One of the few complaints that full-size off-road enthusiasts have about the immensely capable Ram Power Wagon is that it’s only offered with the brand’s Hemi 6.4-liter V8. No matter how much its customers clamor for it, Ram will never slot its legendary Cummins turbodiesel under the hood of the P-W, simply because that engine’s big radiators and intercoolers take up residence where the off-road pickup’s standard winch would live.
But now there’s a new Heavy Duty trim in town, and it carries a familiar name. The 2023 Ram 2500 Rebel is here to round out the company’s off-road lineup, joining the smaller 1500 Rebel and Hellcat-powered TRX, not to mention the rock-crawling, high-articulation Power Wagon. Best of all, it can be had either with the Hemi 6.4 or the Cummins inline-six, giving off-road customers the choice between a husky V8 roar or the easygoing torque and old-school clatter of one of the best diesel engines in history. While not quite as capable as the Power Wagon, the 2500 Rebel still promises some good, dirty fun.
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|Quick Stats||2023 Ram 2500 Rebel|
|Engine||Turbodiesel 6.7-Liter I6|
|Output||370 Horsepower / 850 Pound-Feet|
|Drive Type||Four-Wheel Drive|
|Ground Clearance||13.1 Inches|
Power And Potential
The Rebel slots in between the Laramie and the Power Wagon in the 2500 Heavy Duty lineup, with a starting price of $68,940 (including $1,895 destination). For that coin, you get a handlebar-mustache grille with a mesh insert, attractive 20-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, and a bulging Mopar sport hood. You also get trim-specific Bilstein monotube dampers and – most importantly – a locking rear differential borrowed from the Power Wagon. Notably missing, though, is any added lift. The Rebel has the same 13.1-inch ground clearance as other Ram 2500 4x4s, compared to the Power Wagon’s 14.2 inches.
Like the P-W, the Rebel comes only in a crew cab configuration with a 6-foot-4 cargo box. The standard 6.4-liter V8 in the Rebel makes 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet, while the optional turbodiesel 6.7-liter inline-six produces a healthy 370 hp and 850 lb-ft. The former is mated to an excellent eight-speed automatic, while the Cummins gets a six-speed auto.
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Either way, the Rebel offers far more load-lugging capability than the Power Wagon – up to 16,870 pounds of towing capacity and 3,140 pounds of payload with the gas mill or 14,920 and 1,970 with the diesel, which is a heavier engine that takes up more of the gross weight rating. The Power Wagon, by contrast, is only rated to tow 10,590 pounds or haul 1,630 pounds of stuff, numbers that many smaller trucks can meet or exceed.
The Rebel comes standard with a fairly basic cabin, with cloth upholstery, a front bench seat, and a Uconnect 5 infotainment displayed on an 8.4-inch touchscreen. However, Ram offers three equipment groups that pile on options like a 12.0-inch vertical touchscreen, heated seats, power-folding towing mirrors, and a surround-view camera system. You can also ditch the standard cloth for one of two different grades of leather. By being creative with the options list, it’s not too hard to build a Ram 2500 Rebel with the same equipment and premium finishes as a Longhorn trim.
Strutting Its Stuff
My first taste of the big bruiser came in the form of a gasoline-powered model on a winding, paved route from Pioneertown to Big Bear Lake, California – I’d have to wait for my turn behind the wheel of one of the convoy’s diesels. The Hemi does an excellent job of dispatching steep grades, though it drinks fuel at an alarming rate when climbing grades. The Rebel isn’t a sports car by any stretch, but it still handled the hairpins and curves from the desert floor up to Big Bear with some poise, thanks to a rigid structure and accurate (though feather-light) steering.
The current Ram Heavy Duty is based on a heavily revised platform that’s been around since 2010, which exacts a toll in the form of an upright, slightly awkward driving position. No telescoping steering wheel makes matters worse, as does a slight lack of rear-seat headroom relative to other HD pickups. But the three-link front/five-link rear suspension rides far more comfortably than any truck with two solid axles has a right to. Bilstein shocks and trim-specific springs also soak up most road surfaces; truly awful pavement will still send a shockwave up your spine, but otherwise, the Rebel is pretty cushy.
The Rebel’s composure persists even when the road turns to dirt. My route back to Pioneertown would be almost completely via rutted dirt roads, which the off-road middle child handled very well. Again, the monotube dampers keep body motions in check, and although there isn’t as much ground clearance as the Power Wagon, the Rebel still traverses obstacles with the utmost ease. About halfway into the off-road drive, our group of trucks pulled into a clearing, where legendary off-roader Nena Barlow and representatives from the Jeep 4x4 School in Big Bear guided us through a short loop that showed off the truck’s grip and articulation.
It was here that I got my first taste of the diesel Rebel, arguably the best reason to consider the tweener over the more capable Power Wagon. With the two-speed transfer case switched to low range – a necessity on the course’s steep climbs and tire-sized bumps – the throttle feels far too touchy to be smooth. But once you’ve gotten past that jerky tip-in, the Cummins engine’s torque allows the truck to clamber over obstacles and up hills without much effort from the driver. The Power Wagon’s locking rear differential is standard on both the gasser and the diesel, which keeps momentum up when traversing axle-twisting undulations.
Back in the Hemi, I did the course again to compare the two powertrains. The accelerator is much easier to modulate in its first inch of travel. The gas engine’s lower torque rating does mean you have to use that throttle more when you encounter obstacles, but overall, it was more enjoyable and simpler to drive smoothly than the diesel. Whether that’s down to the Hemi’s excellent eight-speed automatic or the Cummins’ ever-so-slight turbo lag is unknown.
For the return drive – a mostly smooth dirt road with some pavement tossed in for variety – I opted to take a diesel. Taking the transfer case out of low range helps the engine feel less twitchy, but it’s still not as genteel as the standard engine. The payoff, however, is much more torque when climbing out of a canyon on a twisty road. There’s less gear-hunting than in the Hemi, and fuel economy is much better. Handling is a bit more ponderous than it is in the Hemi as the diesel carries a lot more weight on the front axle, but the truck still has a lot of composure for something weighing three-plus tons.
Should I Buy One?
I love to off-road whenever I get the chance, and every time I drive a truck like this, I spend the next few days dream-shopping on the configurator to find my ideal specification. And while the 2023 Ram 2500 lineup isn’t yet available, building a 2022 reminded me that there’s another dirt-friendly option in the Heavy Duty lineup. In addition to the respected Power Wagon and the newcomer Rebel, both the 2500 and 3500 offer an Off-Road Group that bundles Bilstein monotube shock absorbers, a transfer case skid plate, hill descent control, and front tow hooks. Although its 2023 price isn’t yet available, the package costs just $495 on a 2022.
It’s also available on every trim level and body style, meaning you could build a sparsely equipped regular-cab Tradesman 4x4 with almost all of the off-road capability of the Rebel – you’d be missing out on some underbody shielding and the locking rear differential, but the package’s mandatory limited-slip diff would still get you through most obstacles you’d want to take a 2500 through.
At the other end of the spectrum is the 2023 Power Wagon, which costs $2,300 more than the Rebel but adds off-road niceties like an extra 1.1 inches of ground clearance, a locking front axle, front sway bar disconnect, and a unique Articulink front suspension that provides better flex over big obstacles. If hardcore, full-size off-roading is your priority, the Power Wagon is a no-brainer.
So where does that leave the Rebel? It’s undoubtedly better at climbing hills and bounding through frame twisters than Ram’s already-capable Off-Road Group, thanks to that locking rear axle and excellent DuraTrac all-terrain tires. It’s also a bit more comfortable than the Power Wagon, whose ride can get a little stiff and tiresome on long highway stretches. And lest we forget, the Rebel does offer the legendary Cummins diesel, which I doubt will ever come to the Power Wagon, at least not any time soon.
If it were my cash, I think I’d save some money and go for a 2500 Big Horn with the off-road package – it’s good enough for many off-road adventures, especially since the Heavy Duty’s size is probably its biggest hindrance, not traction or grip. But I suspect the appeal of Power Wagon Lite styling may be too much for some buyers to resist, and I wouldn’t fault anyone for picking the Rebel and enjoying its solid off-road performance and on-road comfort, gas or diesel.
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