Move over Ford F-250 Tremor, there’s a new rebel in town. I’m talking about the 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel, the latest off-road focused full-size truck to hit the dirt. Looking a lot like a Power Wagon with its crew cab and six-foot, four-inch box, black rocker panels and fender flares, the Rebel comes out of the gate with more payload and towing capability. In other words, the Rebel HD is made for overlanding folks who need to move big families and all the required gear.
My afternoon with the Rebel starts in Pioneertown, CA. This oldy-timey western town is the perfect backdrop to start the day’s drive. I climb into a diesel Rebel – and I literally have to climb into this rig, grasping the handle mounted on the A-pillar and hopping in– and put the six-speed automatic transmission into drive via a column-mounted shifter. The 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel I6 engine pulls strong off the line as it should with 850 pound-feet of torque. Horsepower isn’t quite as impressive, just 370 ponies, but the truck cruises along at 80 miles per hour like it ain’t no thang.
Of course, I’m not loaded with the 1,970 pounds of max payload the diesel Rebel can handle and I’m certainly not towing the 14,920 pounds the Rebel can drag behind it. When kitted out for overlanding you’ll likely feel the weight, but it cruises so easily on my drive that I don’t foresee any problems.
Although the Rebel HD has solid axles front and rear, the ride feels supremely comfortable. In fact, I have to double check there isn’t an IFS hidden under there. Nope, it’s solid and surprisingly smooth. The five-link coil system really makes the difference. No jolts or bumps from uneven pavement make their way into the cabin. While other heavy duty trucks drive like how I imagine a freight train would, the Rebel HD is effortless.
I don’t expect a heavy duty truck to be a corner carver, but on twisty Highway 18 up the mountain to Big Bear the Rebel’s steering feels quick and direct. There’s not much feedback but on this kind of vehicle I don’t really care. I come in a little hot to one hairpin but the brakes feel firm under my foot and slow the heavy truck down confidently.
When the pavement turns to dirt I throw the electronic transfer case into high range four-wheel drive and air down to around 45 psi. The 33-inch Goodyear Duratrac tires do fine on this little jaunt, but the road is mostly hard-packed dirt with a few rocks here and there. I have no idea how these tires would do in a silt bed, but I’d say have your Maxtrax at the ready just to be safe. At launch the truck will come with 20-inch wheels, but 18-inchers will be available at a later date.
The first part of our off-pavement excursion is easy–any crossover could handle the trail. However, we soon get to a playground of sorts with a few steep climbs, tight turns and plenty of rutted trails. Four-wheel drive low is geared at a 2.64:1 ratio, and combined with the 3.73 ratio axles this diesel has plenty of grunt. It scampers up a 30-degree hill full of giant holes like a boss with the rear locker. When I can’t see the trail over the hood a forward-facing camera helps out. A few journalists have to reverse the truck with its extra-long 149-inch wheelbase to make a tight turn, but I’m not afraid of any trail pinstripes and make it just fine.
However, I’m not so keen on the diesel’s throttle calibration, especially when in four-wheel drive low. With all that torque it’s tough to keep the power delivery smooth. I think that after a week or so with the truck I’d get used to it, but I definitely spill my Diet Dr Pepper the first time I touch the go pedal in low gear.
I like the 6.4-liter HEMI V8 much better. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic–the gasser gets a rotary shifter–and produces 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. The gas-powered Rebel HD can be equipped with a 12,000 pound WARN winch–the diesel’s cooling requirements don’t allow it–and has the option of 4.10:1 axles. It can haul a maximum of 3,140 pounds and tow nearly 17,000 pounds. Oh, and it’s also $10,000 cheaper. I like cheaper.
Plus it does all the hard off-road stuff just as well as the diesel. Sure, I have to keep a bit of momentum, but I’ve got skid plates on the fuel tank and transfer case if things go badly. The Ram doesn’t supply me with especially extreme approach and departure angles, but during my day I don’t come close to scraping anything.
Inside you can get a bench front seat, but I’ve got an upgraded cabin with plenty of leather, heated seats and a 12-inch portrait-oriented screen running the Uconnect 5 infotainment system as well as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Behind the steering wheel is a 12-inch reconfigurable gauge cluster with five customizable tiles. I can have whatever data I need right in front of me, including pitch and roll, steering angle and drivetrain information. There are also plenty of USB-A and -C ports for charging.
My tester also comes with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking with trailer brakes, lane keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring and cross path detection. I’m not so hyped on the lane keeping assist as I, like you know, love driving, but the blind-spot monitoring is great in a truck of this size. Adaptive cruise control is perfect for high-traffic situations when the joy of driving is reduced to just tedium.
The Rebel HD has a few towing and payload tricks up its sleeve. There is a cool digital rearview mirror that can give three distinct views–two from either side of the truck and a middle view showing what’s behind a trailer, provided I’ve got the optional hard-wired camera set up. There is also trailer reverse guidance built into the 360-degree camera and a trailer reverse steering control to take the confusing backward thinking out of reversing a trailer (I want my trailer to go to the left, so I turn left…no right…no left!). Lastly, an in-bed camera allows drivers to keep eyes on the payload and assists when hooking up a fifth wheel or gooseneck.
The 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel will be available at the end of the year with a starting price of $68,940 including $1,895 for destination. However, the diesel I drove has a price north of $91,000 and the gasser was a smidge over $80,000. High prices to pay indeed, but the Rebel HD hits the venn diagram of off-road capability, towing, and payload that will make any overlander smile.
Photos: Emme Hall
Our No Compromise Clause: We carefully screen all contributors to ensure they are independent and impartial. We never have and never will accept advertorial, and we do not allow advertising to influence our product or destination reviews.