The Car Guide – Everything Automotive, 54 Years Running

First Drive: 2016 Ram 1500 Rebel

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There's no denying how wildly popular pickups are these days.

Fuel prices be damned, light duty trucks continue to lead all passenger vehicle sales in both Canada and the United States for yet another year—and automakers have clearly taken notice, delivering endless trim packages and options lists for the discerning buyer in the market for everything from the essential to the opulent.

Look no further than the Ram 1500 for proof.

There are no less than 11 trim choices of the half-ton available, and that's to make no mention of the engine, cab configuration and box length options, of which there are three each.

One of the latest to join the stable is the Ram 1500 Rebel, an off-road-inspired variant that, at least in my humble opinion, is the best-looking new pickup on the market.

The Rebel comes only as a crew cab, the largest of the two four-door configurations available on the 1500, with a 5-foot-7 box.

Four-wheel drive comes standard, as does a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, with a 5.7-litre HEMI V8, like the one under the hood of our tester, available as a $1,300 option.

Fuel economy for the smaller of the two is predictably better—14.6 L/100 km city and 10.1 L/100 km highway versus 16.2 L/100 km and 11.5 L/100 km, respectively—but the towing capacity drops by a shade under 3,000 lbs., from 10,150 lbs. to 7,180 lbs.

Both are very respectable numbers—maybe even too respectable with the V8,pushing into territory that arguably borders on too much for a half-ton truck—and both are very respectable engines, leaving it as a bit of a six-of-one-half-a-dozen-of-the-other choice with no wrong answer.

Either way, eight-speed automatic transmissions are on tap, which leads me to my only major gripe with the truck: The rotary select shifter included in TorqueFlite guise.

Shift-by-wire may be the future, but whatever happened to a column or console shifter?

For the record, there's nothing inherently wrong with the rotary shifter in the Ram; it works just fine.

But every time I drove the truck I found myself reaching for a nonexistent shifter on the console to put it in gear or to rest my hand.

Which leads me to another frustration: The double-stacked centre console in our tester had a tendency to squeak and rattle uncontrollably when used as an armrest with the top storage compartment empty.

While this is most likely attributable to the fit and finish of this particular truck, it's definitely worth looking into if you're in the market.

But back to the good, of which there is plenty.

The two-tone black and red seats are comfortable and supportive, and match up well with the red trim found throughout the interior, and the upgraded Uconnect infotainment system is as easy to use as ever and boasts a bright 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation.

If I had to nitpick it would be that, while some climate control functionality can be managed using buttons below the screen, some, including basics like airflow direction, can only be accessed by navigating through the infotainment system, which can be a distracting process while driving.

More gems can be found in the abundance of storage throughout the interior, of which I counted about a baker's dozen or more cubby-holes in an around the front seats alone, capped with under-seat and in-floor storage accessible through the rear doors.

Moving outside, an expensive-but-worthy option to add is the so-called "RamBox Cargo Management System."

An $1,195 add-on, the RamBox turns the truck's bedsides into lockable, weatherproof storage space that, thanks to drain plugs, will make you the hit of the next tailgate party you attend.

The Ram 1500 Rebel also benefits from a bevy of exterior accents that set it apart from the crowd.

The blacked-out grille, which sheds the iconic crosshair look, wasn't popular with everyone that saw it, but it was an attention-getter everywhere it roamed.

Likewise, the bold, black 'RAM' lettering that dominates the tailgate wasn't everyone's cup of tea, though it didn't take away from my opinion of the Ram 1500 Rebel's looks, and ties in well with the rest of the matte black exterior accents, including the wheel arch flares borrowed from its big brother, the Ram 2500 Power Wagon.

While the Ram 1500 Rebel doesn't share the Power Wagon's solid front axle, it does seem to at least lean on that truck's off-road prowess for inspiration, with transfer case and front axle skid plates, and a tapered front bumper that greatly improves the truck's approach angle.

The Ram 1500 Rebel is also an inch taller than the rest of the 1500 pack, and features standard Bilstein shocks and air suspension at all four corners that includes a rock-clearing "off-road" height.

In the very light and low-speed four-wheeling I did in the truck, I saw no reason to believe it couldn't tackle most problems it may encounter on the trail—though tow hooks are standard equipment, too.

Base price: $51,895

As tested: $63,135 (freight included)

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