The Ram Power Wagon is an unstoppable beast, but the smaller Ram Rebel has some chops, too
A monstrous pickup may not be the obvious first choice for off-roading in the Arizona desert.
But if there were any doubts, a day spent climbing the Backway to Crown King, about 5,900 feet above sea level, put them to rest.
The folks at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles plotted a route from the aptly named Carefree, Arizona, to a restaurant in Crown King and back to Flagstaff for the night so we could catch Overland Expo in the morning on Mormon Lake.
Our chariots: some Power Wagons and the relatively new Ram 1500 Rebel.
The first lesson: There is no stopping the Ram 2500 Power Wagon. It’s a cross between a woolly mammoth and a mountain goat. There were no obstacles on the old mine roads too tough for this truck.
The second lesson: The Rebel is more than just a rugged face. It’s surprisingly capable and tackled obstacles that it could have easily justified bypassing.
Our guide, the inimitable Nena Barlow of Barlow Adventures, augmented the experience with her knowledge of plant life and local lore. Our timing was perfect. We were climbing trails during the two weeks that many of the cacti were blooming, and we were treated to beautiful white flowers atop the Sonoran Desert barrel cactus.
Before leaving Carefree, some air was let out of the tires for comfort—some of the washboard roads and stones were chiropractor bait. For an idea of how well we were shaken, my Fitbit thought I walked 18,000 steps over the roughly 35-mile (56-km) trail.
The Ram 2500 is a huge truck already, and the Power Wagon has a raised suspension. With 33-inch tires, we’re talking 14.3 inches of ground clearance, making it a feat to climb into with the rocker step rails removed—the floor of the cab was at my hip, which made for some entertaining mounts and dismounts on the trail. Peeing in the bush was easier. Once inside, it’s true theater seating—until a steep incline or decline when you can’t see the ground past the massive hood.
The Ram is also the only truck in the segment that comes from the factory with the ability to electronically lock the front as well as the rear differential. When we got hung up on a rock, we eased back and hit the magic locking button, and the truck crawled over the boulder easily.
Contributing to the capability is the ability to disconnect the anti-roll bar, which allows for crazy articulation. The truck also has Bilstein off-road shock absorbers and a 12,000-pound (5,443 kg) winch, which comes standard from the factory and was not needed on this day. Under the hood is a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 engine that generates 410 horsepower.
For 2017 Ram offers a new off-road group for all 2500 pickups. It packages the basic food groups such as skidplates, tow hooks, and hill-descent control. Some of these features were available in the past, but the package, available for just under $1,000 USD, is new and will launch later this year.
Ram is determined to own the off-road market, prompting the addition of the Rebel as an off-road trim package last year. It quickly became Ram’s fastest-selling truck, Kevin Metz, head of Ram brand marketing, said. Today, orders outstrip supply. The Rebel half-tons in our pack were the lightweights of the group. But they proved quite capable, rarely having to go around the gnarlier parts of the trail.
The Rebel has a unique grille, steel outer-covered skidplate, 17-inch tires, and seats that replicate the tread pattern of the Toyo tires. It’s a design Ram plans to roll out to other trucks for the 2017 model year (2016s and 2017s are shown in this review). The Rebel is offered with a choice of the 3.6-liter V-6 or the 5.7-liter Hemi V-8.
The half-ton rides well on-road, and with an air suspension system to gain an extra inch of ground clearance over a standard Ram 1500, it also performs well on the trail. It also has Bilstein shocks, and 33-inch Toyo Open Country tires.
All in all, the Rebel offers a strong alternative to the Power Wagon we drove for all but the hard core. And the pricing is closer than you might think. The Rebel starts at $44,465 USD to the Power Wagon’s $47,755 USD.