Mountain Wheels: Big and bouncy action in Dodge Ram’s Rebel
For those who consider a regular, full-sized Ram 4×4 not quite macho enough for their boulevard cruising … er, regular weekend trips to Moab … the new Rebel edition has appeared, with all of the regular truck’s beefy bits stockpiled and aesthetically supercharged for mondo badassery.
That means an optional 395-horsepower Hemi V-8 under the hood, a full electronic air suspension system, the knob-controlled eight-speed automatic transmission, the in-cab electronic 4WD transfer case and even those bed rail Ram Box storage units, all riding on stock 33-inch Toyo Open Country off-road tires.
The appearance bits are also quite impressive, including red surrounds on practically every surface in the cab, tire tread-patterned sport seats, special emblems and a super blacked-out grille, all visually moving the Rebel in the direction of Ford’s rapacious Raptor off-road truck.
We must hold our horses for a second, however, as Raptor really honestly is an F-150 physically reconfigured and emboldened for incredibly ridiculous feats of off-road speed; despite its über-manly glory, Rebel’s array of pushy and punchy add-ons don’t largely mechanically differentiate it from its Ram brothers, many variants that there are. The $150 transfer case and front suspension skid plates, yes.
And let me tell you about those tires, having also rolled on the chunky alternative footwear provided on both the Wrangler Rubicon and a 4Runner TRD Pro in the last two weeks. The Toyos are oversized as hell, deep-lugged for mud and sort-of civil on pavement, replete with cool-looking, armor-inspired chrome-edged blackout wheels. And when you do take off for your trip up Webster Pass, they’ll glide over the worst of broken shale and boulders; if you spend more than an hour on slightly uneven freeway pavement on a different trip, the bounce may make you carsick. The Rebel crew cab’s stature and height just accentuates that, sadly.
The plus side to this very mixed-use vehicle is that the off-road aspect is going to be very competent, and the air lift system can also be used to remotely drop the suspension to more gracefully allow your smaller-statured friends and relatives to load more easily — or jacked up to high heaven to clear boulders or bounce along on the Baja 1000 at 90 MPH. As you are sure to do.
For me, the big test was a long stretch of deep, sandy gravel as I took a weird shortcut to the Ft. Laramie national historic site up in Wyoming, and another precarious grind up the famous Lickskillet Road west of Boulder, the back way to the historic mining town of Gold Hill.
On sandy gravel, the Baja thing turns out to be true, especially with the optional Hemi’s additional boost (a 305-HP 3.6-liter V-6 is standard) — you can fly and still feel eerily connected as you bound along. It’s a little loose on long corners, as it is a crew cab after all and there’s a lot of unladen box space in the back.
And on the super-steep, loose, rutted and awful stuff, again … pretty competent, relentlessly powerful and well-suited for the mission.
The Hemi does of course bring its own mixed bag of attributes, one of which being just barely 20-plus highway MPG if you keep it at about 65 MPH and resist the urge to drag people in Silverados at stoplights — it’ll also shut down half the cylinders during low load. My entire 500-mile journey yielded 18.5 MPG, not so bad for a nearly 400-HP, full-size, 4×4 truck; the 3.6-liter might get you closer to 25 MPG. Fuel economy, overall, is probably not a huge reason to go the Rebel route, obviously.
If you’re a big-honkin’-truck kind of person, you’ll also have to weather a few newfangled Fiat-Chrysler peculiarities, as well. The vertically mounted spinning shift knob, on the center console, is not especially intuitive at first and does not, like practically every other vehicle on the road these days, offer any form of selectable gear shifting once in drive.
There’s an old-fashioned key ignition, a mechanical parking brake, low-resolution mapping on the navigation system, and even the door-hold stays were light enough that they wouldn’t hold the Ram’s brawny doors open in the wind.
But, it sure looks and sounds cool. If that floats your boat, dig in.
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