Hopping out of the 2016 Ram Rebel, I plant my boots in the dusty soil along the Backway to Crown King, a trail that winds its way through Arizona from Lake Pleasant to the small town of Crown King. Riding shotgun with me is none other than journalist, photographer, and off-road motorsports hall of famer Chris Collard. We leave the rest of the convoy of media and Ram personnel in a cloud of dirt as we press on toward Overland Expo West in Flagstaff, Arizona, in search of the toughest and most picturesque portions of the trail.
Temperatures are moderate, and it’s a beautiful spring day in the desert. The Backway is lined with fresh green vegetation, and as we ponder the age of centuries-old cacti, we come to a rocky shelf in the trail, the first obstacle of the day. Keen to keep our place at the front of the line, I opt for the quickest route through the rocks. The Rebel’s extra inch of ground clearance and Bilstein shocks soak up the ruts and we climb around the ledge with ease.
Provided a carefully chosen line, the Rebel proves itself capable of keeping pace with the Ram Power Wagon through some of the more difficult obstacles out here on the Backway to Crown King. But where the Rebel might hesitate when it comes to more challenging obstacles and terrain, the Power Wagon coolly cruises over them like speed bumps in an elementary school parking lot. With front and rear lockers, Goodyear Wrangler tires, and a 12,000-pound winch that we didn’t come close to using, there really isn’t another full-size truck on the market as capable as the Power Wagon.
And so, the Power Wagons in our convoy opt for the more difficult line: straight up the rock shelf. Front and rear differentials locked, the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 needs little more than a gentle burble before the 33-inch tires grip the dusty rocks and crawl right over the crag without slip or hesitation. In short order, each Power Wagon traverses the obstacle drama-free, but the Rebels in the group are left to take the longer route around the shelf. Even with its surprisingly good traction-control system, 1-inch lift, air suspension, Bilstein dampers, there’s still no substitute for locking differentials.
Collard and I climb back into the cab of the Rebel and set our cameras in the massive center console. With the rotary dial shifter mounted to the dash, the Rebel’s interior proves to be photographer-friendly. As we climb in altitude we come to a steep and narrow chute with a few sizable rocks, and the convoy braces itself for another test of off-road might. The first Power Wagon edges its way into the narrow section of trail, its front sway bar disconnected as the axles flex in opposite directions, keeping the cab comfortably level. Here the Power Wagon’s 149.5-inch wheelbase is an advantage over the Rebel’s (which is 9 inches shorter), and one by one the Power Wagons trickle through. With a little guidance, though, even the Rebels steadily claw their way up the trail, hampered only by a lack of visibility over the large hood.
The Ram Rebel is a pickup ready for weekend adventuring, good for commuting to work during the week until you’re ready to load it up with dirt bikes and camping gear to get lost for a few days. The Power Wagon works better for those whose adventures don’t know the meaning of “stop.” For those who depend on their truck when the snow gets deep and the mud gets thick. As Kevin Metz, head of Ram brand marketing, puts it, “No other manufacturer puts a front locking differential or a winch on their truck.”
With the last truck clear of the final obstacle, Collard and I relinquish our scouting position and fall in line with the rest of the crew as we make our way into Crown King. The little town is a great stop for an off-road adventure; it’s quiet, secluded, and full of great food. But this is only a pit stop on our way to Overland Expo West, which lies ahead another 100 miles north.
In a grassy field on Mormon Lake, just outside Flagstaff, travelers from around the world gather for Overland Expo West to camp out, learn new skills, and trade tales of adventure. The expo is also a great place for vendors to show off fresh metal fit for their rugged, off-the-beaten-path lifestyle. Overlanders, as they’ve come to be called, are the endless wanderers of the globe, traveling in and on anything from motorcycles to Unimogs. They’re prepared to go anywhere and tackle anything.
Looking around at the pickups at Overland Expo it’s easy to see that two trucks are prevalent; the overlander’s default pickup is still the Toyota Tacoma, but there are plenty of Ram 2500 trucks around as well. And as long as Ram keeps churning out more and more ways to break into the off-road world, whether it’s with the capable Rebel or the fearless Power Wagon, those will only grow.
2016 Ram 1500 Rebel Crew Cab 4×4 Specifications
|Price:||$45,200/$53,275 (Base/as tested)|
|Engine:||5.7L OHV 16-valve V-8/395 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 410 lb-ft @ 3,950 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup|
|EPA Mileage:||15/21 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H:||229.0 x 81.5 x 75.3 in|
2016 Ram 2500 Power Wagon Specifications
|Price:||$51,160/$56,280 (Base/as tested)|
|Engine:||6.4L OHV 16-valve V-8/410 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5- or 6-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup|
|L x W x H:||237.4 x 79.1 x 77.7 in|