“There it is!” I exclaimed to my wife, spotting the Power Wagon from more than a block away as it approached. Indeed this big red truck, which reminds me of a toy from my childhood come to life, is a bit conspicuous in the urban sprawl of Los Angeles.
In a world where $70,000 pickups with back massagers and two-tone leather appointments are the new norm, the Power Wagon is commendably out of step with the times. It’s hard not to admire that, even if it works to the truck’s detriment on some levels.
Touted as the “most off-road capable truck currently in production”, the Power Wagon isn’t just a trim package and some oversized tires – this one is the real deal, right down the 12,000 pound Warn winch made specifically for the Power Wagon.
The fact that this Ram 2500 is the only truck in production that comes with a winch installed from the factory sets the overall tone for this heavy duty pickup – above all, the Power Wagon is designed to work where lesser trucks cannot. All of that capability comes at a price though, and I’m not just talking about the window sticker.
The anatomy of a power wagon
At first glance, it’s easy to mistake this Ram as a Ford F-150 Raptor competitor. While both trucks were designed with off-road capability in mind, the Raptor is tuned like a civilian version of a high-speed Baja racer while the Power Wagon is intended to navigate the post-apocalypse. Configured only as a crew cab, the Power Wagon’s sole power train is the 6.4-liter Hemi V8, here making 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, which is hooked to a six speed automatic. It’s a meaty combination with a growl not unlike the Dodge Challenger and Charger SRT and Scat Pack models that this motor is derived from, and with a 4.10 rear axle ratio Power Wagon is rarely wanting for additional thrust – particularly notable when you consider the truck’s curb weight is north of three tons.
Getting the power where it needs to be in the rough stuff is handled by no less than three separate locking differentials – one for the front wheels, one for the rears, and a center unit that divides the power bias between the two ends of the truck, all of which can be configured on the fly by way of a knob on the dash.
While the drive train is some serious hardware, it’s the suspension that makes the Power Wagon truly industrial-grade. While many modern off-road capable trucks and SUVs use sophisticated traction control systems to overcome obstacles and transfer power where it can be best utilized, the Power Wagon doesn’t really need to resort to electronic intervention to get the job done. Sure, traction control and hill decent assist are on board to help things along, but it’s the Power Wagon’s trick suspension setup that does most of the work.
The truck’s five-link rear coilover system is a segment exclusive while the three-link setup up front is unique to the Power Wagon and works in conjunction with a front sway bar that disconnects at the push of a button for additional suspension travel. It’s all designed to keep the chunky 285/70/R17 Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracs in contact with the ground while traversing inhospitable terrain.
Although leather seating is available on the Power Wagon in Laramie trim, this tester was equipped with cloth seats and heavy duty front and rear rubber floor mats, which seem more appropriate given the truck’s intentions. FCA’s Uconnect system with the 8.4-inch touchscreen display found elsewhere in the Dodge and RAM lineup is an equipped optional extra here as well, as is the rear backup camera, parking sensor system, spray-in bed liner and LED bed lighting.
On (and off) the road
It’s worth considering all of the ways in which the Power Wagon is designed to perform off-road because the truck doesn’t a whole lot of apology for it elsewhere. It’s something that’s evident right from the outset, as the truck’s ride height combined with the lack of running boards means there’s a degree of athleticism involved with getting into and out of the Power Wagon with any semblance of grace.
Where the pavement ends the Power Wagon truly shines.
Once you’re situated and out on confines of paved infrastructure, the combination of the sheer size of the truck, its elevated ride height, and the off road-focused tires it rides on can make placing it on the road a somewhat nebulous task. And due to the heavy duty suspension system, many of the inconsistencies on LA’s pockmarked freeways are communicated to the passengers inside, making for an occasionally bouncy, but not outright objectionable, ride.
Still, the ample power output of the 6.4-liter Hemi, light steering effort and the convenience of the optional rear backup camera and parking sensors made wrangling in the Power Wagon around town a fairly easy task once I’d acclimated to the vast dimensions and weight. Also, given the burly tread it’s equipped with, it was a surprise to discover that the Power Wagon is actually pretty quiet at highway speeds.
But it should come as little surprise that it’s where the pavement ends that the Power Wagon truly shines. I’d had a chance to drive the Power Wagon last year on two separate off-road courses, one situated just above Streets of Willow at the Willow Springs raceway and another at an FCA event in Malibu. Both trails were of the low-speed, rut-filled hill climbing variety and showcased the Power Wagon’s strongest assets. Again, while this truck will do the pre-runner thing better than most, its real specialty is traversing the kind of terrain that would likely leave other vehicles stranded.
It’s here where I was able to put those locking differentials to the test. After getting the truck caught in a particularly steep and uneven section of the trail with the rear differential unlocked, it was simply a matter of twisting a knob on the instrument panel to lock both the front and rear differentials and the Power Wagon effortlessly plowed through the section, the 6.4-liter V8 nowhere near running short of breath.
I get the sense that these courses only scratch the surface of what these trucks are really capable of, but much like in high performance context, the limitation of biggest concern here is most likely the driver behind the wheel.
Onward and upward
The DT Accessory Pack
While 2017 will be a minor refresh for the Power Wagon, it does include a few aesthetic changes that are of note. First and foremost, the Power Wagon will adopt the front end look of the Ram Rebel while also ditching the polarizing graphics that adorn this tester, swapping them out in favor of optional heritage-inspired decals. A new set of wheels unique to the Power Wagon will replace the chrome 17-inch rollers seen here, and the interior will see revision as well, again taking some inspiration from the Rebel.
And that “if it’s not broken, don’t fix it” mentality makes perfect sense when you consider the mission of the Power Wagon, one it already accomplishes with aplomb. Subtle it is not, and those looking for a coddling full size pickup would likely do best to look elsewhere. But for those who require serious off-road capability right out of the box – the kind that’s closer to needs of first responders rather than those looking for Redbull sponsorships – you’d be hard pressed to find another production pickup that can go toe to toe with the Ram Power Wagon.