For over a decade,
Ram's Power Wagon has served as the brand’s burly off-road king. Boasting 26 inches of front wheel articulation, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, and locking differentials at each axle, this three-quarter-ton bruiser is capable of traversing some seriously gnarly terrain. But according to Ram, potential customers wanted even more from a heavy-duty off-road pickup. Specifically, buyers clamored for a diesel option and a towing capacity greater than the Power Wagon's 10,520-pound limit. But instead of just shoving the diesel into the existing Power Wagon and calling it a day, Ram instead carved out an additional off-road niche. Enter the 2023 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel.
Ram used the Power Wagon's template as a starting point in creating the Rebel. Skid plates are on hand to protect the fuel tank and transfer case. The 33-inch Goodyear tires wrap eight-lug 20-inch wheels. But key differences between the two will determine which line you'll take off-road. The Rebel makes do without the Power Wagon's disconnecting sway bar, sacrificing a measure of front wheel travel in exchange for a more rigid setup. And whereas the Power Wagon has locking differentials at each end, only the rear axle is lockable on the Rebel.
That tradeoff sees a massive gain in what the Rebel can transport. The Hemi-equipped Rebel has a payload rating of 3140 pounds and is capable of towing a granite-crushing 16,870 pounds—giving it nearly double the payload of the softer-sprung Power Wagon and over three tons of additional tow capacity. The Rebel also can be equipped with rear air springs to keep these extreme loads on the level. That's stout enough to bring along eight Polaris RZRs—seven riding on a trailer, and another stuffed into the bed. Or throw a RZR into the back of a toy hauler trailer and have all the conveniences of home. Admittedly, the camper might not fare well on the trails—we'd advise leaving the fine china at home.
Brute strength is only part of the equation, however. The Tow Tech Group ($1995) adds trailer reverse guidance, a cargo-view camera, and a surround-view camera setup. Telescoping side mirrors electrically extend out several inches for a better view of what's behind you. One of the more interesting options is an auxiliary camera that plugs into a port on the rear bumper. The camera is attached to a 55-foot-long cord, so you can finally solve the mystery of what your horses are up to during the journey. All of the camera feeds can be viewed on the digital rearview mirror, where up to three images can be displayed simultaneously. An optional 12-inch digital instrument cluster provides a tile view that can display five key stats at a glance. Tile layouts can be saved to driver profiles, making it easy to switch between things like towing, off-road details, and powertrain temps. Ram claims that over 200 tile configurations are possible.
Underneath the hood, the familiar 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 is standard, producing 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. It's connected to an eight-speed transmission that transfers power to either the rear or all four wheels through a two-speed transfer case. The Rebel is also Ram's first heavy-duty off-road truck to feature an optional diesel engine. Prodigious torque is to be expected, and the 370-hp 6.7-liter turbodiesel inline-six doesn't disappoint, twisting out 850 pound-feet at only 1700 rpm, routed through a six-speed automatic.
We spent the majority of our time in the diesel, which is a welcome if somewhat contradictory option. Since the engine is heavier than the Hemi V-8, the diesel-powered Rebel can't tow as much as its gas-powered sibling. Additionally, the Rebel's optional 12,000-pound Warn winch ($2500) isn't available on diesel models, as it would prevent air from flowing to the engine's auxiliary cooling equipment. Our advice: Don't get stuck.
But unless you're intent on loading your Rebel to the hilt, the diesel is well matched to the Rebel's character across every terrain. Nail the throttle on the highway, and it ambles to its 3200-rpm redline with all the urgency of an early-morning mall walker. Noise-canceling software keeps clatter in the cabin to a minimum, although at a steady 70 mph there's still the prominent hum of the chunky Goodyears singing along the tarmac. It's obvious the tires would be a lot happier off-road.
Our destination is just outside the town of Big Bear Lake, located two hours east of Los Angeles in the San Bernardino National Forest. Numerous off-road trails spiderweb out in all directions, featuring a variety of terrains and extreme elevation changes. As we crest 8000 feet, we peel off the highway and into the forest.
When it comes to tackling the tough stuff, the Rebel adopts a refreshingly old-school approach. There's no bewildering array of drive modes, just a choice of high- or low-range four-wheel drive and locking the rear differential. Even so, activating the differential was a hit-or-miss affair, sometimes requiring up to 30 seconds of patience before it would engage, other times simply refusing to grant our request.
Once all systems were finally online, the Rebel was practically unstoppable. We also noticed a distinct behavioral difference between the two powertrains when using the 2.64:1 low range. The diesel's abundant low-end torque and relatively tall 3.23 first gear provided a more elastic and consistent ascent, while the Hemi's shorter 4.71 gearing required much more throttle finesse. Manual shifting would have helped here, but it's not offered on the Rebel.
Gearshift placement is also specific to each engine. The diesel features a traditional column shifter, while the Hemi sports the PRNDL dial found elsewhere in the Ram lineup. Beyond that, the interiors are identical. Bench seating provides room for six and is available in cloth or leather, with a higher-grade leather reserved for front buckets. Soft-touch materials abound throughout the cabin and pair nicely with the textured black accents on the dash and doors.
When it arrives at dealers in December, the 2023 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel will start at $68,940 with the Hemi engine, with the diesel fetching a $9595 premium. Historically, the Power Wagon has accounted for roughly 3 to 5 percent of Ram 2500 sales, so it will be interesting to see if the Rebel will add to or cannibalize those numbers. Given that the Rebel offers nearly as much off-road capability, along with compelling performance upgrades, we'd say it all comes down to how much stuff you want to take with you off-road—and how far you want to go.
2023 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel
Vehicle Type: front-engine, rear/4-wheel-drive, 5- or 6-passenger, 4-door pickup
Base: gasoline, $68,940; diesel, $78,535
turbocharged and intercooled pushrod 24-valve 6.7-liter diesel inline-6, 370 hp, 850 lb-ft; pushrod 16-valve 6.4-liter V-8, 410 hp, 429 lb-ft
diesel: 6-speed automatic; gasoline: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 149.3 in
Length: 238.8 in
Width: 83.4 in
Height: 80.6 in
Passenger Volume: 125 ft3
Bed Length: 76.3 in
Curb Weight (C/D est): 7000 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST)
60 mph: 7.5-8.2 sec
Top Speed: 100-105 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY
NA - HD trucks are exempt from EPA ratings
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