The 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel Is No Diesel Power Wagon, but It Can Still Off-Road

The 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel delivers a lot more work capability, but with fewer off-road chops than the famous Power Wagon nameplate.

byBen Stewart| PUBLISHED Oct 24, 2022 12:01 AM
The 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel Is No Diesel Power Wagon, but It Can Still Off-Road
Ben Stewart
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The all-new 2023 Ram 2500 HD Rebel will have big truck fans doing a double-take when they see it. “Wait, is that a diesel Power Wagon?” Well no…not exactly. The Rebel certainly looks the part though. It has the Power Wagon’s two-tone paint, “RAM” painted in black on the tailgate, rugged fender flares, blacked-out trim, and a new hood scoop. And, yes, it can be ordered with the Cummins diesel. Hallelujah. But beneath the skin, the Rebel is closer to a conventional Ram 2500. And there’s a good reason for that.

For decades, there’s been something critical missing from the Power Wagon—yep, a diesel. It’s odd, actually, that this legendary truck cannot be optioned with the equally legendary Cummins diesel. After all, truck buyers want torque. And the Cummins diesel makes buckets of the stuff. For those off-roaders that need to tow heavy trailers, the lack of a diesel has been a major sore spot.

With the new Ram HD Rebel, Stellantis tries to right some of that wrong. Think of this as a Cummins-powered off-roader.

2023 Ram 2500 Rebel Review Specs

  • Base price (as tested): $68,940 ($80,295 gas | $93,875 diesel)
  • Powertrain 
    • 6.4-liter Hemi V8: 8-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
    • 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel inline-six: 6-speed automatic | four-wheel drive
  • Performance
    • 6.4-liter Hemi V8: 410 hp @ 5,600 rpm | 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
    • 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel inline-six: 370 hp @ 2,800 rpm | 850 lb-ft @ 1,700
  • Wheelbase: 149 inches
  • Seating capacity: 5
  • Towing capacity 
    • 6.4-liter Hemi V8: 16,870 pounds 
    • 6.7-liter Cummins turbo diesel inline-six: 14,920 pounds
  • Off-road angles: 22.9° approach | 25.8° departure | 23.9° breakover
  • Max ground clearance: 13.1 inches
  • Curb weight: 7,000 pounds (est.)
  • Payload: 3,150 pounds
  • Estimated fuel economy: N/A
  • Quick take: A handsome tow machine that bites the style of the Power Wagon but doesn’t quite have the same off-road chops.
  • Score: 7/10

Why No Diesel Power Wagon?

Buyers want a diesel Power Wagon so they can do more work. But with a maximum tow capacity of 10,599 pounds and a payload limit of 1,630 pounds, its hauling capability is far below that of a conventional 2500. And simply adding a diesel won’t improve that. A plain-vanilla Ram 2500 Crew Cab 4x4 diesel can tackle trailers with weights that range from 14,000 pounds to just over 18,000 pounds. To be fair, one reason a Power Wagon can’t move as much weight has to do with the truck’s suspension. It’s been engineered with lower spring rates and tuned to deliver improved flex over difficult terrain. 

Another has to do with packaging. “Part of the reason we don’t have a diesel on the Power Wagon is that we can’t package the winch with the cooling that’s required for the diesel,” Jeff Johnson, Senior Manager for Ram Heavy Duty, explained. “The winch is one of the key factors. And if you want to go off-roading, all that extra weight on the front end (of the diesel) isn’t great for a rock-crawling type vehicle.”

Ram’s solution? Develop an all-new model that walks the line between heavy hauling capability and off-road prowess. The new $68,940 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel does exactly that. The Rebel comes exclusively as a Crew Cab short-bed 4x4 and slots nicely into the company’s truck lineup just below the Power Wagon. Does this new Rebel hit a compromise between heavy hauling and off-roading or does it come up a bit short? I traveled to the dusty desert roads around Pioneertown, California, to find out. 

Basic Bones

The basic bones of the Rebel share more componentry with a conventional 2500-series 4x4 than they do the Power Wagon. In fact, the frame and suspension system are identical to every other Ram 2500 with the exception of the Rebel’s Bilstein dampers. In short, this means the Rebel doesn’t get the Power Wagon’s two-inch lift, fancy swaybar disconnect system, or that special Articulink joint in the upper control arm to increase front axle twist.

However, to boost traction, the rear differential has the functionality to act as both a limited slip and fully electronic locker at the push of a button. Unlike the Power Wagon, the Rebel has an open front differential instead of an electronic locker. The Rebel sits tall on 285/60R20 (33-inch) tires that are similar to the Power Wagon in terms of tread pattern but carry a heavier Load Range E rating. The Power Wagon also uses 17-inch wheels instead of the 20-inch wheels on the Rebel. Larger wheels mean a lower tire profile so there’s less tire sidewall cushioning in rough terrain. On the flip side, that lower profile should improve handling and towing stability. In terms of protection, the Rebel offers skid plating for the fuel tank and transfer case. 

The standard Rebel has the familiar 6.4-liter gas V8 under the hood with 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque paired to an eight-speed automatic. Stick with the gas engine and you can spec an integrated 12,000-pound capacity with a Warn Zeon-12 electric winch and a synthetic line. (Diesel trucks cannot be fitted with the winch.) The gas Rebel is cleared to tow 16,870 pounds and handle a payload of 3,150 pounds. 

Ben Stewart

But the option many folks will choose is the Cummins diesel, here made distinct from its gasoline-powered sibling with a Cummins turbo diesel front fender badge. I was hoping that a truck named “Rebel” would have the High Output version of the Cummins diesel, rated at 1,075 lb-ft of torque. Nope. Ram is offering the normal rating for the 6.7-liter straight six, delivering 370 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque down at 1,700 rpm. Still good numbers to be sure, but a bit behind the competition. When equipped with the Cummins, the Rebel is rated to tow 14,920 pounds. 

“You can put a high-output Cummins in a 2500, but because of certain limitations of the truck, you’re not going to tow more,” Johnson said. “You’re not going to tow 25,000 or 30,000 pounds with a 2500 because the rest of the truck is just not set up to do that.”

Climb up inside and you’ll find the same class-leading interior found on other Ram trucks. Though cloth and leather bench seats are available in Base and Equipment Level I specs, the $93,875 Cummins test truck had the upscale full Natural Plus leather seating that comes in Level II trucks. Ram’s higher-spec interiors are delightful places to log long hours thanks to the fine materials and that massive, easy-to-navigate touchscreen. 

Stellantis

All 2023 Ram Heavy Duty trucks benefit from a new digital cluster that offers deep levels of configuration ability. The Ram HD goes big on mirrors for 2023, too. The optional digital rearview mirror has a three-view mode now that shows what’s happening down either side of the truck (thanks to side mirror cameras) as well as behind the truck or the trailer (if towing) when you opt for the auxiliary camera. The optional towing side mirrors not only extend at the push of a button but deliver front and rear work lights. Smart.

Driving the Rebel HD

On the roads around Pioneertown, the Rebel behaves in much the same way other Ram 2500s do—it’s a smooth-riding sweetheart of a heavy-duty truck. This rig is certainly in the hunt for the most comfortable truck in the class. And that makes sense considering it’s the only heavy-duty pickup with a sophisticated five-link, coil-sprung rear suspension instead of old-timey leaf springs. In fact, you can even option a Rebel with a rear air suspension. 

The Rebel is easy to drive, too, and somehow feels less massive than many competitors. Downsides? Those aggressive Goodyear Duratrac tires do produce a distinct hum on smooth pavement. And you do notice the excess weight of the diesel when you pile on the speed in a corner. That said, the Cummins diesel helps the big Ram tackle steep grades effortlessly. I accelerated up hills by simply toeing into the throttle and riding that massive wave of torque from 1,000 rpm to 2,000 rpm. It’s no wonder why it’s so popular with the towing crowd. And unlike older Cummins diesels, this generation is fairly quiet inside the cab. But when you compare the Cummins to the diesels from Ford and General Motors, the Ram 2500 doesn’t deliver quite the same hard-charging acceleration.

Later in the day, I tried an $80,295 Rebel equipped with the Hemi. Pin the throttle and the 6.4-liter V8 delivers solid acceleration thanks to the responsive, quick shifts of the eight-speed automatic. And it’s backed by a throaty growl that gets into your soul. Overall, the 6.4-liter Rebel is quieter and feels more athletic on twisty roads than the Cummins truck I drove earlier. 

The handsome Rebel was at home on the rock-strewn trails near Big Bear. The Ram folks aired the tires down from around 70 psi (street pressure) to 40 psi. which certainly helped soften the ride and boost traction. The trail here wasn’t particularly difficult, but a truck wearing milder tires would have been slipping for grip in some spots. This is a tall truck, so there’s plenty of clearance under the diffs as well as around the body sides. Unlike some manufacturers, Ram allows the rear locker to be engaged in 2WD as well as 4WD high range or low range. That gives the driver a lot of flexibility. 

At Ram’s fun off-road playground—a short and steep off-camber trail—the Rebel took every obstacle in stride. The torque-rich diesel made easy work of the climbs. However, the throttle is so sensitive on the diesel I often found myself asking for more torque than I wanted. I’d prefer a more relaxed throttle setting for low-range four-wheeling. Still, the Rebel rarely slipped a tire on this trail thanks to the electronic rear locker. On the way down, though, the Rebel’s stiff suspension didn’t flex too well. So the right rear tire spent some time airborne instead of gripping the trail. Later, I swapped into a gas truck and hit the playground trail again. The 6.4-liter’s throttle was easier to manage and overall it did feel like less weight on the nose, and that made it feel a little more balanced. 

Yet, when it comes to dirt performance, the Rebel does come up a bit short compared to Ford’s impressive F-250 Tremor. The Tremor is a more complete off-road package. Ford’s two-inch lifted suspension is designed with more flex than a normal F-250 and can fit taller 35-inch tires. The package also comes with a front limited-slip differential to complement the rear electronic locker. And the Tremor can be optioned with a diesel, too.

Overall, the 2023 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty Rebel is a solid package. It offers enough talent to tackle most of what a heavy-duty buyer would encounter in the rough. If ultimate off-road capability isn’t quite as important as towing and payload to you, then the stylish and smooth Rebel is really a hard truck not to fall for.

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