear cross-path and trailer detection added $595, a tri-folding hard tonneau cover tacked on $450, and a 33.0-gallon fuel tank added another $425. Including a host of other, minor items, the final tally came to $61,295.
Buyers who are still wondering if Ram will offer an even more expensive dedicated off-road performance truck — such as the 575hp (429kW) Rebel TRX concept from 2016—will have to keep waiting, as the company says it has yet to make that call but is seriously considering the idea. If and (we hope) when it does, the latest Rebel will make for a fine starting point.