First Drive: Hitting The Dirt In A Cummins-Powered 2024 Ram 2500 Rebel

When the modern Power Wagon launched back onto the 4WD scene in 2005, truck fans asked: “Where’s the Cummins diesel option?” Here we are almost 20 years later, and Power Wagon fans are still asking that same question. But while there is no diesel-powered Power Wagon, there is a new player in Ram’s lineup that is designed to excel off-road and offer a diesel powerplant. Enter the 2024 Ram 2500 Rebel.

The Ram 2500 HD Rebel essentially takes the capability of the standard-issue Ram 2500 up a notch by adding an electronic-locking rear differential, new Bilstein dampers, and 33-inch off-road-focused tires.

Here’s Why The Power Wagon Doesn’t Offer A Diesel Option

First, let’s examine why there’s no diesel option in the Power Wagon. One big reason is the cooling required for the diesel could not be packaged along with the Power Wagon’s optional winch, according to Jeff Johnson, Senior Manager for Ram Heavy Duty. We applaud Ram’s decision to retain the winch option, even at the cost of not being able to equip the truck with a diesel. The Power Wagon is, in the end, a premium, off-road-centric truck.

Another reason is the weight. Johnson mentions that the added heft of a Cummins would adversely affect the Power Wagon’s handling in the dirt. And because of the Power Wagon’s softer suspension, a truck equipped with the standard 6-foot, 4-inch box has a payload of 1,630 pounds and a maximum towing capacity of 10,590 pounds (those numbers decrease further with the RamBox option). This is far lower than a conventional Ram 2500. And adding a diesel wouldn’t increase those numbers one bit. In fact, the weight of the diesel might actually lower them. So, a diesel Power Wagon would theoretically be less able to handle work. Boo.

Clearly, the prospect of a diesel Power Wagon was a non-starter for Ram. But the idea of a more off-road-capable diesel Ram 2500 makes sense. And so, the Ram 2500 Rebel was born.

This truck’s bodywork sits tall and our tester was free of any low-hanging running boards or steps. We never came close to tagging a rocker on the trail.

2024 Ram 2500 Rebel Is Tweaked For Off-Road

The Ram 2500 Rebel essentially takes the capability of the standard-issue Ram 2500 up a notch by adding an electronic-locking rear differential, Bilstein dampers, and 33-inch off-road-focused tires. To find out just how the new Rebel performs on both street and trail, we borrowed a $94,620 MSRP Patriot Blue Rebel and put it through a 250-mile test loop on both the streets around Los Angeles and trails in southern California. So how does this big beast handle the rough stuff? Read on to find out.

When equipped with the Cummins turbodiesel, the Rebel can take on a payload of 1,970 pounds and tow 14,920 pounds. That’s less weight in both specs than the gas version, so if maximum weight hauling is the priority — choose gas.

The Hardware

The Ram 2500 Rebel is based upon the crew cab body style with a short (6-foot, 4-inch) box (the RamBox Cargo Management System is optional). Every Rebel comes standard with four-wheel drive using a BorgWarner part-time transfer case with 2.64:1 low-range gearing. The base powertrain is Ram’s solid 6.4-liter gas V8 with 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque paired to an eight-speed automatic. Gas engine Rebels can be ordered with a 12,000-pound Warn ZEON 12 winch with synthetic line just like the Power Wagon. And these rigs are rated to handle a maximum payload of 3,140 pounds and tow 16,870 pounds. Those serious numbers trounce the Power Wagon’s ratings, and they also make the Rebel a great platform for an overlanding build.

As good as the V8 might be, our test truck was optioned with the venerable 6.7-liter Cummins diesel paired with a six-speed automatic. Ram offers two versions of that diesel in its heavy-duty trucks. One with a standard rating of 370 horsepower and 850 lb-ft of torque (2500 and 3500 models) and then a high-output version (3500 models) that packs 420 horsepower and 1,075 lb-ft of torque. The Rebel gets the 370 horsepower version, a $9,795 option.

When equipped with the Cummins, the Rebel can take on a payload of 1,970 pounds and tow 14,920 pounds. That’s less weight in both specs than the gas version, so if maximum weight hauling is the priority — choose gas. One might ask why doesn’t a truck called “Rebel” pack the most potent version of that engine? Ram’s Senior Manager Johnson says a 2500 series truck wouldn’t tow more if it were equipped with that high-output engine because the rest of the truck isn’t set up for it. Fair point, but it doesn’t make us want the high-output engine any less.

The Cummins sends power down to a 9.25-inch AAM solid front axle with an open differential and an 11.5-inch AAM solid rear axle. The rear axle comes standard with a limited-slip rear differential that also doubles as a selectable locking differential at the push of a button.

Rear Locker, Coil Springs, DuraTrac Tires

The Cummins sends power down to a 9.25-inch AAM solid front axle with an open differential and an 11.5-inch AAM solid rear axle. Because this is a Rebel, it comes standard with a limited-slip rear differential that also doubles as a selectable locking differential at the push of a button.

The suspension of the Ram 2500 Rebel is identical to the standard-issue Ram 2500. That is, except for the gas-charged monotube Bilstein dampers. The Rebel has coil springs and locating links at all four corners, but an automatic load-leveling rear air suspension is optional. The Rebel does not include the suspension upgrades of the Power Wagon, like the 2-inch lift and electronic disconnecting front sway bar. So, the Rebel’s flex on the trail should be about the same as a standard Ram 2500. However, the rear electronic locker and fairly aggressive 285/60R20 (33-inch diameter) Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires help improve traction. But, these are load-range “E” tires and lower profile than the 17-inch tires that come on the Power Wagon, so expect a firmer ride and less sidewall flex on the trail.

Aggressive Look And Perhaps The Best Interior In Its Segment

Take a quick glance at the aggressive Rebel and yeah, it looks an awful lot like a Power Wagon. And that’s certainly not a bad thing. The two share the same cool blacked-out trim, fender flares, hood scoop, and grille. But the Rebel’s suspension is lower because it doesn’t have the Power Wagon’s lifted stance, and the front air dam has less clearance than the ‘Wagon’s does. Still, the Rebel looks tough and purposeful.

Climb up into the cab of the Rebel and you’ll find what is perhaps the best heavy-duty truck interior in the segment. The Rebel can be optioned with a cloth or leather bench front seat depending upon whether the buyer selects the base level or Equipment Level 1. Our truck was equipped with the $7,210 Level 2 package that brings leather, ventilated and heated bucket seats, heated second-row seats, power folding-and-telescoping mirrors, a massive 12-inch touchscreen, and more. In short, this Rebel was loaded with just about every option. And that made it a very comfy place to spend time on the road. The materials and the way all the systems function on the Rebel are class leading. Toggle the switches below the screen for the exhaust brake and other functions and they feel substantially meaty. And we really appreciated having knobs for audio system volume and tuning.

In 2023, the Ram heavy-duty trucks received a new digital instrument cluster with more configurability along with an optional digital rearview mirror. The digital mirror can show views down the side of the truck or right out the back even when a trailer is blocking the view, thanks to a multitude of cameras.

A Wonderful Wave Of Torque

Fire up the mighty Cummins and the subdued clatter of the big diesel is a welcome sound to our ears. Dip into the throttle and the Cummins waits a beat for the boost to build and then moves out with authority. You can certainly feel the heft of this engine, which is just north of a half-ton. However, the Bilsteins keep the weight better in-check over undulating roads and through a field of potholes than the dampers on a standard Ram 2500. And because the Ram 2500s have coils at all four corners, the ride is reasonably smooth for a 3/4-ton truck. The Cummins has this wonderful wave of torque that starts at 1,000 rpm and runs through 2,000 rpm. And we know from past towing experience that diesel Rams make short work of 10,000-pound trailers.

So where is the Cummins lacking? Well, compared to GM’s Duramax and Ford’s Power Stroke, the Cummins feels more lethargic in its throttle response and less muscular overall. In short, it feels slower and more traditionally diesel-like than the other two.

Exhaust Brake, Steering Observations, Lackluster Fuel Economy

On the freeway at 70 mph, the Cummins lopes along at just 1,600 rpm. And the Rebel can maintain speeds of just over 75 mph on grades without needing to downshift. Unfortunately, certain freeway sections had a rhythm that caused the heavy beast to buck — uncomfortable to be sure. However, we appreciated the exhaust brake on the way down the hills. Even without towing a trailer, the drag of the brake feels good and takes the edge off the speed. One area where the Ram could use some improvement is in the on-center feel of the steering at freeway speeds. The steering felt vague and required small movements of the wheel to maintain our desired course.

Our test rig was equipped with loads of safety and convenience tech. And most of it is welcome on a truck of this size. However, some of it can be downright annoying. For example, we couldn’t wait to turn off the Lane Sense and Lane Keep Assist function. Fortunately, Ram allows you to turn many of these systems on or off very easily by a toggle switch on the dash. Not all truck makers let the driver opt out so easily.

One doesn’t expect a 7,000-plus-pound heavy-duty 4X4 to return good fuel economy. And the Cummins certainly didn’t. Over our mixed terrain test we saw an average fuel economy of just 14.3 mpg. The last Power Wagon we tested on nearly the exact same course averaged 13.5 mpg. So even empty, the diesel does save some fuel over a similar gas truck.

In the Dirt

There are plenty of new 4X4s that come with an electronic-locking rear differential. But most of them require the vehicle to be shifted into low range before allowing that rear axle to be locked. Not here. Ram allows the big Rebel to have that rear locker engaged in 2WD. This feature makes mild off-roading easy business in this truck. This truck’s bodywork sits tall and our tester was free of any low hanging running boards or steps. We never came close to tagging a rocker. The big, torquey Cummins allows you to chug along the trail without dipping into the throttle too far.

And the truck can grind its way up some surprisingly twisty climbs, thanks in part to the aggressive tires and that locker. There are plenty of folks who tow with these trucks too (why else would you buy a Cummins?) and for them having a locked rear axle in 2WD is a great insurance policy when you’re pulling into a muddy camping area or need to launch a boat at the lake.

Poke your head underneath the bodywork and you’ll notice the Rebel doesn’t have massive ground clearance numbers underneath its big axles. After all, the tires measure just 33 inches tall and those are big axles. There’s 9.25 inches of clearance up front, which is decent, but just 8.25 inches under the rear. But because these are two solid axles, they move the diff up as the axle articulates, which helps. That said, the big Ram doesn’t offer a ton of articulation. It’s fairly easy to hang a tire in the air.

When it came time for 4WD, the optional push-button system in our tester responded quickly. Our favorite test hill is a loose, sandy climb. It has a slope of about 28 degrees and forces the axles to twist significantly as you reach the top. On the day of our drive, the dirt on the trails was packed down due to recent rains and offered decent traction compared to, say, a day in the middle of summer. We locked the Rebel into 4-Lo, pressed the rear locker button, and pointed the Ram’s nose toward the hill. Thanks to the mountainous torque of the Cummins, the Rebel was able to crawl its way up the hill at 4 mph with just 1,800 rpm showing on the tach and almost no slippage from the tires. Impressive considering it had north of 60 psi in the tires.

We tried the climb again with the rear locker disengaged and the Ram couldn’t complete the climb at a crawl. It dug in and made a pit for the spinning tires about 5 feet from the crest of the hill. Interestingly, the rear locker refused to engage at that point. So, we had to back down the hill. And that was frustrating. Locker engagement on-the-fly in this truck isn’t always glitch free. So, our advice? Lock it up before you attempt something that might require more traction.

Twisty Mogul Climb

Off-road, the Power Wagon has a more supple ride than the Rebel. This is due to the increased articulation of the disconnecting front sway bar and different spring rates. Nonetheless, the Rebel was able to handle our twisty mogul climb. We tried it first with the rear locker disengaged and the truck did make it through, although there was plenty of tire spin. It wasn’t very elegant. However, with the locker engaged, the tires could really bite into the dirt and keep momentum moving along, even with tires hanging in the air. Just barely dip into that diesel’s massive torque and it will pull the truck up just about anything. Still, if we were planning to spend a lot of time in the type of terrain that maxed out the Rebel’s articulation regularly, we’d play with trying to unlock a bit more wheel travel and flex at each corner.

The Ram 2500 Rebel can be had with either a gas or diesel powerplant, just like its non-Rebel 2500 siblings.

Sandy Wash

The Rebel handled a sandy wash in 2WD, but it wasn’t pretty. There was a good deal of rear axle hop, and the truck had a tough time hooking up enough to build speed. That’s with the rear axle locked. It just didn’t float well across the sand. However, it’s not too surprising considering there’s 1,000 pounds of Cummins weighing down the nose and we had street pressure in the tires. Shifting to 4WD high range improves the situation but there’s still some hop. Generally, the truck does not feel playful or athletic in the wash. It just plods along and generally goes where you point it.

Compared to the Power Wagon, the Rebel has less suspension flex. But even so, the Rebel was able to handle our twisty mogul climb, thanks in part to the rear locker.

Fire Roads

The Rebel performed better on the higher-speed fire roads. In fact, it handled the bumps much better than the last diesel Ram we tested a few years ago. Back then, the big live front axle and Cummins created a perfect storm of uncontrolled weight. This resulted in crashing the bumpstops and pogoing hard at low speeds. Not so this time. We could feel the Bilstein dampers working a bit of magic on the dirt roads. Whoops and dips were better controlled than the standard-issue shocks. In fact, the dampers kept us off the bumpstops well enough that we were able to maintain 35 to 40 mph. That’s not bad for a truck like this. But at those speeds the chassis does tend to get very jiggly, so backing the speed down to around 30 mph is more reasonable.

The 2024 Ram 2500 Rebel comes equipped with 285/60R20 (33-inch) Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires. 

The Bottom Line

So, is the Ram 2500 Rebel as much of an off-road warrior as the Power Wagon? Nope. If you plan to do quite a bit of slow-speed off-roading, the Power Wagon is still the Ram to buy. But if your wheeling and working needs go deeper, then the 2500 Rebel is a great buy. We could easily see the truck outfitted for camping and long-distance overlanding.

How do the Ford F-250 Tremor and Chevy Silverado 2500 ZR2 stack up to the Rebel? Those are questions we hope to answer in the coming months. Stay tuned.

Article Sources

About the author

Ben Stewart

Ben has been covering the 4WD world for more than 30 years. He started out writing for Off-Road magazine and later spent half a decade on staff with Four Wheeler magazine.
Read My Articles