A truck for doing truck things.
THE GOOD
  • Looks great
  • Impressive drive manners
  • Excellent fuel efficiency
THE BAD
  • Costly diesel option
  • Turbo lag
  • Glitchy Infotainment
2020 Ram 1500 Rebel EcoDiesel Review

Last year when autoTRADER.ca conducted its four-truck pickup comparison, the Ram 1500 was eked out of the top spot by the extremely pricey Ford F-150; a truck that some of us found too fancy to truly deserve the trophy. In fact, all four of those trucks were wickedly expensive and loaded up with frivolities like chrome wheels, fancy leather seats, and adaptive cruise control.

A pickup truck should be utilitarian. It should be tough and be able to get its passengers deep into all sorts of trouble, er– I mean fun, and if it’s worth its salt, it’ll get ’em back out again too.

Ram’s macho-looking Rebel fits that bill, and by full-sized truck standards, it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to get there either. The Rebel is the sweet spot in the lineup, and for 2020, Ram is offering it with the 3.0-litre diesel option. Yeehaw!

Styling: 8.5/10

A truck should look like a truck. It should be burly and proportioned so that the box doesn’t seem dwarfed by an oversized cab up front. It should also have a set of wheels and tires that don’t look like they’ve been pulled off a muscle car. Who the heck wants a truck that’s going to bend a rim the first time it ventures off pavement? Not me, that’s who.

The Rebel’s contrasting black trim and lower body paint help give it a longer look, and its two-tone wheels are wrapped in all-terrain Goodyear Wrangler Duratecs replete with white lettering. To my eye, the Rebel is one of the better-looking rigs out there.

This generation of the Ram 1500 has set a new standard for interior design. My tester wore an unnecessary $3,600 Leather and Sound package that trimmed the seats in high-quality hides, with contrasting white stitching on the dash and door trim. They’re posh and comfy, but you can get fancy seats like that in any truck these days, if you’re into that sort of thing. Even without that option, base seats in the Rebel are pretty cool with their stamped tire tread pattern.

It’s the dash layout that’s really something special. That Leather and Sound option also includes an enormous 12-inch touchscreen that makes the Ram’s dashboard design contemporary and upscale.

User Friendliness: 6/10

FCA’s Uconnect infotainment system has been one of my favourites for usability for a while, but this newest 12-inch version undoes some of that. The menu layouts remain logical and it’s nice being able to have Apple CarPlay, and radio information, and climate control information all presented on the screen at the same time, but it does verge on being information overload.

The 8.4-inch screen that’s been used as the optional upgrade screen throughout FCA models the past few years provided a large enough screen for a primary display, with a series of easy-to-use knobs and buttons that were much easier to find and operate than the finnicky touch-sensitive glass panel.

What’s more, the 12-inch system glitched several times during my week with the Rebel – something I don’t recall experiencing with the 8.4-inch system in other FCA models.

One other nit to pick in terms of usability is the rotary-dial gear selector knob. Several times when I was hurried to switch from drive to reverse (or vice-versa), I’d rotate past the gear I wanted ending up in neutral or park instead, making a lot of revs and no movement. Call me old fashioned, but I’d be happier with a traditional column shifter.

Power: 7/ 10

This year’s big news for the Rebel is the availability of the 3.0L EcoDiesel V6. As the third generation of this engine, the water-cooled turbocharger receives a variable geometry turbine, and redesigned intake ports that help boost torque 14 percent to a formidable 480 lb-ft. Horsepower is up to 260 hp, too, and for those keeping score, Ford’s 3.0-litre Power Stroke turbo diesel tops out at 250 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque and Chevy’s Duramax 3.0-litre diesel gives up 277 hp and 460 lb-ft of torque.

With 480 lb-ft of twist, expectations were high for smooth, locomotive-like acceleration, but that wasn’t always the case. Even though the peak torque hits at 1,600 rpm (400 fewer revs than the old EcoDiesel), the Ram pulled smoothly and deliberately once the turbo had spooled up. Unfortunately, the eight-speed transmission is programmed to maximize efficiency and is often caught in a taller gear than expected, and without the turbo whistling, the engine wallows in a quagmire of lag until it does. The result is a two-beat wait, and then whoosh, the truck moves with authority.

Fuel Economy: 8/10

The official numbers for the Rebel EcoDiesel are 11.1 L/100 km city, 8.0 highway, and 9.7 combined. These numbers are remarkable for any full-size pickup truck, but even more so for one with inefficient 33-inch all-terrain tires, plus the extra mass of off-road skid plates and heavy-duty suspension components.

During a very cold test week, I put the remote starter to good use and often had the Rebel warming up in the driveway for a few minutes before setting off. Despite that, and a mix of city and highway driving (and hauling some loads in the box), the EcoDiesel still delivered an indicated average of just over 10 L/100 km. Most four-cylinder SUVs struggle to achieve that sort of efficiency.

Driving Feel: 7.5/10

Last autumn I drove a Ram Rebel fitted with the optional air suspension and its ability to soak up massive bumps off-road (even at considerable speed), was surprising.

Even more surprising is how well this Rebel with the stock Bilstein off-road shocks manage off-road composure without compromising on-road ride or handling. Compared to the handling of full-size trucks a decade ago, this new Ram steers precisely and can hustle around an on-ramp impressively for such a big machine.

Comfort: 7.5/10

The decent ride complements the comfy seating to give up-front occupants a nice place to be. With seat heaters that can really sizzle, and a heated steering wheel, it’s even comfortable within our never-ending winter.

In Quad Cab format the rear seat space was sufficient for my 10-year-old son, but those regularly hauling full-grown adults back there might want to consider the larger Crew Cab.

Under heavy acceleration, the V6 diesel announces its presence, but it’s never offensively loud within the cabin. Wind noise is suitably hushed, and considering how aggressive the tread pattern is, there’s precious little tire noise that intrudes.

Features: 8/10

If you can imagine wanting it in a truck, it’s probably found here. Optioned up as this truck was, there’s the supple leather seats, an infotainment system that has Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, build-in navigation, satellite radio, mobile Wi-Fi, and a powerful Alpine speaker system. Plus, there’s a power sunroof and a power sliding rear window. It’s all pretty lavish for a truck.

Safety: 8/10

Our tester was also loaded up with the sort of safety features that would’ve been science fiction a few decades back. Airbags are everywhere, of course, but with the $1,200 Safety and Convenience option, there’s advanced brake assist, lane-departure mitigation, forward collision warning and active braking, automatic high-beams, plus adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality.

Trailer sway control is standard on the Rebel, and for $375, a trailer brake controller was also fitted.

Practicality: 8/10

One of the best things about the North American pickup market is that there is truly a truck for everyone’s needs. The Rebel EcoDiesel is a competent hauler with its max tow rating at 5,697 kg (12,560 lb), but its box length at 1,938 mm is at least 50 mm shorter than the competition. It may not seem like much, but when trying to squeeze a queen-size mattress into the box, those extra millimetres make the difference between closing the tailgate or not.

Ram has gotten creative in recent years with box, and now tailgate, designs. A three-segment tonneau was appreciated, as were the moveable tie-down cleats, but I’d skip the $1,095 multi-function tailgate that offers the choice of splitting and swinging to the sides, or dropping down. I tried using both methods with a few different scenarios and the split-swing never offered enough benefit to be worth the money (nor the ugly seam that runs through the tailgate).

The rear seat flips up easily enabling an interior cargo area, too, and there are loads of cubbies and cut-outs throughout the cabin for all sorts of stuff.

Value: 7/ 10

Compared to the four trucks in our comparison test last year, this Ram Rebel is a veritable bargain, especially considering all the off-road kit that’s standard. Still, starting at $60,000 and loaded up with more than $15K in options, this is an expensive machine.

The diesel engine alone is a $3,900 option. With the cost of diesel at roughly 10 cents per litre more than regular unleaded, it would take an owner more than four-and-a-half years of driving 24,000 km per year to even break even on this option versus the standard 5.7L V8. The diesel is also costlier to service, and requires diesel exhaust fluid semi-regularly.

For me, I’d skip most of the options fitted to this truck, including the diesel, and be perfectly happy with a Rebel that rings in at less than $58,000 after the current manufacturer discounts are factored in.

The Verdict

The Ram Rebel hits a bull’s eye in the half-ton truck segment, offering good value if the options are kept in check. The diesel delivers on its promise to provide torquey pulling power and exceptional efficiency for a full-size truck, but the cost (and turbo lag) of this Italian-built engine make it an option that should be reserved for those who do a lot of driving.

A truck for doing truck things. 2/27/2020 8:00:00 AM

Competitors

Specifications

Engine Displacement 3.0L
Engine Cylinders V6
Peak Horsepower 260 hp @ 3,600 rpm
Peak Torque 480 lb-ft @ 1,600 rpm
Fuel Economy 11.1/8.0/9.7 L/100 km city/hwy/comb
Cargo Space 1,938 mm bed