REVIEW: The Ram 1500 Rebel proves that when it comes to pickup trucks, diesel is better

  • I tested a very, very well equipped 2020 Ram 1500 Rebel pickup truck, an off-road optimized version of the truck that captured our Car of the Year award in 2019.
  • My Rebel had a potent 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine that serves up 260 horsepower but an earthshaking 480 pound-feet of torque.
  • My tester also featured a menacing, blacked-out exterior package.
  • The Ram 1500 is a great pickup, but the diesel Rebel is something special.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Here's how the sequence usually goes for me when it comes to reviewing full-size pickup trucks. First, I sample the regular gas-powered version, and because I like big pickups, I often end up a happy guy. But then I spend some time with the diesel-engined model, and I forget all about the gas-burner.

Diesel and pickups! Two great tastes that go great together! A beautiful friendship!

Choose your cliché, but the bottom line is that diesel power, for obvious reasons, makes sense for large trucks — especially if you intend to do any sort of serious work, haul heavy loads, or tow more than a modest camper or trailer. 

Ram makes a dandy full-size pickup. The Ram 1500 was Business Insider's 2019 Car of the Year, and it was a vehicle that impressed us mightily when tested on both the East and West Coasts. But the diesel is even better if you can imagine improving on greatness, as I found out when I borrowed the 2020 edition of the pickup, in a handsome "Diamond Black Crystal Pearl-Coat" paint job, for a week over the summer.

Rebel, Rebel … I love you so!

And what a pickup it was! The Base Crew Cab 4×4 was $47,990, but many options — including the "Rebel Level 2" equipment group ($3,000) and a $5,000 diesel motor — brought my as-tested price to $71,305. A tech package that added heated seats and a heated steering wheel also tacked $3,000 on the sticker, and assorted other goodies embellished the Ram by $200 to $500 here and there.

But that's the usual story full-size pickups, which are best thought of these days as nearly infinitely option-able, yielding some wide price ranges for the manufacturers that sell everything from bare-bones work trucks to luxurious half-tons.

Allow me to explain why I was testing the Ram 1500 in the first place: gardening! We sort of amped- p our summertime gardening game this year and had to make a journey of modest distance to a center in New Jersey that we'd heard about from our gardening underground. 

An SUV wasn't going to cut it; we needed a proper pickup with the proper bed. And as you can see from the photo above, we made good use of it.

The Ram 1500 I tested came with both a tonneau cover, which was easily folded back, and a bed-separator — a great feature that allowed me to divide the box into one area for heavy bags of soil and one for plants. Using the divider to create a spot for the plants close to the cab meant that I could return home at highway speed without worrying about the load shifting, and I didn't have to employ the Ram 1500's tie-down points.

The truck also had the useful RamBox "saddlebags," a pair of lockable storage compartments at the bed's flanks. I didn't need them, but the feature does use the interior of the Ram 1500's body panels to create some additional capacity, where otherwise an owner might be looking at a third-party setup to tote tools or gear.

Trading horsepower for torque, torque, and more torque

The 3.0-liter, turbodiesel V6 makes 260 horsepower but — get this — 480 pound-feet of torque.

That translates into monumental pulling power. The Rebel can tow more than 12,500 pounds, all while putting up some tasty fuel-economy numbers: 21 mpg in the city, 29 on the highway, and 24 combined. (Gas-engined trucks offer a 395-horsepower V8 and a 305-horsepower V6.) 

The Ram's eight-speed automatic handles all of that torque rather gracefully, piping it to the capable four-wheel-drive system. But it doesn't alter the Rebel diesel's demeanor, which put me in the mind of a small freight train when I was tooling down the highway.

The truck can go from a standstill to 60 mph in about eight seconds, and when you sum all this up, you see what the Rebel is all about: bold off-roading, an answer to the Ford F-150 Raptor.

The knobby Goodyear tires were a giveaway, but the overall packaging of my Rebel test truck suggested that one could apply the vehicle to a greater variety of tasks than just trail-busting — crammed as it was with infotainment tech, connectivity, premium appointments, and that dashing black paint job.

The blacked-out treatment went further than the paint: the $525 exterior package brought a black grille with black framing, a black Ram badge, and black 18-inch wheels.

As far as off-roading goes, I could point out that black shows dirt, but the Rebel looks so dang cool that I doubt it would stay dirty for long, if ever. This is a pickup that wants to pay frequent visits to the car wash.

Note, however, that there are textured running boards, making getting in and out of the lifted pickup much easier, but also making it possible to scrape mud off your boots before soiling the primo cab.

 A high-end interior and a high-end verdict

The all-black exterior theme continues inside the Rebel, with plush front bucket seats and a comfy, capacious rear configuration. A dual-pane sunroof brightens the cabin considerably, but it's a $1,500 extra. 

My test truck was chock full o' tech, starting with the 8.4-inch central touchscreen running Fiat Chrysler's underrated Uconnect infotainment system. This setup handles everything from Bluetooth and USB device connectivity to GPS navigation (with USB ports dedicated to charging). I enjoyed the dulcet tones of a 19-speaker Harman-Kardon premium audio system and had Apple CarPlay and Android Auto in reserve.

The Ram 1500 was the best full-size pick we drove, off all the half-tons on the market, in the period from about 2015 until last year, when the new Ram grabbed top prize in our Car of Year competition. 

I had no complaints about the gas-engined V8 I tested in 2019, but the diesel V6 was something special. If you aren't driving fast all the time, you grow to love the succulent surge of torque that an awesome diesel produces, and the visual presentation of the Ram 1500 Rebel intensifies that impression.

Simply put, the Ram 1500 Rebel diesel is addictive to drive and addictive to look at, in a totally badass sort of way. I think it shook up the gardening center on that day I visited — Darth Vader unsettling the 'burbs.

It's worth pointing out that although the truck has attitude galore, it also gets the job done. This imitating pickup carried flowers and potting soil home, safely and it style. And that says more about the modern, full-size pickup truck world these days than just about anything else.

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