Giant-sized off-road-focused pickup trucks have become something of an item in the automotive space recently. Ram arguably started the trend a few years ago when it resurrected the Power Wagon name for a heavy-duty truck optimized for cranking around past the pavement; since then, Ford has whipped up an F-Series Super Duty version of the Tremor, Chevrolet has created an HD Silverado ZR2, GMC delivered a similar Sierra HD AT4X...and now Ram has come out with a second off-road-focused HD truck, in the form of the 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel.
Thing is, heavy-duty off-roaders don't make a ton of sense. As many an overlanding enthusiast will be happy to tell you, agility is a prized commodity when scrambling around on trails; whether it's squeezing through forests or slipping between boulders, it's always nicer to have more space to avoid scrapes. Besides, the bigger your rig, odds are good the more fuel it drinks — which is never ideal when you're trying to boondock.
Of course, as with most SUVs designed to demolish trails, most of these XL all-terrain rigs will spend their lives doing proletarian tasks like towing boats and equipment trailers, hauling hay and gravel, or shuttling kids to and from school, rather than pounding up and down trails. The appeal of something like the 2500 HD Rebel lies not in its adventurous image, but in the fact that it can handle a simply staggering amount of different use cases without breaking a sweat. (Well, that...and the image.)
So to find out how this rolling kaiju handles the sorts of tasks and purposes it'll handle most of the time, I took it on a 800-mile round trip drive to Vermont, starting and ending in the New Jersey suburbs. (Fun fact: I couldn't pick it up in New York City as I do most test vehicles, because it was too big to fit into the Manhattan parking garage where I grab cars from.)
2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel: What We Think
Utterly large and traditionally truck-like in a way many half-ton pickups aren't these days, the Heavy Duty Rebel is a bit more crude than many buyers who haven't spent time with HD trucks might be used to — but that's kind of endearing.
Its turbodiesel engine gives it both impressive towing capability and surprisingly good fuel efficiency, at least for a truck this size, while its enormous cabin offers a modern space for five to lounge in comfort. And the off-road-focused features only add to its capability without detracting much in the way of on-road performance — at least, compared with other HD pickups. Few people need it, and few people can probably fit it in their driveway...but it's hard not to walk away oddly enamored.
In recent years, the pickup class traditionally known as "half-ton trucks" — the Ford F-150, Ram 1500, Chevrolet Silverado 1500 and GMC Sierra 1500 being the most recognizable, as well as the most quindecuple — have taken huge leaps and bounds in terms of livability and civility in the last decade or two. Today's half-tons ride as well as family SUVs (if not, in some cases, luxury cars), deliver responsive power capable of keeping up with muscle cars from a generation or two ago, and serve up surprisingly decent handling.
On the flip side, heavy duty pickups — those with -250 / -350 or 2500 / 3500 in their names — have remained a bit more old-fashioned in their character. That's clear from the first time you crank the Heavy Duty Rebel to life with a sound like a Freightliner; even more clear when you very shift the heavy column-mounted shifter into Drive; and vastly more clear when you set off to discover the accelerator's travel long and rubbery, and the steering slow and remote. Everything about piloting this heavy-duty rig is deliberate.
Highway stability is impeccable, thanks to a wheelbase that, at 149 inches, is just about the length of an entire Mitsubishi Mirage. The ride is also comfortable on all kinds of terrain and tarmac, thanks to a combination of the pliable off-road suspension, the wide, impact-absorbing sidewalls of the giant tires, and the four-plus tons of mass riding atop it all to dampen any impacts that do make it through.
One place where the 2500 HD Rebel lives up to its more-popular-but-less-capable siblings, however, is inside. The current generation of Ram 1500 redefined how luxurious and comfortable a pickup truck interior could be when it launched back in 2018, and the latest batch of HD Rams largely ape that same design. The Rebel comes with comfortable leather seats with tasteful accent piping (at least on my tester, which packed the $7,110 Level 2 Equipment Group), an all-glass 12-inch-wide instrument panel that's ridiculously configurable, an optional 12-inch tablet-style infotainment screen that thankfully still keeps physical buttons and knobs in spades (again, part of the Level 2 group) and more USB ports than a Best Buy.
And, of course, there is space. Seriously. So. Much. Space. For four, the cabin is practically Maybach-like, at least in terms of room. From the driver's seat, the shotgun rider seems to be in the next town over, and the rear seat occupants in the next county. If there's no on in back, flip up the base of the second-row bench, and you create more enclosed space than you'll find in the trunk of a Honda Accord. Add in all the room you have in the bed — including the Ram Box side panels for lockable storage — and you could move half the cast of The Grapes of Wrath.
If there's an issue here, it's entering — or perhaps mounting would be a better term, as clambering into the seats is only slightly easier than hopping onto a saddled horse. The Rebel does without running boards — they'd be a detriment when off-roading — and the step from the ground to the floorboard is a doozy. Be prepared to use the grab handle on the A-pillar to yank yourself up.
Believe it or not, even though it comes with features like a locking electronic limited-slip differential, skid plates, Bilstein off-road shocks and 11.1 inches of ground clearance, this monstrosity of a rig isn't the pinnacle of Ram's heavy-duty off-road lineup. That would be the Ram 2500 HD Power Wagon, which comes with additional features like an extra 3.3 inches of ground clearance, electronically disconnecting sway bar, and winch.
Why go for the Rebel, then? Well, the biggest reason is under the hood: while the Power Wagon only comes with the 6.4-liter "That Thing Got a" Hemi V8, the Rebel lets you choose between that and the 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel inline-six. While the diesel actually offers lower tow and payload ratings than the gas engine — blame the fact that the Cummins is heavier than the Hemi — it's still capable of towing a Labrador Retriever shy of 15,000 pounds. And the superior torque, broader torque curve and improved fuel economy all combine to make towing heavy loads with a modern diesel a better experience than with gas. (That's even more true at altitude, where the turbocharger on the oil-burner means the engine is less susceptible to power loss.)
Of course, the biggest factor in determining how capable or not a vehicle will be off-road isn't four-wheel-drive or ground clearance — it's proper tires. In the case of the Heavy Duty Rebel, it comes correct with mighty 33-inch all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler tires that provide more than ample grip.
As you can tell, I drove the Rebel in rather frigid climes, yet my best efforts to get the truck stuck were always thwarted by the combination of gnarly rubber, low-range four-wheel-drive, and that forceful 850 ln-ft of oil-burning torque. Forget pulling out tree stumps; this Rebel feels like it could uproot mountains. (And insane as it may sound, that torque figure is actually the lowest among the Big Three's heavy-duty diesel options.)
Americans, by now, have long since grown used to seeing "MAЯ" in their rear view mirrors in font worthy of a newspaper announcing an attack on Pearl Harbor. It's been a regular occurrence since a little after 2009, when
Chrysler Group LLC Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Stellantis spun the Ram trucks out of Dodge and began slapping the brand name on the grilles in lieu of the old crosshair — because otherwise, y'know, people would be confusing those three-ton pickup trucks with Chargers.
Still, even by modern pickup standards, the Heavy Duty Rebel dominates your vision when you stare it head-on. The front fascia is tiered like a Utah cliff face, with layer after layer of horizontal line rising and falling and drawing the eye ever back to the logo in the center. And unlike with many modern vehicles, the headlights, blessedly, still retain their pareidolic tendencies; the Rebel has something of the face of a gentle giant.
And like the Empire State Building, the closer you step to the Heavy Duty Rebel, the more you truly understand its scale. From a distance, its proportions make it seem ordinary, at least in pickup truck terms; stand alongside the cabin, however, and unless you're an NBA center, you won't be able to see over it.
Base Price / Price as Tested: $69,215 / $91,070
Powertrain (as tested): 6.7-liter turbodiesel inline-six; six-speed automatic; four-wheel-drive
EPA Fuel Economy: It's actually so large the EPA doesn't need to rate it
Large enough to count as a residence and capable of going almost anywhere, the Super Duty Tremor belongs out west.