First Look Review: 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel is a workhorse for the trails
Twenty years ago, choices for off-road pickup trims were slim. The Power Wagon was in hibernation, Raptor hadn’t yet been conceived, and the fledgling ZR2 was just about to go on hiatus. In the early aughts, the Big Three seemed more interested in street performance trucks: think supercharged Lightnings, Viper-powered Rams, and lowered AWD V-8 Silverados. Today, we’re living in an off-road renaissance, with Ford, GM, and Ram all offering half-ton and heavy-duty pickups that cater to outdoor lovers. Ram’s latest addition to its impressive Heavy Duty pickup lineup is the Rebel.
Like the half-ton Rebel, the HD version brings an off-road package that’s capable of tackling some daunting trails without sacrificing workhorse capability. While the Rebel 1500 slots below the raging TRX (forgoing some payload capacity for off-road stability at speed), the Heavy Duty Rebel, which is built on the 2500 chassis, slots below the Power Wagon—a truck that prioritizes off-road articulation and flexible sidewalls.
2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel
- Price: $68,940/$81,960/$92,965 (base/as-tested gas/as-tested diesel)
- Powertrain: 6.4-liter, naturally aspirated V-8, eight-speed automatic, two-speed transfer case
- Output: 410 hp, 429 lb-ft
- Optional Powertrain: 6.7-liter, turbodiesel I-6, six-speed automatic, two-speed transfer case
- Output: 370 hp, 850 lb-ft
- Layout: Four-door, front-engine, four- or five-passenger, crew cab 4×4, body-on-frame pickup
- Rivals: Ford Super Duty Tremor, GMC Sierra HD AT4
Mirroring the Power Wagon, the Rebel rides on a taller suspension and has an underbelly fortified with a bevy of skidplates to protect it from trail obstacles. Also like the Power Wagon, it’s only available in a crew-cab, short-bed configuration. The Rebel is fitted with standard 20-inch wheels and 33-inch load-range E Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires. That kit allows the Rebel to haul up to 3140 pounds of payload or tow up to 16,870 pounds. For comparison, the Power Wagon tops out at less than half that payload, at 1564 pounds, while its towing is capped at 10,850 pounds.
Of course, the Power Wagon is also not available with the Rebel’s beloved, optional 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel engine. (The Power Wagon’s integrated Warn winch is not compatible with the massive cooling system that comes along with the burly diesel.) The Heavy Duty Rebel is also equipped with an electronic-locking rear differential, just like the one you’ll find in the Power Wagon. Standard off-road equipment that comes with the Power Wagon that isn’t on the Rebel: a front locker, a front sway bar disconnect, and 17-inch wheels. The integrated 12,000-pound Warn winch, which is standard on Power Wagon, is optional on the Hemi-powered Heavy Duty Rebel while an 18-inch wheel and tire package is slated for later in the product cycle. The first production run is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2022.
For 2023, Ram Heavy Duty models received a refresh that brought in a 12-inch digital gauge cluster, telescoping tow mirrors, and a new optional rearview mirror that integrates views from a rear-facing camera as well as two mirror-mounted cameras. The Heavy Duty Rebel is available in three basic interior configurations; the base interior uses cloth and is available with bucket seats or the bench seat that accommodates a center passenger. Level 1 adds Bristol leather to those seating options, and Level 2 adds premium Natura Plus leather which is only available with bucket seats and the roomy, configurable center console.
Ram invited us out to drive the Heavy Duty Rebel on the highways and trails surrounding Big Bear, California, splitting our time between 6.4-liter Hemi and 6.7-liter Cummins versions of the dual-purpose work/play machine. As we noted when we drove the Power Wagon, the new Ram 2500 is shockingly quiet. At highway speeds up to 70 mph there is no discernible wind noise. The only real sound comes from the road, the muted hum of the Goodyear Wranglers producing moderate drone cruising speeds in both the gas and diesel versions. Step on the throttle (in either the gas or diesel truck) and the engine audibly asserts its presence, albeit more with intake noise than exhaust growl.
With eight speeds and a solid, torque-rich 6.4-liter displacement, the gas-powered Hemi serves up brisk acceleration off the line. The transmission, too, seems to be always in the right gear. The diesel is king when it comes to loafing around at revs barely off idle, but that 6.7-liter turbo engine becomes a boat anchor on the nose when the road turns curvy. The six-speed behind the Cummins, too, isn’t as eager to drop gears, preferring that the big six build boost instead. For that reason, it’s the Hemi that excels at maintaining uphill speed through steep switchbacks.
When we were ready to head off-road, Ram aired down the diesel Rebels to 45 psi front and 40 psi rear, while the gas pickups aired down to about 38 psi all around. Why go with lower pressure? Added sidewall flex improves grip and ride quality. In the Rebel’s case, the ride remains fairly firm regardless—enough to toss occupants around over rough terrain as you’d expect from a truck with a heavy, solid front axle. Part of that behavior is the Rebel’s lack of a front sway bar disconnect, meaning it’s not as flexible and can’t articulate to put the rubber to the trail like the Power Wagon. The E load rating for the heavy-duty rubber also means less sidewall, rendering the contact patch smaller than that of the Power Wagon. It’s a noticeable difference but hardly an insurmountable one; take things slowly and/or choose a smoother line and the Rebel can be piloted over rocky terrain and deep ruts without much fuss.
Ram found a nice off-road playground area for us to tool around in, with several steep but brief hillclimbs to traverse. The first seemed entirely doable in our big pickups, but the final climb, while short, seemed steep and slippery for such a big rig. As we took a big breath at the hill’s base, we found ourselves yearning for a Wrangler instead of an HD pickup with a 149-inch wheelbase.
Our concerns were unfounded. With the electronic-shifted transfer case in low range and the rear axle locked, the big Ram climbed up, surefooted as its namesake, without any drama. Huzzah!
It bears mentioning that there are plenty of trails wherein the Ram’s width and turning radius would be a liability. By the same token, however, there are also a plenty of routes the HD Rebel could demolish that would leave a less-capable truck turning back, tail between its legs. For adventure-seekers that need their pickup to work seriously hard during the week, the Rebel might be the best of both worlds.
2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel
Price: $68,940/$81,960/$92,965 (base/as tested gas/as tested diesel)
Highs: Quiet and comfortable on the highway. Plenty of power with either engine. Cummins power brings tantalizing payload and towing potential.
Lows: Off-roaders will find the ride more forgiving in the Power Wagon.
Takeaway: An enticing middle ground between Laramie and Power Wagon, the Heavy Duty Rebel can serve as a workhorse, adventurer, or both.