2020 Ram 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel: Pickup Truck of the Year Contender
Diesel in the Dirt
We proudly gave our Billet Piston award to the all-new 2019 Ram 1500 lineup last year, with credit going to the truck's excellent interior, strong work ethic, and refined road manners. And a great deal of our appreciation for that truck came from the fact that Ram sent us a Rebel to play with alongside a more luxurious Laramie Longhorn.
So with a strong r sum of success, you might think the 2020 Ram 1500 Rebel (now available with a significantly reengineered EcoDiesel V-6) would be a guaranteed winner in our Pickup Truck of the Year testing, and we wondered the same. But alas, it wouldn't reign supreme. Let's get the negatives out of the way so we can then tell you about how much we liked this truck.
Every -ton domestic pickup is now available with a 3.0L diesel six-cylinder, but we find the Ram's EcoDiesel V-6 to be a bit underwhelming, especially compared to GM's stellar 3.0L I-6. Relative to the buttery-smooth Duramax, the EcoDiesel sends a few vibrations through the steering wheel and seats, and we find it to suffer from a touch more turbo lag than we like (and certainly more than the responsive GM I-6).
And while the 1500 Rebel platform itself towed, hauled, and stopped with perfect balance, we caught the powertrain with its pants down in certain conditions. The eight-speed auto occasionally banged into gears on downshift, and upshifts were unnecessarily firm at times.
What's more, in Rebel guise, the engine seems ill-suited to the front suspension. Maybe it's just us, but the EcoDiesel feels heavier than the Hemi we drove last year, and we think we ran into the jounce bumpers more frequently than we did with the V-8, a small ding against the Rebel's usually impeccable suspension tuning. While we generally prefer the Rebel's steel springs, perhaps the four-corner air suspension would be a better match for the diesel. To be fair, we only noticed the bound/rebound issues when traversing massive obstacles.
In all other off-road conditions, the Rebel EcoDiesel was as pleasant and sure-footed as we remember the V-8 being. High speeds over rough roads yielded a well-controlled ride, and there's plenty of travel to keep the body level while the independent front and five-link rear suspension does its thang. While we wish the Rebel had a dedicated rear locker like the Ford pickups, the automatic-locking rear differential was mostly invisible, helping preserve forward motion with minimal drama. And Ram's software engineers are clearly closet-case hooners, because the stability controls allow for plenty of drifty, side-slippy goodness while still providing a safety net in case you really mess it up.
The Rebel's fancy new EcoDiesel engine also gives it impressive efficiency—up to 28 mpg in our testing. In fact, combined with the truck's excellent off-road performance, we think its efficiency might make the 2020 Ram 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel the new darling of overland enthusiasts who want maximum off-road range from their pickups.
Our other compliments from last year's test hold up 365 days later—the interior feels very high-quality, with good materials, even in places you're not likely to touch. Our Rebel came equipped with Ram's mid-level 8.4-inch Uconnect display, and we honestly didn't miss the range-topping 12-inch infotainment system (as equipped in our Ram 3500 tester). The smaller screen preserves lots of hard buttons and has ergonomics some of us thought were easier to acclimate to. That said, the larger, vertically oriented display still has plenty of fans, and it's available on the Rebel as a standalone option or as part of the Rebel 12 package.
The Rebel's styling is also appropriately aggressive, with two-tone black accents and a sporty, vented hood to set it apart from road-oriented Ram 1500 pickups. The Rebel features a suspension lift and 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, both of which back up the truck's aggressive styling elements and intended purpose.
Indeed, the Rebel feels like the sweet spot of the Ram 1500 lineup, and the EcoDiesel lived up to its name with efficient motoring and plenty of oil-fired torque in most situations. But while last year's Ram testers felt like polished, fully finished pickups, this year's Rebel EcoDiesel was a bit cruder than expected. It's an all-star truck, and it has plenty of fans (your author included), but it leaves just a little to be desired.