2017 Ram Power Wagon first drive

What would Darth Vader look like if he were a truck? The 2017 Dodge Power Wagon

Not all four-wheel drive vehicles are created equal.

It’s easy to equate the availability of four-wheel drive and macho marketing of most pickup trucks with endless off-road capability but, as with any other type of vehicle, certain trucks get the job done better than others.

Ram believes its 2017 Power Wagon stands head and shoulders above the competition when it comes to off roading, just as the massive Power Wagon itself stands head and shoulders above most normal-sized humans. To prove it, Ram took Digital Trends to the desert outside Las Vegas for a day of sand-flinging, rock-crawling action.

What makes a Power Wagon?

The Power Wagon is less a distinct model than it is a collection of parts. Ram took everything it believes should go into an epic off-road vehicle, and applied it to its 2500 heavy-duty pickup truck.

This includes the name, which is borrowed from the original Dodge Power Wagon. Based on a military vehicle Dodge built during World War II, it debuted in civilian guise in 1945 as one of the first mass-produced four-wheel trucks. The name was revived in 2005 for use by Dodge, and continued on with Ram after the truck line was split into a separate brand.

The Power Wagon has continued since then as an off-road of the Ram 2500 truck, which makes it a somewhat unusual beast. It’s the only off-road performance model based on a heavy-duty truck; other off-road pickups are based on smaller half-ton or midsize models. For the 2017 model year, Ram made some notable updates, augmenting largely carryover mechanical bits.

Ram took everything it thought would make an epic off-road vehicle, and applied it to its 2500 heavy-duty pickup truck.

Ram fits the Power Wagon with upgraded suspension that includes Bilstein monotube shocks and over two inches of lift compared to a standard Ram 2500. The Power Wagon also rides on 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, and includes one standard feature you won’t find on most other trucks: a 12,000-pound Warn electric winch, mounted to the front bumper. This will come in handy if you ever get stuck … or if anyone around you does.

For 2017, Ram also gave the Power Wagon a thorough restyling. A new grille and headlights mimic the look of the Ram 1500 Rebel model, meaning the Power Wagon now looks like it’s wearing pieces of Darth Vader’s mask. A two-tone graphics package is available, with black lower-body striping and vertical “Power Wagon” lettering right behind the cab. At the back, “RAM” is spelled out in 324-point bold font on the tailgate. Subtle.

With its new styling elements, the Power Wagon certainly looks the part of a tough truck. On the other hand, Ram may have gone a little too far with this one. Luckily, if you love the off-road hardware but hate the styling, you can have all of the Power Wagon equipment on a standard Ram 2500 Tradesman model, but without the Power Wagon visuals.

On the trail

Of course, if you use it the way it was designed, your Power Wagon will be covered in dirt, mud, or sand before long. Ram chose a stretch of Nevada’s Logandale trail system for this test drive, sandy tracks, steep hills, and plenty of rocks to crawl over. How did the Power Wagon do? Hint: we didn’t get stuck even once.

To conquer the rough stuff, the Power Wagon employs some trick suspension, including a disconnecting sway bar. The sway bar helps with handling on the road, but off road it inhibits the ability of the axle to move up and down, which is important when negotiating uneven surfaces. So the Power Wagon’s sway bar — which engages and disengages at the push of a button — offers the best of both worlds.

2017 Ram Power Wagon
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends
Stephen Edelstein/Digital Trends

While the suspension helped the truck negotiate obstacles, the four-wheel drive system kept it moving forward. The Power Wagon features an old-school drive system with a low-range option that lets it crawl along over tricky surfaces. Front and rear lockers force both wheels on each axle to turn at the same speed, which also aids traction. Other heavy-duty pickup trucks offer a rear locker, but Ram claims the Power Wagon is only one that has them in both the front and rear.

The Power Wagon’s aggressive Goodyear Wrangler tires deserve much of the credit as well, and it’s worth noting that, for this off-road excursion, they were aired down from the factory-recommended 65 psi to about 30 psi. That’s something anyone planning to drive in these conditions should do anyway, as it increases the size of the tires’ contact patches, helping them to better grip loose surfaces such as sand.

All of this adds up to a serious off-road machine. The Power Wagon waded through sand with ease, braked itself down steep hills with hill-descent control, and drove up rock faces like they were paved highway on-ramps. Through all this, neither the truck nor this writer broke a sweat.

On the road

For a big truck, the Power Wagon is fairly civilized on the road. Its coil-spring rear suspension helps restrain the bucking and shuddering that usually occurs when driving a pickup truck unloaded, and irons out road bumps pretty well.

The Power Wagon waded through sand with ease and drove up rock faces like they were paved highway on-ramps.

The Power Wagon is offered solely with a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine, hooked to a six-speed automatic transmission. The Hemi develops a healthy 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque, but there is only so much it can do against the Power Wagon’s 6,996-pound curb weight. All of that torque does do what it can, though.

The interior is largely the same as what you get in any other Ram 2500 truck, meaning it has a sensible layout and nice-looking materials. To jazz things up a bit, the Power Wagon also gets seats with an embossed tire tread pattern. That’s something truck fans will likely appreciate.

The 2017 Ram Power Wagon starts at $53,010. We drove a fully-loaded version with optional features like heated and ventilated leather seats, heated steering wheel, spray-in bedliner, and Uconnect infotainment system with 8.4-inch touchscreen and navigation, price at $62,610. Alternatively, you can get the Ram 2500 Tradesman model with all of the Power Wagon off-road hardware — and not much else — at a starting price of $48,315.

Conclusion

Whichever model you choose, you get a vehicle with great off-road capability, as well as the towing and hauling abilities of a heavy-duty truck.  That makes the Power Wagon an impressive vehicle on paper, but something of a head scratcher in the real world. Unless you regularly tow large loads and drive off road, the Power Wagon is probably overkill. But if you need a vehicle that meets those dual requirements, it’s hard to think of anything else that fits the bill.

Highs

  • Amazing off-road capability
  • All of the capability of a heavy-duty truck
  • Hemi engine’s torque

Lows

  • Not for people who like to fly under the radar
  • All of the weight of a heavy-duty truck
  • The price
Cars

Tesla could show the electric pickup Elon Musk is dying to build in 2019

Tesla has started designing its long-promised pickup truck. The yet-unnamed model will come with dual-motor all-wheel drive and lots of torque, plus it will be able to park itself.
Cars

These winter-warrior cars will never leave you out in the cold

Snow can be an absolute pain if your vehicle isn't optimized to handle that sort of terrain. If brutal snowstorms are an annual part of your life, we recommend you pick up one of these winter-ready vehicles.
Cars

Thinking of opting for a car with a diesel engine? Here's what you need to know

Modern diesel-powered models prove that it is possible to build a clean, efficient diesel engine without sacrificing performance. Here's what you need to know about diesel cars, and how they differ from gasoline-powered models.
Cars

2019 Ford Ranger saves fuel without sacrificing towing capacity

The 2019 Ford Ranger marks Ford's long-awaited return to the midsize truck segment, which has seen a resurgence lately. But will being late to the party make Ford's job more difficult?
Cars

Pininfarina Battista is a 1,900-horsepower, 250-mph electric supercar

The Pininfarina Battista will be the first production car from famed Italian design firm Pininfarina. Named after company founder Battista Pininfarina, it has a claimed 1,900 horsepower and a $2.5 million price tag.
Cars

Allegro.ai is helping Hyundai mine the artificial intelligence gold rush

In November 2018, Hyundai invested in a startup named Allegro.ai. We talked to the company's founder to learn more about what that means for consumers in the not-too-distant futures.
Emerging Tech

With this robotic garage, retrieving your car is like using a vending machine

Remembering where we parked our cars can be a real pain. But what if our cars came to find us, rather than the other way around? A new automated robot parking valet system aims to help.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Cars

2020 Toyota Supra caught hiding in a trailer without a shred of camouflage

Toyota's plan to once again lure enthusiasts into showrooms involves bringing back the Supra, one of its most emblematic nameplates. Here's what we know so far about the upcoming coupe, which Toyota is developing jointly with BMW.
Cars

NYC mandates minimum wage for Uber, Lyft, other app-based rideshare drivers

New York City's Taxi and Limousine Commission approved a rule that drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft must be paid at least minimum wage, even though they are independent contractors. The new pay rate includes operating costs.
Cars

LM Industries’ autonomous shuttles head to Phoenix, Sacramento campuses

LM Industries will deploy Olli low-speed autonomous shuttles at school campuses in Arizona and California as part of its ongoing "fleet challenge," which asks local groups to propose uses for autonomous vehicles.
Cars

Bosch’s CES-bound shuttle concept takes us on a trip to a not-too-distant future

Bosch envisions a future in which driverless shuttles occupy their own market segment. The German firm won't build the shuttles, but it wants to provide everything else, ranging from the drive system to the apps used to hail them.
Emerging Tech

A lidar-equipped truck knows exactly how much de-icer to apply on roads

Lidar is best known as the laser-based technology that helps self-driving cars sense their surroundings. But the city of Knoxville has another, more seasonal use for it: De-icing roads.
Cars

Driving a prototype 2020 Passat at Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground

Volkswagen’s Arizona Proving Ground is where new cars are tested to the breaking point, including the 2020 Passat midsize sedan. Ride along as the new Passat completes testing ahead of its 2019 launch.