Customer demand is behind the launch of the new 2023 Ram Rebel 2500 pickup. The truck offers what Ram calls best-of-both-worlds off-road capability, plus towing, making a combination that the company believes will appeal to outdoors enthusiasts who want to tow their boat or RV to remote spots then go play in their truck. It’s been slotted into the line-up just below the Power Wagon.
What makes it special, however, is the addition of an optional diesel engine. It’s the first heavy-duty off-road truck Ram has brought to market with the Cummins powerplant in it, and the company is betting it will be popular.
After a day testing the gas and diesel versions side by side, the diesel is the obvious choice, and with only a $10,000 price difference between the two, it doesn’t really affect affordability.
Powertrain: The choice of engines is a big deal with the Rebel 2500, as is the beefed up off-road gear you can’t see.
The gas engine is a 6.4-litre V8 that provides 410 horsepower and 495 pound-feet of torque. It’s combined with an eight-speed automatic transmission. The diesel makes 370 hp and 850 lb-ft, and is paired with a six-speed auto.
To bring the Rebel almost in line with the Power Wagon, but without stealing its thunder as Ram’s off-road halo truck, they’ve added an electronically locking rear differential, active suspension, Bilstein shocks, automatic ride-levelling and other off-road specific equipment.
Drive: After a day of driving both the diesel and gas versions on road and off, the choice is easy. The diesel stands far above the gas engine in performance. It is quieter, more responsive and delivers that torquey grunt of power that only a diesel can. The gas engine was whiny and felt underpowered when asked to accelerate.
There’s not much loss in towing power with the diesel. Thanks to the extra weight of the bigger block, it can haul about 272 kg (600 lbs) less than the gas engine’s rated 7,652 kg (16,870 lbs).
Off road, the truck is surefooted and competent. The terrain we covered wasn’t particularly challenging, but the Rebel 2500 certainly has the power and running gear to deliver you far into the wilds.
It is also equipped with a new suite of trailering aids that help to back up and monitor surroundings.
Exterior: The Rebel 2500 presents like many an off-road truck with its tall stance, high wheel wells, big wheels and rugged-looking grille. The Ram has the Mopar Sport Hood, which has prominent power bump. It looks great, but is a pain to see over when off-roading. The truck’s height makes it a challenge to climb into. Our testers were not equipped with running boards; they are a highly recommended option.
Interior: The Rebel 2500 is available only in crew cab configuration. That means there’s plenty of legroom in the rear, and the seats fold away to leave an accessible and box-like cargo space when needed.
Up front, the cabin is dark and sombre, with very little in the way of accents. Discreet Rebel logos are strategically placed so you don’t forget what you are driving.
The optional 12-inch display runs on the latest Uconnect 5 operating system. While you can connect using your Android or Apple device, the onboard navigation system leaves a lot to be desired, with painfully slow loading times and an awkward interface. The screen also seems unnecessarily big.
Likewise, the 12-inch driver’s digital cockpit display left me feeling frustrated. Ram claims there are over 24 possible configurations of instruments and data. During our drive several attempts to customize the display ended in abject failure.
The gearshift is a remarkably small button on the dash, just below the driver’s right hand. It doesn’t impart the kind of authority you might expect or like in a heavy-duty off-road pickup like this.
There is seating for six in this truck, which means the centre console folds out into a seat; that’s just big enough to perch on. It’s got plenty of room when in storage mode, however, and there are numerous cubbies and charging ports throughout the cabin.
Seating is comfortable and easily adjusted. The transmission tunnel, however, takes a big chunk out of the passenger’s leg room, making long drives in the right seat less relaxing.
Conclusion: If you need a truck that can tow your toys to the trailhead, then take you down that trail, the Rebel 2500 diesel is worth considering. It may not have the Power Wagon’s rock crawling prowess, but its towing capacity more than compensates, making it a far better all rounder than its big brother.