Before handing over the key to the freshly detailed Flame Red 2015 Ram Rebel parked out front of FCA Canada’s Fleet Office, the PR rep warned:
“This isn’t a Raptor-fighter, you know. Don’t go trying to jump it or anything.”
He had previously admitted to heeding extra caution with the Rebel assignments and the intents of the folks reviewing it, wanting to keep it from becoming damaged on trails too narrow for a full-size truck.
All this is fair enough – especially considering the price tag shows a number north of $60-large for this rig – and wouldn’t normally be a problem except that my editor assigned the Rebel to me with the instruction that I was expected to take it properly off-road and see how much farther a truck like this could be expected to go beyond the capabilities of a “normal” truck.
Fortunately for the Ram folks (and unfortunately for me who has to answer to the editor), my plans to take the Rebel deep enough off-road to get it stuck so deep, a tractor would need to yank it out (like I did with a Jeep Wrangler and Toyota FJ Cruiser previously) fell through at the last minute. So I needed to go only as far off the beaten path as my nerve – and lack of tow help – would allow.
As luck would have it, the Niagara Region not far from my house is crisscrossed with countless “Unassumed Rural Roads” that range in ruggedness from gentle gravel (such as the one that consumed Jacob Black’s Volvo XC60 a while back) to a forest with no discernable pathway, let alone “road”. Following my brother riding his dual-sport motorcycle, we sought out something halfway between.
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The significant rain that soaked Ontario’s spring time had by now relented for a while, leaving a “road” that, when previously thick with muck, had now hardened into a concrete-like rutted and cratered surface that put the Rebel’s 33-inch Toyo Open Country A/T tires (on 17-inch wheels) and model-specific Bilstein Monotube Performance shocks to work. With the air suspension cranked up an inch higher than any other stock Ram 1500, the clearance was just sufficient to avoid putting the optional $175 Protection Group skid plates to use (covering the transfer case and front suspension).
Having grown accustomed to electronic all-wheel-drive systems found in many cars – and even some trucks – these days, the multi-step process of stopping, selecting Neutral with the rotary gear selector knob and then pressing a separate 4WD button seems cumbersome and slow to react, though an accepted practice for the hardcore off-roaders demanding a locker gear and 4WD low. For most applications, simply letting the truck do its own thing with the on-demand 4WD High will suffice and not require the multi-step process.
Truthfully, with no Rubicon Trail-like rock crawling accessible to us during the test, the muddy rut roads proved to be no real challenge for the Rebel, nor likely for many other full-on 4WD full-size trucks. Once the road became more of an ox-path, then little more than a hiking trail, the brush and branches threatened to autograph the still-shiny paintwork, and I backed out from pressing farther. My brother on his Kawasaki, decided to continue, only to call me a short while later having sufficiently stuck the KLR 650 hub-deep in a bog not much further down the trail.
A word to the wise: don’t go off-roading with me; I seem to be cursed.