Everyone loves an off-road halo model, especially automakers. Ford has the Raptor, GM has the Colorado ZR2, Toyota has the Tacoma TRD Pro, and Ram has the Power Wagon, although it doesn’t get as much media attention as it deserves. Perhaps as a way to remedy that, perhaps simply as a smart decision, Ram gave the 1500 another look in 2016 and called it the Rebel, gearing it toward off-road and outdoors fun.
With a bold front grille, striking body lines, and some simple buffs to the suspension, the Rebel was quickly associated with the Raptor, but it wasn’t quite up to snuff with Ford’s prerunner extraordinaire. Ram has kept it going since then, and given it a refresh with the 2019 model year. And what a refresh it is!
Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve gotten to drive the Rebel. You may remember back in April 2018, I did a “first impressions” take on the truck and its highlights. Ram invited me and several other journos to Los Angeles to check out the pickup, and for what it was, the experience was “meh”; it consisted entirely of L.A. surface streets, complete with traffic stops and potholes. It wasn’t exactly what I would call “in-depth. ” That’s what I wanted to fix by getting my hands on a Rebel for a full week.
Nothing put a smile on my face quicker than walking outside and seeing the Rebel waiting for me, its engine already purring thanks to remote start. The look of the truck from any angle was always pleasing, with the Flame Red and Diamond Black two-tone paint giving the pickup that extra bit of boldness.
The sleek look of the sides was complemented by a “face” that reinforced the Rebel’s attitude. Ram retained the interesting trapezoid-esque shape of the grille, surrounding a large silver “RAM” logo. Below, a buff bumper held a skidplate-looking piece that drew the eyes toward a pair of tow hooks barely poking out.
The headlights were a big change for the 2019 model year, and I liked them. The DRLs ran underneath and didn’t impede the headlights from doing their job at night. Fun fact: when making turns at night, the Rebel would activate corner lights that shone in the corresponding direction, deactivating them once I put the steering wheel straight again.
The bed was, well, a bed. It touted a spray-in liner and was 6 ft. 4 in., as this was the Quad Cab and came with only this particular bed. It didn’t have the Rambox storage space in the fenders, and there were no electrical outlets to use. The tailgate was not assisted or automatic, but that’s fine; in all ways, the bed was the most utilitarian and ordinary aspect of the Rebel, and that’s a good thing.
With the cool factor dialed in outside, Ram had to follow through on the inside, and they did. In terms of access and ergonomics, everything was where it ought to be, and made sense.
The biggest draw was the sizable infotainment screen lodged front and center, the UConnect 3. Its 8.4-inch display had an easy-to-navigate user interface that was a joy to use and fool around with (while parked, naturally). Here, I could control the A/C, navigation, music, and phone calls (the latter two could also be fiddled with on the steering wheel). Sound was put out through six speakers and could be tweaked with UConnect’s audio equalizer. I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for Sirius XM radio, and it sounded awesome with the standard six-speaker arrangement in the truck.
Other functions built into the console were a trailer brake control, USB and auxiliary ports, and switches to disable traction control and parking sensors. The center console was immense and had a sliding cupholder/storage tray. I recalled hearing at the presentation that the center console had nearly two cubic feet of space, and part of that has to come from moving the shifter and 4×4 controls to the lower dashboard.
Now, about that shifter – honestly, I think it’s great. It doesn’t offer the feel of a column or floor shifter, but I never once felt like I could accidentally mess with it while driving. For one thing, it’s a fair distance away from the other knobs for things like stereo volume and A/C fan speed, and for another, it’s bigger. Getting the truck going in the morning was the simplest part of the day – hit the remote start button twice on the key fob, walk up to truck, door unlocks, get in, press brake, hit the Start button, and shift into Drive. In early January, having a heater already up and running before I ever set foot in the vehicle; now that is a luxury I will miss.
Ram is offering the Rebel with one of three engine options for 2019, and mine was the Goldilocks – a standard 5.7-liter Hemi V8, with a dash of tech in the form of cylinder deactivation and variable valve timing. Making 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque, I was satisfied with how the truck could get up and go, and the eight-speed 8HP75 transmission was decent at getting the power to the ground.
One thing noticeably missing from the Rebel was a suite of driving modes. On the Raptor, there were such options as Sport, Weather, and Baja; the Tacoma had Crawl Control, which was useful for getting out of sticky situations like mud or deep sand. The Rebel just allows the bog-standard 2HI, 4LO, and 4HI, with the ability to engage the locking rear differential, as well as hill descent assist. This felt like a missed opportunity to give owners the extra bang-for-the-buck they would expect.
The Rebel takes to driving like a fish to water. Once I was in the seat, I was in my zone and enjoying it. I’m the kind of guy that doesn’t mind cloth seats, and Ram went a little above and beyond here, too, imprinting a tire-tread-like pattern that reinforced the macho feel of the truck.
Out on the road, the truck sounds remarkably quiet, which I found odd for something named “Rebel.” It turns out that this was thanks to strategically placed active-tuned mass modules, which neutralized noise from making its way into the cabin. All of the little buzzes and drones of driving over asphalt for extended periods of time were gone. Personally, I was all for it.
Going over the roads of California, the Rebel’s Bilstein shocks got a good workout. Out here, it doesn’t take long to go from freshly smoothed asphalt to potholed pavement, and the truck didn’t transmit any of the harshness to me. We even got a little rain while the truck was here, and while the tires could skid with a spicy throttle input, the truck would take corners and come to a stop without fear. And in any case, Traction Control was always there to help out.
Off-roading is something we do with every truck or SUV we get our hands on, and I wasn’t going to take it easy on the Rebel. For my tryout, I took the pickup to Ocotillo Wells SVRA and turned off Traction Control for a couple of hours.
Ocotillo Wells is a great place for testing a vehicle’s off-road performance. There are impromptu obstacle courses, high-speed roads, whoops and washboards, and everything in between. Now, the Rebel isn’t built to go prerunning in the desert – the Bilstein 4600s are good, but they’re not triple-bypass, 18 inches of travel good – but it feels controllable mobbing about 30-40 miles per hour.
On a mini obstacle course I found, I could take the truck through banking turns, and up and over a quick series of crests and dips. I got some rooster tails and half-donuts in. I came away feeling that with some better, tunable shocks and stronger control arms, the Rebel could hold its own against a dedicated prerunner. The power is there; all that’s missing are some parts.
In this writer’s opinion, the 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel met all of its objectives, and then some.
It’s a truck priced right around the range of a Raptor (base MSRP of $52,855), coming in at $55,145. However, it will leave a lot to be desired when it comes to high-speed off-road adventure. The interior nails the fit and finish I want in a brand new truck, from the anodized-looking red trim to the feel of the seat to the NVH levels. The engine performs as advertised, and the MPG (which, let’s be honest, isn’t why someone buys a full-size truck) is good.
While there are some areas that got overlooked on the way to the showroom, the Rebel gets a vast majority of things right. It’s a far cry from the days of depressing drivetrains and boring interiors that the 1500s were once known for. To me, the Rebel is like the “Most Improved Player” of a sports team – I expected the truck to be a mediocre, token “off-road package” truck, and I got more than that. I got fun out of it, and that’s the mark of an awesome vehicle.