How the 2023 Ram Rebel Cranks Excitement into Mopar’s 2500 HD Line

The big Cummins diesel made the Rebel the king of the climb, and the forward-facing camera was invaluable on rocky trails.

  • Beyond the Hemi gas V8 and a Cummins diesel inline-6, the Ram Rebel HD offers 20-inch off-road rubber, limited-slip differential, locking rear axle, 3-link front, and 5-link rear suspensions.
  • Serious off-roaders will want the grunty 6.7-liter Cummins, which generates 370 hp and a heathen 850 lb-ft of torque for towing 16,870 pounds. There’s simply no stopping it.
  • With 4WD LOW and the rear axle lock selected, and the big diesel clattering away underhood, the Rebel literally crawled—painfully slow but relentlessly—up every tricky trail section.

    With the aggressive Rebel already amping up Ram Trucks’ 1500 series, and the lifted, winch-equipped Power Wagon offering rock-crawling credentials in the 2500 Heavy Duty (HD) series, Ram’s lineup of enthusiast pickups had a hole in the middle. Mopar’s answer? Creating the first-ever Rebel trim for the 2500 HD series, and offering it with a choice of diesel or gas engines. The result is a sporty, stylish, and capable new Ram 2500 HD Rebel trim for 2023.

    Slotting between the Laramie and Power Wagon in Ram’s 2500 lineup, the Rebel HD aims to bring the Rebel 1500’s gutsy countenance upstairs, at a slightly more affordable price point than the Power Wagon. Features include unique Rebel exterior treatments, aggressive 20-inch off-road rubber (with 18-inchers optional), a limited-slip differential, and locking rear axle, off-road tuned 3-link front, 5-link rear suspension, and skid plates.

    Ram recently introduced the Rebel 2500 HD to the media in Pioneertown, California, a wraithlike little burg in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park with an ol’ Western movie-style main street and rustic motel. Our winding day’s drive included two-lanes and US Forest Service jeep trails, and an off-road “playground” with some short, almost-Moab-caliber climbs and descents.

    We started the day in the Rebel 2500 gas version. Ahead of its crew cab and 6-foot-4 box was parked Ram’s 6.4-liter gas Hemi V8 with variable cam timing and cylinder deactivation. Developing 410 hp @ 5600 rpm and 429 lb-ft torque @ 4000 rpm, it’s strong but doesn’t feel off-the-charts fierce. Cruising from Pioneertown up to 6752-ft. Big Bear Lake, the V8 ran smoothly and quietly—a refined aural experience for an HD truck.

    Although, with precisely no load in the cab or bed, nor a trailer adding weight to the hitch, the ride was noticeably firm. Putting the truck to actual work would help quell this; to this point, rear air suspension is optional. Interior noise levels were moderate (bordering on annoying at a measured 80 dBA on rough pavement), and the leather-covered seats characteristically comfortable, a Ram trademark.

    Ram event staff had preprogrammed a specific drive into the navigation system, delivered both visually on the big touchscreen and via turn-by-turn verbal instructions. The touchscreen is attractive, but we found the pinch-to-zoom function glitchy. Later, when we followed the programmed USFS route, some trails didn’t display at all. Maybe add a Garmin navigator to your personal kit?

    2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel interior.

    A rotary shifter operates the 8-speed automatic in the Hemi-powered Rebel, while the diesel Rebel has a column shifter for its 6-speed automatic. Regardless, selecting 4WD LOW (a 2.64:1 reduction) is done by slowing or stopping the truck, shifting to neutral, and then pressing a drive-selector button on the dash. A few seconds later, you’re in. The feature hugely multiplies motive force at the tires, which the Ram team aired down to 43-46 psi for our off-highway sections, from 63-66 psi on the road.

    The gas engine proved fully capable of moving the big truck along the jeep track, which included climbs and descents, water holes, and a few modest rocky sections and washouts. The LT285/60R20 (aka 33 in.) Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tires offered an aggressive tread pattern and contributed to the truck’s off-highway savvy. Locking the rear axle was as simple as touching a second button near the 2WD/4WD switches.

    Despite excellent seating comfort, there’s no escaping the high-riding truck’s roll motion when encountering rocks, ravines and off-camber sections. But really, that goes hand-in-hand with off-highway travel, and proved the worst of the Ram’s dynamic habits. Choose lines carefully to minimize.

    We swapped rides at a lunch stop and jumped into the Rebel diesel. The 6.7-liter Cummins turbo inline six-cylinder is a grunty beast, generating 370 hp @ 2800 rpm and a heathen 850 lb-ft torque at a low 1700 rpm. There’s simply no stopping it, and, like the gas-powered Rebel 2500, it packs a tow rating of 16,870 pounds. This, despite the engine in the burlier diesel version weighing some 600 pounds more than the gas motor. Cargo-bed payload for both trucks is pegged at 3140 pounds.

    2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel with the Hemi V8 likes the trails.

    One may wonder why the image-leading Power Wagon doesn’t offer a comparable diesel. The answer is unexpected, and rather academic. Fitting the diesel required extra cooling capacity, which would interrupt the Warn winch setup mounted to the front of the Power Wagon. No winch, no Power Wagon. Ergo, no diesel Power Wagon. Sounds like an aftermarket challenge! (BTW, the 2500 Rebel offers a factory-installed 12,000-pound Warn winch on the Hemi version only.)

    Stellantis managers revealed that the newest Rebel will pry away some sales from the Rebel 1500 and Power Wagon. Their projection is that the new 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel will capture about 5% of HD sales volume from 2023 forward, and in doing so, reduce Rebel 1500 sales to 2-3% from its present 5%.

    The off-highway route rambled through a pleasant mix of pines and junipers, metamorphic and sedimentary rock, prickly Joshua trees, and scrub. Throughout, the Ram 2500 Rebel handled the varying conditions with a bouncy sort of aplomb. This continued as we paused, midway through this 20-mile dirt segment, to try something harder—a steep “playground” full of rocky, rutty climbs, descents, and hairpin turns.

    The gas Rebel lost forward momentum on a steep section that the diesel had motored right up.

    At first glance, this rollercoaster of a gymkhana surpassed what I’d usually consider trying in a truck with a 149-in. wheelbase and likely weighing over 3 1/2 tons. However, with members of the Trails 411 group acting as spotters—and the maxim “Not my truck!”—in mind, we went.

    With 4WD LOW and the rear axle lock selected, and the big diesel clattering away under-hood, the Rebel literally crawled—painfully slow but relentlessly—up every tricky section. They’re well dug out from four score and many more 4WDs preceding us over the years—dugouts that once rendered the Ram teetering in mid-climb as it scrabbled for grip at opposite corners. Even so, Rudolph Diesel’s scion pulled like a goat, a redoubtable result for such a massive vehicle. And then, hill descent control provided an extremely surefooted and reassuring downhill crawl.

    Cummins six-cylinder turbodiesel is the upgrade powertrain in 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel.

    Inside, in the Ram HD Rebel’s new foot-wide instrument cluster, five “tiles” can be configured to show different data, such as individual tire pressures, body roll, body pitch and similar dynamics. A plethora of cameras help when climbing or navigating technical sections; among these electronics, we found the forward-view camera most useful.

    The Hemi Rebel made it too, after we swapped trucks and tried again. The difference was—and this is anecdotal at best, due to time limitations—with just half the torque of the brutish diesel, the gas Rebel lost forward momentum on a particularly steep section that the diesel had motored right up. The issue wasn’t torque; it was that the Hemi hauler exhibited some wheelspin and wheel hop requiring a bit of finesse to overcome. That made the big Cummins—in our experience at least, this time—king of the climb.

    2023 ram heavy duty rebel
    Rebel seats.

    Following this “playground” experience, the forest tracks pulled us gradually south, downward and back into high desert. The Rams lazed along here, their powertrains untaxed and their chassis handling washed-out sections of trail with no issues.

    Fuel economy? Of course, it suffers majorly off-road, so we captured the average for the two engine variants before leaving the blacktop. For the 74-mile climb to Big Bear, the gas engine averaged 11.5 mpg and the diesel averaged 13.4 mpg. Your mileage may vary!

    Starting price for the 2023 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel is $68,940, and it goes on sale by year's end. However, the MSRPs on our test units were $80,295 for the Hemi gas version and $92,875 for the Cummins turbodiesel.

    That’s heavy duty, man.

    Is the 2023 Ram Heavy Duty Rebel on your shopping list for off-road good times? Please comment below.

    Advertisement - Continue Reading Below
    More From Ram