So there we were in the 2015 Ram Rebel, lugs-deep in dirt on a rocky incline we couldn’t see over the hood, pondering our next move. Until some bro in a Ford FX4 went barreling past us, somebody called somebody a pussy, and the rest is a big blur of red sand and rock dust.
(Full Disclosure: FCA flew me to Arizona, put me up in a hotel, and fed me some pretty spectacular food so I could try the 2015 Ram Rebel somewhere a little more interesting than the suburbs.)
Keep Off-Roading Legal
All the driving we did for this story was within the legal bounds of a park specifically designated for off-road vehicle use by the US Forestry Service. Jalopnik and Ram are thankful this country still has such areas and we’re begging you to tread lightly like we do.
We have plenty of fun playing on “off-road allowed” land and I promise you will too. Bottom line: don’t be the dick that screws it up for everybody.
The Ram Rebel is no Ford Raptor fighter. Chrysler (or anybody else) isn’t interested in doing that, probably for the same reason nobody’s building a Wrangler rival. Walls are thick around the segment king’s castle.
Rebel is considered its own model but it’s really a trim level of the Ram 1500. That trim level features a new face (with a legit, powder-coated steel front bumper), seats, interior trim, shocks, wheels, and tires. So it’s accurately compared to a Ford F-150 FX4, Chevy Silverado Z71, Nissan Titan PRO-4X, or the slightly more aggressive Toyota Tundra TRD Pro.
WAIT! Don’t scroll down to comment that those pansypuff poserass off-road trims are bullshit!
Yeah, if you look at these trucks expecting a dune buggy, you’re gonna have a bad time. If you’re expecting a CJ-7 with 35’s and a lift kit... still wrong.
Manufacturers put enormous “OFF-ROAD” stickers on these vehicles and we enthusiasts get fired up for a purpose-built dirtbeast. But truck-buying consumer masses don’t want that. They’re buying a daily driver, so comfort and good on-road manners with a dash of rugged is preferable, not the other way around.
This isn’t exactly a “don’t make ‘em like they used to” thing either; older trucks were certainly easier to modify and inherently more viable off piste, but mainstream trucks have been geared toward consumer convenience for decades... it’s just more pronounced now because modern vehicles have so much luxury in them compared to years past.
To build a truly capable off-road vehicle, it either has to be very expensive (Land Rover) a little expensive and lose some on-road plushiness (Ford Raptor) or affordable and mediocre on the street (Jeep Wrangler).
Those who want a really rugged truck will have to build their own, those who want a truck that’s nice to drive on the road, gets decent gas mileage, and is still fun to drive in dirt once in awhile can get something like the Ram Rebel.
This truck is only available as a short-bed four-door, with a V6 and 4WD or a V8 and your choice of a transfer case or not.
A pronounced grille somewhere between a whale shark and a mustache gives the Rebel a polarizing look, which I reckon is cooler in person, and at least sets the truck apart from its rivals visually.
The interior’s extremely well appointed with surprisingly high-quality surface materials and agreeable ergonomics. Cutesy tire-tread patterns on the seats match the actual OEM Toyos. It’s luxurious but not all blingy about it... so you don’t have to feel like a pansy for driving a soft-saddled work rig.
Those tire-embroidered seats are comfortable, room is ridiculously abundant, and the ride is quiet even on fairly aggressive all-terrain tires. 17 inch rims mean there’s actually room for those tires to have sidewall, which makes for a plenty-plush ride in conjunction with the truck’s four-corner air suspension.
Rebel gets Bilstein shocks that provide a one inch lift and can take the heat of constant bounding better than the stock sticks. It will take a few consecutive impacts well enough, and will ride a washboard better than any other stock non-Raptor pickup I’ve driven.
Fuel economy tops out at a reasonable 23 MPG with the Pentastar V6 and 4WD, or acceleration’s good with the 5.7 Hemi V8... actually, even that claims 21 MPG with 4WD which is a solid claim for 395 horsepower moving about 5,000 pounds. We got about 9 MPG doing donuts and charging up sand hills all day.
The on-road driving experience is easy to summarize; it’s downright pleasant. The off-road experience was a lot more fun to evaluate.
After a day of exploring the beautiful high desert around Flagstaff Scott Evans of Motor Trend, Zach Bowman of Road & Track, and myself convinced Chrysler’s corporate minders to let us borrow a Rebel and get some Mexican food in town. We decided to take the long way through the Cinder Hills OHV area; an enormous patch of coarse rock/sand surface pocked with tall trees, steep miniature mountains, and a whole lot of wide-open space on which you’re allowed to do pretty much whatever you want.
Flash forward a few minutes and shored up with another Ram; this one in white and green park ranger livery.
Zach, at the wheel of our truck, got the cops attention with a friendly wave. “Hey fellas, we’re looking for that spot that NASA used to simulate the moon for training.”
Stares blank as a default profile picture came back to us from the patrol truck.
“Uh, we heard NASA made some fake craters out here for astronauts... to practice on? Is that close by?”
The rangers were friendly enough, but didn’t have the faintest idea of what were on about. That meant it took a few more minutes to convince them we weren’t stoned, but once they were satisfied they carried on and let us do the same.
“Now what?” asked Scott from the back seat. I read the sign we were approaching; RESPONSIBLE CROSS COUNTRY TRAVEL PERMITTED. Now what became obvious; “Now we fulfill our responsibility to our readers and charge into that donut pit,” I said as Zach mashed the throttle and dug our rear wheels to China.
“In 4WD, I guess.”
The truck was actually moving itself along alright in 2WD, but the silt was so soft our front wheels were like snowmobile skids on pavement.
Then there was the problem of power. Not a lack of it, just not being able to get to it. The Rebel has many tiers of traction control. You can turn off one of them in 2WD, but the vehicle still cuts power at the first sign of shenanigans. Great for keeping you from killing yourself on a slick road, bad for doing donuts.
It’s also annoyingly tough to manually control the eight-speed automatic. There’s no sport mode to create a more aggressive shift pattern and hold gears longer, the “GEAR +/-” buttons on the steering wheel are awkward to use. I’m not saying this thing should get paddle shifters, but you might be able to get more oomph out of the engine if there was a better way to downshift.
In 4WD you can disable traction control and ESC. That allows for a lot more wheelspin and an easier ride through soft stuff. This happens automatically when you drop into low-range, which does a damn fine job clawing you out of that gnarly rut you just made.
We tore across the pillowy terrain and no more than 1,000 feet from where we met the cops when– “CRATER! CRATER! TURN!”
We’d found NASA’s moon simulator after all. Went charging into it at full tilt, and learned the Rebel’s steering is actually reasonably responsive on a mushy surface. Sure, you get a little more body roll with the Rebel’s lift but you’re not going to notice that bouncing over a surface that feels like the ocean floor.
By the time we weaved through a few more craters we’d mastered the truck’s throttle-steer and were yawing around man-made moon holes like a drunken Neil Armstrong.
Think the Apollo 15 guys did donuts in the Lunar Rover?
We made it off the moon and into the forest. The Rebel squeezed its way through ATV tracks, tilting to terrifying angles on berms but charging up steep scrambles I could barely climb in my boots.
Tearing out of the trees we had our kidneys pounded mercilessly as the Ram was raked over another washboard. But the pain was worth it because I learned an important lesson right there; the Rebel really does have the softest ride over terrain-at-speed of any automaker’s “off-road trim package” I mentioned earlier. I think that’s largely attributed to the tall tires, but if we’re talking stock-for-stock this is the truck I’d want to take to Baja.
The forest opened up on an enormous red bowl. Apparently we’d got back to space and landed on Mars, which we also defiled by whipping donuts on and doing big, sweeping slides up the side. I love OHV parks.
We rode fire roads all the way back to town, and the Rebel really settled into its element. Over fastblast flat dirt the truck bounded gleeful, compliant, and comfortable as a chaise lounge. Without the supersoft slag to confuse the traction control computers, all of the Hemi’s 395 horses could run free and rig really galloped. By the time we returned to pavement, everything felt so quiet and smooth it could have been the executive elevator in an office building.
The Rebel is a daily driver for somebody who wants the utility of a truck, sweet seats, and a nice ride through the dirt or across a field. You’ll never keep up with dirt bikes or dune buggies, but you could follow them pretty far (or tow ‘em deeper than you need... which most full-size owners would be doing anyway.)
Prices haven’t been confirmed but the rumors say $45,000 to $51,000. You could buy a used Raptor for that, but it’s going to drink a lot more fuel and be a little rougher on road. You could buy a sweet Wrangler Rubicon for that, but you won’t be able to tow much or carry motorcycles in a bed. Or spend hours on the highway, which the Rebel will do happily.
So the Rebel’s got some chops and it’s well put together. Ram did a nice job moving their truck’s off-road ability up just a little while maintaining really good daily usability and solid synergy of components. You still have to build your own hardcore dirt devil if that’s what you want, but this has solid appeal if you’re looking for a compromise.
Images by the author, Zach Bowman, Ram
Andrew P. Collins is Jalopnik’s off-road and adventure guy. Shoot him an email at email@example.com or hit him up on Twitter @andr3wcollins to talk trucks.