CNET editors pick the products and services we write about. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.
I'm not particularly a truck guy, but every now and then, saddling up in one is a lot of fun. In particular, special higher-performance pickups like the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor are undeniably entertaining, and I can now add the Ram 1500 Rebel to my personal list of cool trucks.
Why is the Rebel one of my favorite trucks? No, it's not because its name gets a certain Billy Idol song stuck in my head (and now yours; sorry about that). It's not even the flashback images of then-long-haired tennis star Andre Agassi from '90s Canon camera commercials. It's because it checks all the boxes necessary for being a really good all-around truck. Oh, and the fact that it looks badass doesn't hurt, either.
The Rebel's meaner look is most apparent up front, with the Ram having ditched its traditional crosshair grille, replacing it with a blacked-out grille with a large badge. Additional styling elements visually popping against my test truck's arresting Flame Red paint job including black powder-coated bumpers, silver front skid plate, black wheel-arch moldings and billboard-sized "RAM" letters stamped into the tailgate. The 17-inch aluminum wheels with matte-black insets and twin-snorkel hood also add to the Rebel's more aggressive appearance.
Before you dismiss the Rebel as just a cosmetic package for the Ram 1500, think again. While this isn't a full menu of modifications, there's been some purposeful tinkering to make this truck more off-road worthy. These changes start with a recalibrated air suspension that gives the truck a 1-inch increase in ride height over other similarly suspended 1500 models. Other changes include unique Bilstein shocks, a unique steering calibration and meaty, 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T tires. No, the changes aren't as extensive as Ford's Raptor, but they give the Rebel better approach and departure angles to up its mud-plugging credibility a smidge.
The standard Ram 1500 with the air suspension system is without question the best riding half-ton pickup truck on the market. The fact that the Ram has an independent rear suspension also helps, while competitors like the class-ruling Ford F-150, Chevrolet Silverado, GMC Sierra, Toyota Tundra and Nissan Titan all work with traditional solid rear axles.
Does the Rebel's higher ride height and large, knobby tires change the Ram's ride behavior? Surprisingly, no. This Big Red Machine still gets around town and hurtles down expressways in impressive comfort. What's more, the tires don't make a huge racket, nor do they squeal when thrown quickly around a turn -- something that can't always be said about the Raptor.
Instead, the Rebel takes corners with composure similar to a normal Ram 1500. There's no excessive body roll, and it's easy to navigate surface streets with responsive steering that features a satisfying amount of heft tuned into it. Brake performance is stout and easily slows the Rebel down in a confident manner.
On washboard dirt roads, the Ram's suspension takes all the dips and ruts in stride, letting the truck continue down the road in a brisk manner without rattling the living daylights out of those in the cabin. A trip to an off-road park to tackle some trails is on the docket in the future to better assess the Rebel's off-road chops. Simply put, a regular dirt road isn't going to truly test this truck's four-wheel-drive system, nor its optional anti-spin rear differential, both of which are undoubtedly capable of so much more.
Power isn't a problem on pavement or dirt roads with the optional 5.7-liter Hemi V-8, as it brings 395 horsepower and 410 pound-feet of torque to the party. From a standstill, the Rebel gets moving without breaking a sweat, and mid-range pull is strong, for easy expressway merging and passing. Through it all, the eight-speed automatic transmission cracks off crisp and quick shifts, and it also helps the big V-8 return respectable fuel economy. Aided by the Hemi's seamlessly undetectable cylinder shut-off system, the Ram nets reasonable EPA fuel economy ratings of 15 miles per gallon in the city and 21 mpg highway.
If a Hemi under the hood isn't necessary, or if spending the additional $1,650 on top of the model's $45,200 base price isn't in the cards, the Rebel comes standard with the Fiat Chrysler's Pentastar 3.6-liter V-6 workhorse, tuned for 305 horsepower and 269 pound-feet of torque. The smaller engine yields slightly better fuel economy ratings of 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway.
Of course, if you're looking for the most affordable way to get into a Rebel, seek out the 4x2 model wearing a base price that's nearly $2,000 less than the 4x4 V-6. The two-wheel-drive Rebel starts at $43,270, but the kicker is that it's only available with the Hemi V-8 engine. So, the cheapest Rebel gets the bigger engine as standard equipment...sounds good to me!
A nice, compliant ride character and Hemi V-8 thrust wouldn't be very enjoyable in a subpar interior. Luckily, the Rebel doesn't disappoint. The 1500's overall design has been around for a while now, but its intuitive layout, materials and build quality are still among the top of the pickup-truck heap.
Adding in the Rebel-exclusive styling elements freshen things, too. Most notable are the model-specific red and black seats with center inserts that feature embossed tread patterns that match those of the Toyo tires at all four corners. In addition, the Rebel nameplate is embroidered in the top of the bolsters. Other small touches including red and gray accent stitching, and matching red trim pieces throughout help lend the Rebel's cabin its own look.
As for space, there's no shortage of it. My crew cab registered exactly zero complaints from any passenger who climbed inside. Legroom is plentiful both front and back, and there are lots of nooks and crannies to store items. I particularly like the channel insert molded into the center console that holds phones or tablets in clear view without letting them slide all over the place. It's a small feature, but a handy one nonetheless.
The Rebel is also available with decent cabin technology, including the company's well-regarded Uconnect infotainment system, which features navigation, Bluetooth, satellite radio, SiriusXM traffic info and a media hub with SD, USB and aux inputs. I've become efficient at working through Uconnect's interface on the big, center touchscreen to get between all the menus, and consistently find commands are quickly carried out by the system. Controls for the climate and radio volume and tuning are thankfully still regular knobs and hard buttons, so fishing around with on-screen menus is kept to a minimum. Pairing my phone to the Bluetooth system is easily done, and gives good audio quality.
A Wi-Fi hotspot is also available, but unlike GM's OnStar service that offers 4G speeds, Uconnect's is 3G. For Apple CarPlay and Android Auto fans, a disappointing piece of news is that Uconnect isn't compatible with either right now, but Ram says both are coming on its next-generation system. Sadly, officials haven't given a timeline as to when, and in which trucks the new system will appear first.
With the Rebel being so big, the $595 option package that adds a back-up camera and rear parking-assist sensors is a good investment to prevent causing any bent sheetmetal in tight parking lots. Moving a friend's couch is all it takes to appreciate not just the big truck's cargo-carrying abilities, but also its spray-in bedliner that prevents scratching up an unprotected bed. Even better, the Rebel's bedside RamBox compartments are perfect to securely store my ratty tie-down straps when not in use. However, not having a soft-opening tailgate like many rivals is annoying. Hopefully that changes on the next-generation truck.
After enjoying the Rebel coddling me during a week of mostly urban driving, this Ram 1500 still feels like it's more of a street truck than a hardcore off-road racer. That's not to say that it isn't capable of doing well through sand, dirt and over rocks, but I don't think it's ready to handle a Baja race straight off the showroom floor like the Raptor is.
Of course, it's also likely to be a fair bit less expensive than the Blue Oval's next-generation monster. I could be wrong, of course, but for now, I'll enjoy the fact that the Rebel is both a great street truck and a decent off-roader with lots of visual attitude. And there's nothing wrong with that, because not everyone wants a rougher Baja racer, and I'm willing to bet there are a healthy number of buyers out there who want a wicked-looking truck that's also a stellar daily driver.
I know I do.