2015 Ram 1500 Rebel First Drive

Let’s get one thing straight from the start: The Ram Rebel is not a Ford Raptor-fighter. That was the Ram Runner, and it’s dead now. No, this is Ram’s rebuttal to Ford’s FX4 Off-Road package for the F-150, Chevrolet’s Z71 Off-Road package for the Silverado, Toyota’s TRD Pro package for the Tundra, and Nissan’s Pro-4X package for the Titan. Set your expectations accordingly.

That established, let’s talk about what makes a Rebel. The Ram people say it’s a reaction to customer behavior, as a lot of truck buyers immediately install a lift kit and a new wheel and tire package. Ram figured it could offer something like that from the factory easy enough, with the added benefit of having the modifications designed to work together, covered by the warranty and serviceable at Ram dealers.

Ram’s modifications are as clever as they are simple: The Ram 1500’s optional air suspension is standard on the Rebel, but the default ride height is now an inch higher, what a standard Ram would call Off Road 1. It’s now backed by Bilstein monotube shocks, and the alignment, steering gear, and rear anti-roll bar have all been tuned for the higher default center of gravity. A rear limited-slip differential is optional. A new front bumper incorporates tow hooks and a skidplate, with additional protection under the vehicle, and 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T tires increase capability and the wow factor. Fender flares, blacked-out trim, and giant badges round out the look. The interior features red accent trim, beefy rubber floormats, and the tire tread pattern embossed in the seat backs.

You’ve likely come to the conclusion I first did, which is that Ram didn’t really do all that much. Compare it with rival packages, though, and you’ll find it perfectly matched. Ram simply came up with a cooler name and tougher look than most of the competition, and what the Rebel might lack in quantity of modifications it more than compensates for in quality.’

We’ll start off-road because that’s the whole point. To demonstrate the Rebel’s capability, Ram took us to the San Francisco Volcanic Field outside Flagstaff, Arizona, in what turned out to be mostly terrible weather. The terrain Ram had intended us to conquer was made mostly of volcanic cinder, which is more or less like coarse, loosely packed gravel. The weather, however, ensured the rest of the driving would involve standing water and several inches of snow on top of mud the consistency and stickiness of saltwater taffy. That none of us managed to get a single truck stuck in any of that mess is a testament, as the cinder Ram wanted us to drive on had the trucks dug in to their rims more often than not.

All this perhaps best illustrates the Rebel’s key feature: Ram’s inspired choice of the Toyo Open Country A/T tire. Not just for show, these knobby wonders clawed their way through every surface we could find. Even completely saturated with taffy mud, they continued to dig in and keep the truck moving. Note that this was the same sort of mud that shut down the off-road driving course at the nearby Overland Expo (where, incidentally, attendees had high praise to sing of the Toyo Open Country A/T). More than simply getting us through the cinder, mud, and snow (without needing to be aired down, as we discovered by trying it both ways), the tires helped keep the truck well under control in all conditions. Be it blasting down a packed gravel road, working through the mud, or turning onto a paved road, the tires bit hard and kept the rear of the truck firmly planted. Getting it sideways took considerable effort, and any slip it gave was predictable, linear, and easily controlled.

Of course, credit for this stability also goes to the Bilstein shocks and Ram’s suspension tuning. The air spring and shock combination (not to mention the fat tire sidewalls) provided a surprisingly comfortable ride both on-road and off. The combo proved adept at handling large and small bumps and holes in pavement, and it soaked up off-road obstacles just as well. The suspension has no more travel than standard Rams, but in all our beating on it, we only managed to bottom out the suspension once. Let’s be clear about this: My co-drivers and I were not nice to this truck, at all, and we couldn’t hurt it.

It could, however, hurt its own cause. Our mutual major objection to the Rebel (aside from the grille) was the electronic stability control. On the Rebel, you’re supposed to be able to turn stability control completely off. This is not the case. Putting aside the fact that you can only achieve full deactivation with the truck in 4WD, if you find yourself several inches deep in gravel or mud, you’ll find you don’t have full authority over the throttle. Every time we found ourselves in this situation, the computer ignored our throttle inputs and limited wheelspin, even when it would’ve been far more advantageous to keep engine and wheel speeds up to avoid getting stuck. On more than one occasion, we found ourselves slowing to a crawl and unable to modulate the throttle, relying instead on the computer’s wisdom and the tires’ bite. Yes, the computer saved us from potentially overdoing it and digging ourselves in, but it also restricted our options at a critical moment. There are few more helpless feelings than being in control of a vehicle on the verge of getting stuck, and it’s only worse when you’re prevented from doing everything possible to avoid it. The lack of a hill descent control feature is also a small disappointment.

On the road, where most Rebels will spend most of their lives, it was really no less livable than a standard Ram 1500. The big off-road tires make a little more noise than street tires, but the truck rides, handles, stops, and goes just as well. You sit a little higher, and there’s a stronger urge to get off the pavement than usual, but there’s no real compromise to the driving experience in return for the greater off-road ability. As the suspension is mostly the same, there are no penalties to towing or hauling ratings, either.

All of this must be read with the caveat that the only pre-production Rebels Ram had available for this test drive were V-8 four-wheel drive models with the optional 3.92:1 rear end. The Rebel is also available in rear-wheel drive, with a V-6, and with a 3.21:1 rear end — the V-6 model is available with four-wheel drive and 3.92:1 gears only. For now, the EcoDiesel engine is not available, as the factory that builds them is maxed out, and the Rebel will only be offered in the four-door Crew Cab and 5-foot-7-inch bed, as that combination accounts for 70 percent of Ram sales. The RamBox bed pictured is optional.

The Ram Rebel may not be a factory Baja pre-runner, but it’s an impressively capable truck nonetheless. Ram has built a more aggressive and better branded off-road package for a half-ton pickup than any of its competitors. Doubters are welcome to try to keep up on the trail.

Read more at: http://www.msn.com/en-us/autos/autos-trucks/2015-ram-1500-rebel-first-drive/ar-BBjVY72

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