On the Road Review: Ram Rebel Crew Cab 4X4

The Ram Stampede pulled into town on a cold, rainy December night. Three shiny examples of the newest pickup offerings from Chrysler/FCA’s popular truck division — this Flame Red Rebel, a Flame Red Power Wagon 2500 with the 6.4 Hemi, plus a new Cummins Diesel-powered 2500 Crew Cab — clearly demonstrated that Ram intends on being a major player in this profitable segment. Through the first week of the 12th month, Ram pickup sales were up 7.5 percent for the year, placing the brand firmly in third place as the country’s best-selling vehicle line.

Pulling out of Middleboro, Mass., on that dreary night, the Rebel 1500 Crew Cab was pointed north to Maine for an extended visit. Almost 1,400 New England rural miles later, the Ram proved to be a competent warrior as well as a worthy adversary in the very intense truck sales market. Its virtues outweighed its negatives and once again illustrated why pickups have become so popular in the American marketplace. These four-door family trucks work, play, entertain, commute and travel as well as many crossovers and even some luxury vehicles.

First, the basics. Ram pickup pricing reflects sales gains, as a base regular cab Ram is priced almost the same as the top-selling Ford F-150 — each starting around $26,400. Ram adds four-door Quad Cab and Crew Cab models — like its rivals — as this segment has shifted almost completely away from its base cab roots. Our Crew Cab sample provided huge rear doors (almost as wide as the front doors) with excellent access, a spacious rear seat with tons of leg-room plus an almost flat load floor side-to-side.

Up front, the Rebel came with a fixed center console rather than a 40/20/40 bench seat that would provide six-passenger seating. The wide console mimics other pickup offerings; big spaces on top for cell-phones, drinks, miscellaneous articles, with deep, wide bins inside as well as several media ports. Ram uses a dash-mounted rotary shifter here — an eight-speed transmission below — allowing more console space but some odd interaction as tiny steering wheel buttons are needed to manage manual shifting as necessary. Kind of counterintuitive, but it works well after several days of getting used to the oddity of it.

Access to controls, switches and buttons is very good with overall driver ergonomics among the best in this class. The Ram gets high marks for the excellent U-Connect system that Chrysler uses everywhere — big 8.4-inch screen, simple buttons, clear graphics, lots of useful info, including storm alerts with Sirius Weather — plus the now standard back-of-the-steering wheel audio controls remain the best. Add heated wheel and multi-stage seat heaters and winter’s chill didn’t stand a chance in the Ram.

Given the smooth operation of the Ram’s other controls, the clunky — and noisy — left-of-column stalk for turn signals and windshield wiper operation was notable. And since the Ram was driven with front wipers necessary for six of the nine-day visit, it drew frequent ire.

The Rebel is slotted in Ram’s extensive lineup (no fewer than 10 trim levels) as an off-road focused pickup with the hardware needed for serious non-pavement driving. Seventeen-inch Toyo 285/70R all-terrain tires mounted on stealthy blacked-out rims are trimmed by extended wheel flares. Tow hooks front and rear, painted bumpers, fake hood scoops and distinct front and rear fascia’s scream that this is not your regular Ram. Add anti-spin rear differential, a 3.92 rear axle ratio and four-corner selectable air suspension to the Ram’s coil spring rear suspension and the truck can add an inch of ground clearance, or, lower itself to a 2WD stance that aids access. Three buttons are used for four-wheel drive, with no auto-mode available here.

The Rebel is also a limited edition model. Most will be offered with the 395-hp Hemi V-8, while our Crew Cab used the corporate 3.6-liter 305-hp V-6 engine. Acceleration is more than adequate despite the Ram’s mass — over 5,900 pounds — and the motor never left me thinking “I could have had a V-8”. The base V-6 here has more peak horsepower than either the GM or Ford V-6’s, however we didn’t do any towing to gauge how well this powerplant would perform under strain.

Getting up and down the highway at the pace of traffic never proved to be an issue, although the eight-speed automatic struggled to hold top gear on the rolling terrain of Vermont and New Hampshire. EPA mileage estimates for this powertrain are 16/23/19 mpg, and this engine is a Flex-Fuel motor capable of E85 use. But our realized fuel economy all too often reflected the impact of speed, the terrain and the seasonably cold weather. Keep speeds at 60 mph or below and the on-board trip computer would nudge 21 mpg. Enter the highway and get up to pace, and the trip computer would quickly recede to 17 mpg — or less. Apparently it takes the flat plains of Kansas to achieve the 23-mpg rating, as our actual economy for the Ram’s visit was only 17.2 mpg after five fill-ups. Maybe the V-8 would have been the same or better, but this result was disappointing and barely exceeded our recent Tundra’s V-8 fuel economy and is significantly less than our last Ford Eco-boost V-6 sample.

Fuel economy may not be a high priority for off-road-oriented pickup buyers — given today’s low fuel prices — but we know that situation will not last forever. The folks at Ram are going to capitalize on pickup popularity levels never seen before, low fuel prices, and the excitement of power as the 2017 Rebel TRX will debut later this year with a unique 6.2-liter supercharged Hemi. Regular readers of this space will know that motor as the Hellcat V-8. It will make 575 hp in the Rebel TRX and be combined with a long-travel air suspension, more aggressive graphics and larger tires to create a true Raptor-like rival.

From the helm, the Ram makes better impressions with its direct steering feel and relatively agile handling. A tight turning radius gives the driver confidence in small spaces, while the truck’s tracking and over-the-road stability made every trip comfortable and composed. The cabin is markedly quieter than our recent Toyota — despite the more aggressive tires used here — while visibility is good and the seat supportive.

Rebel trim adds contrasting red trim to the black interior, creating visual excitement. The bezel trim in the dash, around the console, along the doors, and prominently around the seats with their embossed tire tread pattern in the textured upholstery, the Rebel treatment is visually pleasing and to some level, a little upscale looking. Monochromatic black interiors are passé; the Ram’s look here is modern, efficient and functional.

In the working end, no Ram Boxes here but a soft tonneau cover and spray-in bedliner are included. The Ram does lack, however, any standard step assist to access the elevated bed, plus the tailgate needs a spring assist so that it doesn’t open with a heavy bang. An optional under-bumper fold-out step is available.

Oddities: there was no CD player in the Ram and no rear seat coat hooks — perhaps reflecting the changes in buyer preferences? There was no auto-dimming interior mirror either and no blind-spot detection or lane-change sensors, although there were audible parking sensors and a rear camera. These omissions only seem relevant given the Rebel’s list price level.

Rebel pricing starts at $45,200 with our Crew Cab Rebel stickering for $50,400 with the V-6 engine. The Hemi adds $1,150. The Ram is built in Warren, Mich.

FCA is selling the heck out of its truck lineup, heavily relying on Ram and Jeep sales to carry the company. More than 80 percent of FCA’s sales are trucks — the highest ratio in the industry.

The Ram remains the only light-duty 1500-series pickup with a turbo-diesel engine option, (with the highest EPA rating of any half-ton truck, 29 mpg) the only truck with the independent rear suspension, and the only lineup with this many model offerings. There is a lot to like with the Ram.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.

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