Ram Rebel and Power Wagon Review – What is Next for Ram in the Off-Road World?

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Ram brand pickups have been gaining market share for years now and part of that sales success can be attributed to two key players among the Ram models – the Rebel and the Power Wagon.  

Recently I was driving both, in the mountains of British Columbia, to see what’s new with these two nameplates, one relatively new, while the other can be considered the grand-daddy of off-road trucks. 

The Rebel was launched in 2015; based on the Ram 1500 it was more of a trim/styling package than a mechanically ungraded truck at first.  That fact though didn’t stop it from becoming a popular sales choice. Since then Ram has rewarded Rebel buyers with a growing list of real off-road features – to where now – the 2019 Rebel I just drove can legitimately be called an off-roader. 

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This new Ram Rebel features aggressive 32-inch all-terrain tires, a one-inch factory lift, Bilstein shocks, a locking rear differential (standard), multi-link rear coil spring suspension, full skid plate protection and integrated tow hooks.  The two-speed 4WD transfer case features shift-on-the-fly controls and also works with a new Hill Descent Control system. 

Rebel can be powered by either the base 5.7L V8 Hemi engine (395hp and 410 lb-ft of torque) or the optional 3L Ecodiesel (newly redesigned; now making 260 hp and 480 lb-ft of torque). 

Driving the Rebel up a mountain on a soggy BC day reminded me that I have always liked what the Ram design team has done with Rebel. Though it’s a 1500 Ram at heart the colour schemes and design cues have always set it apart in a significant way – just look at the interior theme for example, where aggressive tire tread patterns criss-cross the seats.  However, while working the rocky switchbacks on Grouse Mountain, I also realized that its updated rough terrain capabilities now let me love it for being a decent off-roader too.    

My next ride after the lunch stop, (at 6,000 feet of elevation) was the Ram Power Wagon.  This iconic truck got its start doing military service and then as a civilIan version; introduced in 1946. With a new cab and a purpose built 8-foot cargo box, it rode on a 126-inch wheelbase chassis and featured a 230 cubic-inch flat head six-cylinder engine, a two-speed transfer case, a four-speed transmission and had a power take off (PTO). It was produced (with very little change) till 1968 when new light-duty truck safety regulations in the United States made it obsolete; though trucks were built for export well into the 1970’s. 

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The 2019 truck I was driving though (built on the Ram 2500 chassis) harks back to its re-introduction in 2005 at Chrysler’s Chelsea proving grounds in Michigan. There an earthen presentation podium exploded revealing a new Dodge Ram Power Wagon.  That was the rebirth of the modern Power Wagon, a truck that remains mostly unchanged; mainly because its purpose is also unchanged – conquering the unpaved world. 

The key features of this 2019 Power Wagon are: front and rear electronic lockers; a sway-bar disconnect system; integrated 12,000-lb Warn winch system; 33-inch off-road tires; full underbody armour; up to 26-inches of individual wheel travel deflection.  Powering this beast is the 6.4L V8 Hemi engine that along with the 8-speed automatic transmission makes 410hp and 429 lb-ft of torque.  

Crawling back down the mountain I was reminded of two things.  One – the Power Wagon will go almost anywhere; just not fast.  Its suspension is set to clamber over obstacles at a crawl – not at speed.  Two – because of No# One it remains a favourite of Fire/Police/Forestry and Search & Rescue outfits.  To that end its also good to know that the Power Wagon version of the Ram 2500 can be ordered with the lowest of the trim packages.  That would be “Tradesman”; so, unlike with some other off-roader models’ purchasers are not pushed into a top-level trim packages simply because they want the off-road features. 

So, while it’s fun driving trucks like these off-road, I had a nagging question.  Why had Ram set up this program?   Neither of these trucks was significantly new – so, I asked around.  

Most of the answers I got referred to the future of the Ram off-road brand.  So, I started thinking about what was not at this program – but has now been officially confirmed – the Ram Rebel TRX, which will be built for the 2020 model year.  My thought after learning this was that the BC mountain climb then was just an appetizer to warm us up for this significant new truck coming soon enough. 

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This is an exciting development as this addition will now give Ram a trio of off-road trucks that will cover the desert-racer market; the rock-climbing segment and offer a general mud-slinger truck.  

If you haven’t heard of the TRX, well its worth knowing as much as you can right now; this one will be big. 

First shown as a concept at the Texas State Fair in September of 2016, it really caused a stir; then nothing. Frankly many (including me) people were beginning to wonder if it would actually get built.  So, now I say, better late than never.   Here is what we can expect next year.

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Based on the Ram 1500 this Rebel TRX will be a fully engineered and designed pickup meant for extreme off-roading at speed.  It will feature a 575 hp 6.2L Hemi-V8 coupled to a TorqueFlite eight-speed automatic transmission. Its front and rear axles are designed for severe-duty and the truck will sport 13-inches of wheel travel at all four corners. Using bypass performance shocks at the front and rear the TRX should have impressive damping ability. 

The truck body will be six-inches wider than a standard Ram 1500, mainly to accommodate the large fender wells that house the aggressive 37-inch tires.  They are all bead locked and the bed will carry two spare tires. The 4WD system is sourced through BorgWarner and employs different computer-controlled modes such as: Normal, Wet/Snow, Off-road and Baja. The front axle uses an open differential, while the rear has a selectable locker that works at any speed. 

The look of the TRX is macho-aggressive, an overall impression that is enhanced by the specially tuned exhaust note that blasts out of the short 5-inch pipes just ahead of the rear wheels. Its design will borrow from both the Rebel and the Power Wagon – good company to be in.  

Stopping the truck is a Baer six-piston monobloc caliper mounted on 15-inch rotors.  Ram says this TRX will easily be a 160-km/h off-road machine that pickup fans will appreciate.   I know I’m looking forward to it.

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