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Flash Drive: The off-pavement-ready 2019 Ram Rebel blends attitude with 1-inch body lift and modest off-road hardware

Ram is introducing its all-new 2019 1500 full-size pickup in six distinct flavors, the grittiest of which is the Rebel. Recently, Ram offered up a 4-wheel-drive 2019 Rebel for me to take on an hour-long off-road drive in the Arizona desert.

Like all of the new 2019 Ram 1500s, the Rebel gets stretched four inches for greater interior space, is built on a stronger, lighter frame constructed mostly from high-strength steel, gets larger brakes, upgraded standard 6-lug 18-inch wheels, a new interior with a taller center stack and dash-mounted rotary e-shifter for the 8-speed automatic transmission, a flatter rear floor with a reduced center hump, a damped, lockable aluminum tailgate and lots more.

But instead of rolling with some of the new Ram’s fancier new features such as a Tesla-like 12-inch Uconnect infotainment touchscreen, front collision mitigation, reclining rear seats or a 360-degree camera, the 2019 Rebel sticks to a simpler fare more in line with its rugged character.

Dirty Details

That begins with a standard off-road package that includes a 1-inch body lift, a shorter 3.92:1 final-drive ratio, Bilstein off-road calibrated shock absorbers with remote reservoirs, an electric locking rear differential, hill-descent control, 33-inch diameter Goodyear Wrangler Dura-Trac off-road tires on 18-inch alloy wheels and skidplates protecting the front suspension, steering gear, fuel tank and (on 4-wheel-drive versions) two-speed transfer case. The Rebel is available in a Quad Cab or (longer) Crew Cab configuration and with a choice of rear- or 4-wheel drive. Last year’s standard four-wheel air suspension is now an extra-cost Rebel option.

The Rebel also comes standard with a new eTorque 48-volt mild-hybrid system that provides added torque for the base 305-horsepower 3.6-liter V6 from a lithium-ion battery-fed electric motor under some driving conditions, but that system (also available as an option with the 395-horsepower 5.7-liter Hemi V8) won’t be available until later in the year.

Ram has yet to release EPA fuel-economy estimates for either eTorque version, but a gain of several mpg is likely. Under the hood for this evaluation of the 2019 Rebel was the carryover 5.7-liter Hemi V8 without the new eTorque system.

ETorque or not, the 395-horsepower Hemi V8 has no problem getting the near 3-ton 4WD Rebel test truck off the mark and underway in the dirt. In the Arizona desert, the extra inch of ground clearance helped the big pickup clear more rocks, improved approach and departure angles on steep inclines and kept it from getting high-centered in knee-deep ruts. When contact with the underpinnings was unavoidable, the Rebel’s four skidplates did their best to protect vitals. The 33-inch Goodyear Wranglers helped the Rebel paddle-wheel itself through a half-mile long sand wash and the rear e-locker was instrumental in maintaining rear-wheel traction through deep gullies.

Despite its butch appearance, the Rebel is not a serious off-road prerunner in the mold of the Ford F-150 Raptor or even the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. The Rebel doesn’t have the dedicated long-travel suspension of the Raptor or the locking front and rear axles of the ZR2. It’s really just a raised Ram 1500 with good off-road-tuned shocks, decent tires and the rear e-locker that will be equally at home on paved roads doing what pickups do in everyday use.

And that’s the beauty of it. On the highway or just poking around town, the solid feel, reduced body quiver and otherwise basic goodness of the new Ram 1500 ring through. The hearty but subdued rumble of the Hemi V8 is music to a pickup driver’s ears.

Even when the Hemi’s standard cylinder-deactivation system idles four of the eight cylinders when cruising under light load, the Ram’s standard active noise cancellation system that works through the truck’s audio speakers takes care of any sour notes. Plus a new pair of electronic vibration dampers on the Ram’s frame help remove all but a slight hint of four-cylinder buzz. The noise level in the cabin of a 2019 Ram 1500 Limited with the same noise-attenuating measures I drove for several hours on road is noticeably lower than in the previous-gen Ram. That said, the Rebel’s short 3.92:1 final-drive ratio will make the engine a little busier at freeway speeds and likely decrease highway fuel economy.

With its bold “flared nostrils” grille, power-dome hood and unique tire-tread pattern cloth-and-vinyl seat coverings, the 2019 Ram 1500 Rebel offers a bit more attitude and its chassis more off-road capability than that found in the Chevrolet Silverado Z71 or Ford F-150 FX4 off-road packages. At $46,340 (including the rather substantial $1645 destination fee), the Rebel slots between the smaller and more nimble Colorado ZR2 ($42,620) and more potent F-150 Raptor ($51,510).

Now it’s getting interesting out there.

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