The 2015 Ram 1500 Rebel is a functional and complete off-road package that delivers practical levels of off-highway clearance, traction and style without sacrificing payload or towing capability.
What Is It?
Prepare to be disappointed if you were clamoring for a Ford Raptor killer. The Ram 1500 Rebel was not conceived with the same sort of Baja-inspired desert racing mindset that birthed Ford's single-minded off-roader.
But for most of us that's a very good thing. The Rebel is a less expensive, down-to-earth collection of off-road components that offers meaningful performance and clearance gains without harming the payload and towing capabilities of the underlying 1500 crew cab on which it's based.
The formula is similar to the Toyota Tundra's TRD off-road package, but the Rebel ups the ante with a 1-inch lift, 33-inch tires, air suspension and hiked-up front bodywork that improves the Rebel's approach angle beyond what the lift would accomplish on its own.
What's Different About the Ram Rebel?
Unlike Toyota's TRD off-road package, the Rebel is not an option. It's a brand-new trim level that brings along the off-road goodies as standard equipment.
Ram's four-corner air suspension is one of those standard items, and for good reason. It allows the Rebel's 1-inch lift to boil down to a software tweak that transforms the former "Off-Road 1" setting into the Rebel's normal ride height. Likewise, the old "Off-Road 2" setting becomes simply "Off-Road" in the Rebel and offers a further 1-inch boost when extra clearance is needed.
Other suspension changes include the addition of Bilstein monotube shock absorbers specifically tuned to tame body motions on paved and unpaved surfaces alike. The cornering balance of the new combination was trimmed with a softer rear stabilizer bar, a tweak that also helps its off-road suspension articulation. Revised wheel alignment specs keep the tires in line despite the hike in baseline ride height.
The tires are aggressive 33-inch 285/70R17 Toyo Open Country all-terrain units that span nearly an inch wider and stand a full inch taller than Ram's usual 17-inch 4x4 offering. They're more ideally suited to crawling over rocky surfaces and maximizing traction on sand and mud, and they offer additional impact protection for the Rebel's distinctive new 17-inch aluminum wheels, which have enough extra offset to broaden the truck's track width by about a half inch.
That extra width is why the Rebel wears the black fender flares from the Ram Power Wagon. Its blacked-out front bumper, on the other hand, is all-new and has a wraparound steel brush guard/skid plate built in. The bumper's raised bottom edge gives the Rebel a 23.8-degree approach angle when set to normal height, an increase of more than 4 degrees. Clearance is even more dramatically improved out toward the ends, where the bumper's "wings" are cut higher to expose more of the tire tread to rocky obstacles that lie ahead.
What Is the Interior Like?
The Rebel's interior is based on the Ram Big Horn, which means it's comfortable and well-appointed without being so pretty you'd hate to track mud inside. Black and red are the dominant colors, so the instrument panel hood and leather steering wheel wrap are decorated with red stitching.
Likewise, the Rebel's instrument faces are black with red anodized aluminum bezels instead of the usual chrome. Additional red anodized aluminum trim encircles the air-conditioning vents, dresses up the door panels and frames the cupholders and new smartphone holder that occupy the bin just ahead of the console armrest.
But the grained-vinyl and fabric seats make the biggest impression because the tread pattern of the Toyo Open Country tires has been pressed into the seating surfaces. We can't actually feel anything different when we climb behind the wheel, which is a relief because Ram 1500 seats are some of the most agreeable in the segment.
If you ever look up you'll discover the Rebel's headliner has been switched to black. Let your gaze drift down and you'll see heavily ribbed all-weather rubber floor mats that are meant to keep mud and slush from soaking into the black carpet.
How Many Body Styles and Engines Are Available?
Because it's the combination chosen by about 70 percent of Ram pickup buyers, the Rebel will only come as a crew cab with the 5-foot-6-inch short bed.
But that doesn't mean there are no choices. You can get your Rebel with the 305-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 or a 395-hp 5.7-liter Hemi V8 engine. In either case you'll get the sturdy and economical eight-speed automatic transmission, which remains a class exclusive in the pickup world.
And you can get a Hemi-powered Rebel in a rear-wheel-drive configuration and save yourself $3,580 if the clearance, suspension and stance are all you want.
How Does It Drive?
Our test truck is a 5.7-liter 4x4 fitted with 3.92 axles. It moves out smartly and offers plenty of the familiar Hemi punch, even at our test location's 7,000-foot elevation. There's a little hum from the Toyo tires, but it never rises to the level of objectionable, even when the 5.7-liter V8 is mumbling along quietly on cruise control.
As with other Ram trucks, the air suspension drops an inch at freeway speeds to reduce air resistance. But the Rebel starts out an inch higher than other 1500 4x4s, so this merely brings it down to the regular truck's standard height. The result is a freeway ride that feels more compliant and pothole-resistant because the suspension isn't squatting as close to the bump stops.
The Bilstein monotube shocks deserve credit for this, too, but they cope well with the insistent hammering of washboard dirt roads. And there's no wheel hop when climbing the steep volcanic cinder cones on our test loop. The ingredients are all around us, but the Rebel doesn't take the bait.
Our test area doesn't include the sort of rock-strewn roads and crumbly ledges we see back home, so the jury is still out on that point. But the suspension, clearance, gearing and tires our Rebel enjoys don't leave much to the imagination. There's no reason it shouldn't excel, but we can't be certain until we get a production model on home soil.
What Kind of Mileage Does It Deliver?
EPA regulations make allowances for special models like the Rebel, so its window sticker fuel economy matches that of the volume-selling versions of the Ram 1500 pickups that share its drivetrains.
The 3.6-liter V6 Rebel is rated at 19 mpg combined (16 city/23 highway) and the 5.7-liter Hemi 4x4 version is rated at 17 mpg combined (15 city/21 highway). The Rebel 4x2 Hemi matches the 4x4 except it earns 22 mpg on the highway.
Keep in mind that the Rebel's 3.92 axle gearing, broad Toyo knobby tires and the aerodynamic disadvantage of its taller stance were never part of the Ram 1500 fuel economy testing rubric. These attributes will surely take a bite out of its actual fuel consumption.
Rebel V8 buyers who want maximum fuel economy instead of maximum towing and off-road prowess should avoid the 3.92 axles and buy the standard 3.21 ratio. This strategy is unavailable to Rebel V6 buyers because 3.92 gearing is the only offering there.
The absence of Rebel-specific fuel economy testing makes it impossible to confirm, but what all of this means is the 5.7-liter Hemi 4x2 Rebel with 3.21 gears may well be the thriftiest real-world combination. It's certainly the cheapest one to buy.
How Much Extra Will It Cost?
The Rebel 4x4 with the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 starts out at $45,915. If that's higher than you expected, remember that air suspension (a Ram option that usually goes for $1,695) is standard fare here.
Move up to the 5.7-liter Hemi V8 and your cost of entry rises to $47,565 for the 4x4 configuration. Want the Hemi but don't need four-wheel drive? You're in luck. The cheapest Rebel by far is the V8 two-wheel-drive model, which starts at $43,985.
What Are Its Closest Competitors?
The Rebel offers much more than the retuned shocks and modest tire changes associated with the 2015 Ford F-150 FX4 or 2015 Chevrolet Silverado Z71 packages. It would be unfair to characterize these stand-alone options as sticker packages, but the Rebel's 1-inch lift, air suspension, Bilstein shocks, redesigned front bumper and taller tires represent a more meaningful nod to enhanced off-road performance than either of them.
Toyota's 2015 Toyota Tundra comes in two off-road flavors, the TRD off-road package option and the TRD Pro off-road trim level. Both come with Bilstein shocks, and the basic Tundra has a goodly amount of underbody clearance and an admirable approach angle. Functionally, the Rebel slots between the two.
It has more to offer than the relatively inexpensive TRD off-road package, but Toyota offers that on any trim level at a lower price point. The 2015 Toyota Tundra TRD Pro V8 4x4 rides on a 2-inch lift and has extended suspension travel. Its Bilsteins are sophisticated big-bore remote reservoir units with multistage damping. The TRD Pro is more like the Raptor than the Rebel, but it costs less than either one.
Why Should You Consider It?
Ram's new Rebel is a strong choice for those who want an off-road package that offers meaningful performance improvements and a distinct personality in a truck that retains all of the payload and towing capability of the regular Ram 1500 on which it's based.
It's unique in the segment because the Ram's five-link rear suspension design allows the Rebel to employ standard four-corner air suspension, which allows elevated height modes off-road, supple ride comfort on pavement and a reduced-height mode to ease passenger and cargo loading when parked.
And let's not forget the two-wheel-drive Rebel, which is perhaps the most capable and complete example of that subspecies. There's no such thing as a rear-wheel-drive Tundra TRD Pro or Ford Raptor.
Why Should You Think Twice About It?
Diesel fans will need to look elsewhere for the moment. There's no engineering reason why a diesel-powered Rebel couldn't exist, but Ram is selling all of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engines it can get its hands on already.
Those looking for a Ram-flavored Raptor and who are willing to give up payload and towing capacity (and the ability to park it easily) won't find it here. The 2015 Ram 1500 Rebel was never intended to be that single-minded. Thing is, the 2015 Tundra TRD Pro V8 4x4 doesn't sacrifice any of its payload or towing, either, and it costs less than a Hemi-powered Rebel 4x4.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.