[REVIEW} 2019 Dodge Ram Rebel Hemi V8

Getting pickup truck owners to convert brands is an immensely difficult task. Even General Motors has somewhat of that issue between its Chevy and GMC offerings, the Silverado and Sierra. Therefore you can imagine how much more of a hill it is to climb for other competing manufacturers.

Pickup truck owners continue to wage bragging rights over stats such as towing capacity, horsepower, torque, and more. Often for many buyers, the final purchase decision still comes down to brand loyalty.

Therefore, for manufacturers, it’s an all-out war as the designers crack their heads to conjure up the latest innovative storage solution, increasingly more luxurious interiors, and new technological toys to improve not only ride and handling, but day-to-day safety and usability as a work vehicle.

What’s new?

The second, third, and forth generation Rams all featured a front-end design inspired by a big-rig with its oversized front grille. Although this design was deemed risky, it ultimately proved very popular with customers.

This 2019 fifth-generation model, however, features a much more aerodynamic exterior design than its predecessors, with wraparound front headlamps with LED daytime running lamps that integrate into a new front grille. Gone is the old interlocking cross-hair front grille on previous Ram models, replaced by a new design with a prominent “RAM” nameplate in the centre.

In addition to its updated exterior styling, the fifth generation Ram is up to about 225 pounds lighter than its predecessor despite being larger. Two engines with mild hybrid systems are also available, thanks to the addition of a belt-drive motor generator backed by a 48-volt battery pack.

While this truck’s powertrain is familiar, the chassis is where the 2019 Ram really shines. The newly designed boxed frame utilizes plenty of high- and ultra-high-strength steel, optimized in all the right places for modest weight saving. There is also a larger midsection with specialized front and rear sections optimized for Ram’s class-exclusive coil-spring rear suspension.

As with previous Ram models, the dizzying array of special packages and editions, cab and bed configurations, and trim levels still exist.

Hard-working pick-up truck owners from decades ago would likely scorn at the number of interior niceties that are available on the Ram today, but even the roughest farm hand can appreciate power-folding mirrors, adjustable pedals, and a heated steering wheel.

For the purposes of this review, I tested the 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 Rebel equipped with the 5.7-litre HEMI V8.

What is it?

The Rebel is the dirt slingin’ edition for the off-road enthusiast with the equipment to back up its rough and tumble good looks. Unlike the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Ram 1500 Rebel isn’t the most expensive nor does it sit at the top of the lineup.

However, like the Raptor, it comes with several options that are exclusive to this trim level. Starting from where the rubber meets the road, the Rebel has knobby 33-inch-diameter all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires and its own unique 18-inch aluminum wheels that are not found anywhere else on the Ram line-up.

Compared to its predecessor, the wheels are now 1” larger, and the new truck’s switch to Goodyear rubber from the previous Toyo A/T Open Country tires has resulted in a surprisingly hushed ride on tarmac despite the aggressive profile.

The suspension has upgraded shock absorbers as well, Bilstein monotube dampers all around with external reservoirs for those at the rear. My test vehicle was also equipped with the 1500’s optional air-spring suspension, good for 10.8 inches of ground clearance in the highest Off-road 2 setting versus 9.8 inches with the standard steel coils.

Handily, the air suspension system also has an Aero mode that lowers to reduce drag and therefore fuel consumption at highway speeds, plus an entry/exit mode which squats the Rebel (up to speeds of only 20 km/hr) for easier entry or egress from the cabin.

This mode also comes in handy when parking in underground parking garages. However, annoyingly, unlike the system from Land Rover, one cannot “lock” the height at low speeds, which makes it a bit dodgy when relying on the extra clearance in parking garages.

Rear and four-wheel drive setups are offered but not all-wheel-drive. Ram says that most Rebel buyers are fine with the conventional 2WD, 4WD, and 4WD low modes, which is why the full-time all-wheel-drive setup, made possible by a BorgWarner on-demand transfer case, is omitted from the Rebel’s build sheet.

Looks-wise, aside from the wheels that make it immediately discernible from the other Rams, the Rebel also has a hood with special vents, fender flares, and beefier bumpers.

When properly equipped the Ram 1500 has a towing capacity of up to 12,750 pounds and 2,300 pounds of payload.

How does it drive?

The Ram’s air ride suspension earns high marks for comfort and control over rough surfaces that would be abusive in the standard truck. Still, tackle off-road surfaces with too much aggression and the Ram will likely still kiss its bump stops.

It is important to remember that the Rebel is a fortified version of a standard pickup truck, similar to the Toyota Tundra TRD Pro and the Chevy Silverado Trail Boss, and not a fully integrated performance rig in the vein of Ford’s F-150 Raptor. You do indeed get what you pay for, which is why the Ram Rebel is significantly less expensive than the Raptor.

When driven on the road or within its limits off-road though, and the Ram Rebel’s big Goodyears dig into corners with impressive grip and composure. On the tarmac, the large tread block pattern does compromise stopping distances and grip somewhat. To round out the rest of the tough-truck gear, the Ram Rebel is also equipped with skid plates for the front suspension, steering gear, transfer case, fuel tank as well as hill-descent control and an electronic locking rear differential.

Although the Rebel’s maximum departure angle (23.8 degrees) gives up a little to a comparable standard Ram 1500’s because of its prominent tailpipes, its maximum angles of approach (26.7 degrees) and breakover (21.8) are notably greater.

The electrically-assisted power steering is slightly numb on paved roads, partly due to the knobbly tires, but yet allows for effortless corrections on loose surfaces or in tight parking maneuvers.

My test vehicle was equipped with the good old-fashioned optional pushrod 5.7-litre Hemi V8 producing 395 horsepower and 410 lb-ft of torque. Also available is the base 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine with 305 hp. Fiat Chrysler’s eTorque 48-volt mild-hybrid system comes standard on the V6 and is good for a brief boost of 90 lb-ft with the V6 and 130 lb-ft on the V8.

The Hemi V8 is not totally old school though. It has performance-enhancing and fuel-saving technology including variable valve timing and cylinder deactivation. Paired with the eight-speed automatic transmission, the V8 delivers a smooth and broad power band with a wonderfully throaty V8 rumble. Out back, there is a deep-throated growl from the dual exhaust outlets to accompany the ample shove into the seat when you floor the accelerator pedal.

The eight-speed gearbox is well tuned and downshifts fairly quickly in response to throttle in-puts. Axle ratios stats are what truck guys love, and therefore it would be remiss to leave out the 3.92:1 axle ratio and the transfer case’s 2.64:1 low-range gearing. Both help to make the Rebel a billy goat on off-road slopes.

To quell errand vibrations, such as those from the Hemi’s cylinder-deactivation system, Ram affixes active-damper modules to the frame. Think of them as essentially small cans with solenoid-activated weights inside which move to cancel out any undesired vibrations. The end result is arguably the most refined low-speed ride and interior environment of any full-size pickup.

Despite its fuel saving trickery though, this is still a large displacement eight-cylinder engine which means that fuel consumption will figures are relatively high. Perhaps this is also why Ram offers a massive 124-litre fuel tank as an option.

On the inside

This, ladies and gents, is one of the best pick-up truck interiors on the market today. The new Ram’s cabin is filled with high-tech gadgets, as well as thoughtful storage solutions for the working man or woman.

The console features a huge cargo bin, cupholders, rubberised nubs to hold a phone or tablet in a viewable position, and a dual-level center armrest with cubbies.

I really appreciated the measurements/conversions printed on the underside of the centre console lid as well. While unlikely to be used in real life, it’s nonetheless a thoughtful feature that can act as a conversation piece.

The overhead console is another nice touch, as is the mini console dedicated to the rear-seat passengers, which hosts a pair of cupholders, USB ports (two each, regular and USB-C), and an AC power outlet.

My vehicle came equipped with the optional leather upholstery featuring the tread pattern of the Goodyear DuraTrac tires printed on the seatbacks and bottoms. The door panels and trim panels on the dashboard and centre console are two toned black and red, something that you’ll either love or hate.

What you’ll not be likely to hate though, is the optional 8.4-inch UConnect infotainment touchscreen, as equipped on my Rebel (a 5.0 inch unit is standard, and an even bigger 12 inch unit is optional).

UConnect is a very intuitive system, fully reconfigurable, and among the best on the market. One can even set up and save multiple trailer configurations via UConnect. Something that all RV or trailer owners will be sure to appreciate.

Crew cab versions of the Ram, including the Rebel, feature a flat floor in back and seats that flip up, allowing you to store valuables in the safety of the cabin. RamBins, hidden underneath the rear floormats, have grown in size to better accommodate hitch receivers or ratchet straps.

However, you won’t be able to hide a bag under the rear seats like you can in an F-150.

In a first for pickups, the new Ram 1500’s higher trim levels (not including the Rebel) have a rear bench seat that reclines up to 8 degrees and is heated and cooled, as well.

Parting Thoughts

No segment is more competitive or important to Detroit’s automakers. These trucks are loved and driven by millions globally, and arguably act as the face of the brands.

For years, Ford’s F-Series has been the best-selling truck in the USA with the Chevrolet Silverado coming in second and the Ram placing a distant third. But yet, early in April 2019 something different happened when Ram passed the Silverado for the first time.

Now, these results deserve an asterisk since if you add Chevy Silverado’s and GMC Sierra’s sales together, General Motors, as a whole still sold more full-sized pickup trucks than Ram did. However, this is still worth noting as America is the land of the pickup trucks.

Overall, this latest generation Ram 1500 has been designed to satisfy the desires of the modern truck buyer. One that may go bolder bashing one weekend, mattress shopping on another weekend, but yet also use the truck for the daily school run.

With such a diverse set of skills needed, the Ram balances capability, efficiency, and quality. Despite its off-road credentials, the 2019 Ram Rebel succeeds in servicing up a polished experience, almost equal to some luxury cars, right from the moment Drive is selected via the dash-mounted shift dial.

As a whole then, the all-new 2019 Dodge Ram 1500 offers enough improvements all around in pretty much all areas that will both appeal to loyalists, but also hopefully lure buyers away from other brands.


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