Special edition pickup trucks – cooked up in the hopes of stirring buyer interest and bundling the most populloopar option or two – have been luring shoppers for years. Trouble is, all that specialness often adds up to little more some chrome bits here, some vinyl graphics there – and maybe some bolt-on running boards thrown in.
The 2016 Ram Rebel is not that kind of truck. Sure, its dominating black grille and black wheel-well flares may make the Rebel easy to spot in a sea of pickups at a Texas mall, but this recently introduced half-ton Ram’s extensive list of upgrades goes far beyond cosmetics.
Available only as a crew cab with short (5 ft. 7 in.) cargo box, Ram’s engineers and product planners have concocted a pickup aimed at drivers who might enjoy the swagger of a hardcore off-road brute (like Ram’s own heavy-duty Power Wagon) but are grounded by reality. You know – little things like budget, fuel consumption and daily drivability.
The Rebel comes by its name honestly. The massive, powder-coated grille with its big silver “Ram” badge smack in the center is a complete departure from the “cross-hair” grille that in one form or the other has been Ram’s signature for more than three decades. Some say it’s a refreshing move that’s overdue while others say it’s ugly.
Whatever your take, the Rebel’s distinct face, with its LED marker lights and fog lamps, does reflect today’s technology. In a nod to the Rebel’s blacked-out theme, the projector headlamps have smoked covers.
A front skid plate and front tow hooks complete the scrappy look. (We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that the Rebel gets its own aluminum hood with twin scoops apparently meant to suggest snorkels.
They’re non-functional. We’d rather have a functional Hellcat-style duct but perhaps that’s being reserved for a future Ram Hellcat.)
Much more successful is the Rebel’s stance. The Ram 1500’s adjustable-height air suspension is juiced to ride an inch higher in the Rebel. With tuning of the independent front suspension’s alignment, Ram claims the Rebel has up to 15 inches of ground clearance. The factory lift complements a couple of other Rebel-only features: 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T light-truck tires and silver-and-black aluminum wheels. The rugged 285/70R17 tires aren’t just designed to deliver all-terrain, all-season grip but a comfortable ride. What’s more, the tires’ aggressive tread pattern is carried over and lightly embossed in the Rebel’s seat fabric. It’s a clever feature that not only brings a smile, the raised texture even feels good as you slide and settle into the seat.
Out back, a huge “RAM” is stamped into the tailgate and the black power-coated bumper has cutouts for dual chrome exhaust tips. The taillight bezels are, of course, black.
The Rebel’s interior goes further with eye-catching branding and styling. Red accenting is applied to headrests, center stack trim, vent rings, door trim and the standard heated steering wheel’s semi-perforated black leather wrapping. It may sound over the top but we thought it all worked tastefully. Heading aftermarket vendors off at the pass, Ram’s team has smartly made some very nice all-weather rubber floor mats standard. And of course, they carry the Ram’s head logo.
Let’s turn to the hardware portion of the equation. The 4WD Rebel offers a choice of engines: a 305-horse 3.6-liter V6 that produces 269 lb.-ft. of torque, or the bigger, punchier 5.7-liter “Hemi” V8 that dishes out 395 horses and 410 lb.-ft. Either engine is paired with its own eight-speed automatic transmission and specific two-speed transfer case. A 3.92 axle is standard. Fuel economy for the V6 is an EPA estimated 17 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway. The V8 comes in at 15/22.
The 3.6-liter V6’s transfer case offers 2WD high, 4WD high, locked, neutral, 4WD low, locked modes. The V8 operates in either 2WD high, 4WD auto, 4WD high, locked, neutral, 4WD low or locked.
Those opting for the 2WD Rebel don’t face a powertrain decision: the only engine offered is the Hemi, which, incidentally, will run on 87 octane gas but is happier with mid-grade 89, according to the manufacturer.
The Ram Rebel 2WD starts at $43,270 while the 4WD has an MSRP of $45,200. In addition to the usual gear like air conditioning and power windows and door locks, standard equipment features include the 3.92 axle ratio, class IV receiver hitch, 26-gallon gas tank, locking tailgate, Uconnect 5.0 infotainment system with six-speakers and SiriusXM satellite radio, tilt-steering column, overhead console, power driver (10-way) and passenger (6-way) seats, power rear sliding window.
In daily use, the Rebel is fun and satisfying, offering ample power.
For a high-rise truck, it rides comfortably and quietly and some credit must go to the Bilstein shock absorbers. We loved the air suspension’s versatility. At highway speeds it lowers the body to improve aerodynamics and save a little fuel. With a touch of the switch, the four-corner air suspension will drop to just over the top of the tires to allow easier entry or exit.
Though a boatload of options brought our test loaner’s bottom line to a substantial $55,000, the Rebel represents good value if control is exercised when ordering. For example, with V8, back-up rear camera, 32-gallon fuel tank and 8.4 Unconnect (a must for its large, clear, easy-to-use interface and accompanying dual-zone automatic climate control), a 4WD Ram Rebel will come in at just under $49,000 with destination but before any incentives kick in or price dickering. If you aren’t going four-wheeling, the 2WD Rebel comes in at a relatively wallet-friendly $45,470.
Think of the Rebel as a factory-customized pickup that can lift your spirits and vantage point without the sting that usually goes along with compromise.
2016 RAM 1500 REBEL CREW CAB
TYPE: Full-size pickup
BASE PRICE: $45,200
AS TESTED, INCLUDING DESTINATION: $53,555
MAJOR OPTIONS: 5.7-liter V8, $1,500; 8HP70 automatic transmission, $500; Ram cargo box management system, $1,295; Uconnect 8.4 NAV, $1,105; luxury group, $660; rear camera and park assist group, $595; trailer tow mirror and brake control group, $460
DRIVETRAIN: 5.7-liter V8; 8-speed auto; 4WD
HORSEPOWER AND TORQUE: 395 hp at 5,600 rpm / 410 lb.-ft. at 3,950 rpm
FUEL: gas, 87 octane acceptable (89 octane recommended); 32-gallon tank
EPA ESTIMATED MPG: 15 city / 21 highway
CURB WEIGHT: 6,000 lbs. (estimated)
SAFETY: NHTSA four stars; IIHS, “Good” except for “marginal” in small moderate overlap front and roof strength