The last time we saw American Expedition Vehicles, the truck modifier was showing off the Ram 1500 Recruit at the 2017 Overland Expo West. The kit upgraded the half-ton Ram pickup truck when equipped with either the factory coil springs or four-corner air suspension setups. AEV has been busy since then and the result is a 2018 Ram 1500 Rebel Recruit, which we recently got to drive. Here's how it went.
The Rebel Recruit has a unique 3-inch lift kit, using all the same factory attachment points and geometry of the stock setup, but allowing it to accommodate impressively large 37-inch tires. With new AEV front and rear bumpers and some slight wheel-well reshaping, the BF Goodrich Mud Terrain T/A tires felt smooth and provided plenty of stability during high-speed cornering and hard braking. Our test rig was equipped with Ram's factory air suspension, which probably played a big role in the smooth ride. Although AEV does not make any software or air compressor output changes, the ride with all the extra weight was still quite stable and comfortable, and still offered a 1.5-inch "kneeling" feature as well as a 1-inch-taller (from the normal setting) Off-Road mode.
Weight is an issue with this model, given that our experience with earlier-generation air suspension systems offered the smallest payload capacity. Our test truck had the 3-inch suspension lift designed for the air bags, heavy-duty front and rear custom bumpers, bigger wheels and tires, a custom gear bed rack (still in preproduction), and a full-size spare tire and storage boxes mounted in the bed. That all adds quite a bit of extra weight to this platform. To see how much weight was added to this test unit, we went to the nearest CAT scales and found out our rig weighed in at 20 pounds more than the gross vehicle weight rating listed on the door tag. And that was without passengers or extra cargo but with a full tank of gas. As a result, the brakes were a little under-matched. As much as we like the Ram heavy-duty look the Recruit sports, the five-lug axles look a little odd on this setup. We're guessing both those details might get some more attention with the Recruit 2.0.
AEV does not provide re-figured GVWR numbers for its kits, which isn't allowed unless the vehicle is recertified by federal agencies. However, AEV said it is working on strategies to address the weight issue. AEV also noted that the Ram Rebel Recruit we drove was designed to highlight AEV's new optional features and gear, and not necessarily represent the only way people will outfit their rigs. Still, especially with a half-ton kit, we suggest owners looking to make significant changes to their pickups keep a close eye when adding heavier-duty parts and extra weight. Note that Ram 1500s with coil spring suspensions have higher GVWRs, which makes it easier to stay within the pickup's max weight ratings.
With all that in mind, we do like the heavy-duty, overlanding look of the new Ram 1500 Rebel Recruit, especially with the adventure-themed integrated snorkel running up the A-pillar. Pricing for this kit is a little steep, starting just less than $15,000 for the Recruit add-ons, then offering another $15,000 worth of optional features such as upgraded wheels, a bed-mounted fridge/freezer, Euro-style lighting, tonneau covers and more.
Don't be surprised if you see another Recruit model making the rounds pretty soon when AEV gets its hands on the all-new 2019 Ram 1500. We're guessing there could be a few more surprises in store for us at the Overland Expo West in mid-May.
Manufacturer images (lead); Cars.com photos by Mark Williams