Lacey Eilliott: I like big trucks and I cannot lie. Ok, maybe this is a bit of a fib. The big one-ton trucks still overwhelm me. But, as I spend more and more time with several of the country’s bestselling half-ton trucks, I am starting to see that bigger can be better.
As someone who drove cars my entire life, even the small trucks felt big. However, manufacturers just keeping making these versatile machines better and better. Improving on every aspect that goes into making a truck that is not only capable and tough but also enjoyable to drive.
In the last six months I have spent time with the Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, and Toyota Tundra. Finally, after much anticipation I have seven days to get up close and personal with the completely redesigned fifth Generation 2019 Ram 1500.
It boasts best in class V8 towing, best in class rear seat legroom, and largest available touchscreen media centre.
With a long history of impressive trucks, this week I am driving the Ram 1500 Rebel crew cab. Designed with more off-road capability than the rest of the 1500s.
Dan Heyman: Well, Lacey, if we’re going to talk Sir Mix-A-Lot songs, I’m more of a “My Hooptie” man, myself – but perhaps that’s for another day.
For now, let’s focus on the 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel, which, for my money, is one of the coolest special editions of a mass-market pickup we’ve seen this side of the Ford F-150 Raptor. While you may not think of it as such, the Rebel has almost as much off-road clout as does the Ford, which I would find out while exploring some off-road trails in the wilds of northern Washington during my test.
Before I even get to that, though, I was pretty smitten with this truck. If there’s one thing Ram parent company FCA does right, it’s envelope-pushing versions of their standard fare; think the Jeep Trailhawk line-up, or the manic creations of FCA’s SRT division – stuff like the 1,000 hp Demon or wide-bodied Challenger Hellcat Redeye. In fact, when you look at it that way, the Rebel is kind of the “specialist” Ram when it comes to the tweaks it’s had done to it.
LE: No question that this new Ram is still a Ram. Dodge has streamlined the styling and has disposed of the big grille on all models except this Rebel. And this Rebel looks impressive.
Already an imposing stance, this trim adds some unique design cues to enhance its off-road appearance. The gorgeous vented, power-domed sport performance hood is my favorite exterior feature. The Rebel also gets aggressive looking fender flares, undercarriage protection, 18-inch black aluminum wheels with all-terrain tires and black “Ram” tail gate badging. It looks beefy and very bad ass.
Already known for its spacious interior, this new Ram has even more room. The extra 4 inches come from a longer wheelbase. This might not seem like much but Dodge has put every extra bit of this space to use. Those few extra inches allow Dodge to create an additional 40 litres of space inside the cabin. Both the centre console and underneath the back bench gets more space for stuff. From smart phones and purses to oversized bags. Anything that you need for work or play will find its own place in here. The rear floor now folds flat. As expected, those extra inches also provide more leg room for the rear passengers.
Dodge delivers an impressively high level of fit and finish throughout the entire cabin. It is refined and feels just as good as it looks. So luxurious, this interior gives the high end GMC Denali a run for its money: buttons, toggle switches, soft touch materials, and accents of gloss black. It looks phenomenal, but that glossy finish gets dusty very quickly. It wouldn’t be my first choice for a truck that is going to be spending time on dusty, dirty un-paved roads.
Exclusive to the Rebel trim is stitching throughout the dashboard and seats. The gorgeous black and dark ruby colour scheme is the only interior colour available. Personally, I love it, but I think it might turn some people off. It is a lot of red and it’s unfortunate that there is no another choice available.
The seats in this Rebel come standard in the same red and black colour. Cloth and vinyl two-tone scheme with the tread pattern of the Goodyear DuraTrac tires printed on the seatbacks and bottoms look funky. This unique style is easy on the eyes and comfortable enough to spend an entire day cruising around in them.
This trim only comes as 4×4 but does offer a choice of short or long box, crew or quad cab.
DH: Agreed; the Rebel is most definitely a Ram; thing is, that’s saying quite a bit as this latest generation 1500 is probably the baddest (in a good way) looking truck on the market today. The front fascia looks unquestionably tough with all its blocky inserts and right angles, but the way the headlights and grille bars are shaped also make it look like the kind of pickup we’re supposed to be seeing in the year 2020 (yes, it’s a 2019 but it won’t be changing much next year). It’s almost like I’ve seen this latest Rebel before, in a movie set in the future but one that uses current vehicles with customized styling to better fit the setting. Of course, the tailgate area isn’t quite so remarkable but let’s be honest: how much are you going to style a diagonal piece of steel? Other than the giant “RAM” scripting across the back and the LED taillights, there isn’t all that much one can do.
I still consider it quite the feat, though, because if you ask any designer, they’ll tell you that pickups and SUVs – but especially pickups – are the hardest thing to design.
So what you do, then, is add detailing like Lacey outlines; all sorts of chunky grilles and vents on the hood, the muscular shape of the hood itself, the incredibly ferocious-looking wheels and tires – all here to show that this isn’t your average work truck. There’s lots more going on here, and that’s fantastic.
It’s just so great how when you stare through the windshield, you see that massive hood gently bobbing ahead of you; you just really get this sense that you’re driving something chunky, tough and purposeful. I love how it makes me feel like I’m The Rock’s Agent Hobbs of Fast and Furious (or is that Hobbs and Shaw?) fame, and that there’s nothing out there that’s going to stop me. Nothing freaking at all.
ON THE ROAD
LE: Power to this Ram is delivered from a 5.7-liter HEMI VVT V8 with FuelSaver MDS. This engine puts out 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. It growls deeply when under acceleration.
For those unfamiliar with this multi-displacement system, it is an advanced fuel saving technology. It deactivates cylinders during easy cruising, but will give you the full force of the engine when you put your foot down. What is most important with this system is that it is completely seamless.
FuelSaver MDS is the best of both worlds. A decent amount of power and some fuel savings.
A smooth-shifting eight-speed automatic controlled by a rotary dial on the dash is the only available transmission. One thing missing in this update, I would have liked to see a sport setting available similar to Ford and GM.
As I mentioned earlier, the Rebel is intended for more off-road adventures. Because of this, it has better gearing for off-pavement adventures. It also gets Bilstein shocks and a locking rear differential so that you will always maintain your grip.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get this beast off the pavement so I can’t speak to how it handles on rugged terrain. But despite its off road intentions, this is a very confident daily driver.
I would have expected a rougher ride or less confident handling during normal driving but was surprised. The electric power steering is accurate and takes very little effort. I think the Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires help contribute to the quiet ride.
The rear suspension across the line up is still coil springs.
However, added onto this truck for an additional $1,895 is the Active-level Four-Corner air suspension. It is a class-exclusive suspension that automatically lowers the truck at highway speeds to help reduce drag and increase efficiency. And it does a phenomenal job of evening out any irregularities on the road.
The back-up camera and air suspension makes hooking up to a trailer super easy. Line up the tongue, raise or lower the suspension and the ball just slips underneath. Technology that makes this task easy to do even on your own.
The 2019 Ram is 102kg lighter with a chassis that is stronger due to more high strength steel. Helping to increase both payload and towing capacity. When properly equipped this truck can tow up to 5,783kg (12,750lbs).
This Rebel crew cab with the 5.7 Hemi and 3.92 rear axle ratio has a max towing capacity of 5,121kg (11,290lbs). If you plan to do any towing with this truck, I would add on the Trailer Tow Group for an additional $525. It adds black folding trailer tow mirrors and trailer brake control. The trailer brake control is a standalone option for $375 but the convenience of having custom tow mirrors is worth purchasing them together.
DH: While the coils springs are a help, it’s not like you’ll be fooled into thinking you’re driving anything but an off-road basher of a truck, and if I’m honest, I’m going to go ahead and say that most Rebel buyers are 100% okay with that. You don’t buy a truck like this to cruise comfortably to the ball; you buy it so you feel like the best part of the ball is the shortcut through a construction site or a logging road.
Lacey didn’t get to take it off road; that’s a shame, but I did and it’s here that the Rebel experience really came into focus for me. Yeah, the Hemi is great (I mean, who doesn’t like a Hemi?), the 8-speed automatic transmission helps make covering long distances that much easier (and not bad on fuel, either; I managed 775 km on full tank of gas), the cabin is surprisingly luxurious and plenty roomy (flat rear load floor for the win!) but all that melts right away as soon as you proceed off the beaten track.
Call it my sixth sense, but at one point during my drive I drove past a dirt road that I just knew I had to revisit as I returned from my destination. Can’t explain it; just felt it. To be honest, I just though it would be a great place to take pics (which it was, as you can see), but it turned out to be a whole lot more than that.
What looked like a simple unpaved service path between two sets of powerline paths turned out to be a moonscape, with big three-foot-deep holes, muddy from a recent rain and just rife to put the Rebel and it’s tall suspension to the test.
So, good car writer that I am, I tackled this baby full-force; not right away, as I wanted to get a feel for things first but eventually I found myself trying to find the bumpstops on the long-travel suspension. I would, but only once or twice as the rest of these obstacles were swallowed up by the Rebel like Homer Simpson swallows all-you-can-eat shrimp.
I swear; there were times where I thought I was literally floating above the ground, so able was the Rebel to just take it all in stride. Yes; the long-ish wheelbase (it’s only available in one configuration: quad cab with short box) caused a moment or two over longer, repeated bumps but the rest was all gravy. This is one truck that, if you’re the competition, you do not step to in an off-road environment because it won’t just step to you, it will step on—then over you—with nary a bat of an eye.
As Lacey mentions: it has all kinds of capability in the tow and haul senses, too, but I just don’t think I’d get into the Rebel if that was my main focus. There are diesel-powered and longer-bed 1500 models if that’s what you want to do. With the Rebel, it’s all about how unstoppable it makes you as the driver feel by way of how unstoppable it actually is. G’head; get it dirty. You wouldn’t be doing it justice if you didn’t.
SAFETY & TECHNOLOGY
LE: Uconnect is the connected vehicle platform built into FCA vehicles. Delivering advanced connectivity, entertainment and navigation. It has won several awards and, in my experiences, is currently one of the best functioning systems in new vehicles.
This next-generation Uconnect 4 is seamless and quick. Once connected, I see the same display on the touchscreen that is on my phone. This means you don’t have to learn the layout of another new system.
My test truck has the Level 2 equipment group for an additional $3,040. It adds the 8.4 inch touch screen, dual-zone temp control, heated front seats and steering wheel, power adjustable pedals, and remote start and rain-sensing windshield wipers. A few items that make driving this truck more enjoyable.
Without this upgrade, the display is only 5 inches. This 8.4 inch display fills the centre console perfectly. Available this year is a 12-inch screen, which makes it the largest available media centre in this class. A lot of people find the bigger screen easier to see and therefore easier to use.
The upgraded 8.4 screen is perfect for me. Personally, I find the bigger screens can be a distraction.
DH: A five-inch screen? No thank you. That’s tiddlywinks in this day and age, and Ram’s Uconnect system is so good if you get the larger screen that you really don’t want to miss out on it. It’s incredibly fast and slick, and it’s one of the only times I managed to utilize Google Play Music through Apple CarPlay with no hiccups; all my playlists loaded correctly, and making a connection took no time, every time I tried it.
I was less enamoured with the driver aid systems, however; it seems that as I ran through my checklist of what should be available on a near-$75,000 truck, I kept finding stuff that I thought should be there, but wasn’t. Stuff like adaptive cruise control, active lane-keep assist and cooled seats are all absent, which is a shame. I also found the blind-spot warning system to be overly sensitive, and the tone it emits when it senses a car in your blind spot to be way, way too invasive and loud. Our tester had an active noise cancellation system which is great, but being deafened by an electronic nanny kind of defies the point, doesn’t it?
Maybe so, but what it does do is point to the fact that this is a truck that’s at its best off the beaten track; after all, when you’re splashing through foot-deep puddles and cresting yet another shale-covered hill, I’m pretty sure your BLIS isn’t going to be at the forefront of your thoughts.
LE: As I mentioned earlier, this is the truck you will want for off-road adventures. The Rebel branded driver information screen not only looks wonderful, it shows useful information. Seven inches wide with gorgeous graphics it displays off-road data like pitch and yaw and component heat measurements.
As expected, there is a new Ram for everybody. The base Tradesman starting at $34,845 gives you a great truck but is really basic. And the top of the line Limited, with all the bells and whistles starts at $65,345. This Rebel starts at $51,345 and my truck as tested comes to $73,305.
Also priced in the middle of the bunch is the Canadian exclusive Sport Model for $43,345. A uniquely styled and trimmed truck not available south of the border.
Ram delivers a compelling choice in this market. It has a wide range of prices and options from a complete work horse to family fun and even luxury needs. The new truck has incredibly good looks and a more impressive interior that its competition can’t match.
This Rebel gives you an off-road truck that is also very content to just be a daily people mover. No wonder I am falling in love with these trucks.
DH: When it’s all said and done, the bottom line is that the 1500 Rebel is an incredibly cool truck. It’s mixture of styling and proper off-road features is spot-on, and the fact that it benefits from Rams having the best interiors in the truck game is just icing on the cake. Yes; you have to be ready to accept the slight shortcomings that the big suspension, big tires, and tall ride height presents (not to mention the lack of the electronic driver aids we mentioned), but once you do that, you’d be hard-pressed to find a truck in the segment with as much presence and panache as this. Indeed, that’s what many truck buyers are after.