How a heavy-duty hauler becomes an incredibly capable off-road machine.
– Las Vegas, Nevada
It’s hard to have a conversation about the Ram 2500 Power Wagon without someone bringing up the Ford F-150 Raptor. I get it: two butch, off-road-ready trucks with big engines and bigger egos. The truth of the matter is, both trucks are silly, and most buyers won’t actually use them in deep-in-the-woods off-road situations. That said, should you actually find yourself crawling over boulders and trudging through mud, the Ram presents a very strong argument for why it’s the truck to have.
Yes, that’s a factory-integrated Warn winch behind the front bumper, with 90 feet of cable and the power to pull five Miatas (about 12,000 pounds) out of a ditch all at once. Behind that, there are front and rear locking differentials, and an electronically disconnectable front sway bar that allows for up to 26 inches of articulated wheel travel. Bring out your biggest rocks – with 14.3 inches of standard ground clearance and some serious leg stretching at all four corners, there isn’t much this truck can’t just up and drive over.
With 14.3 inches of ground clearance and some serious leg stretching at all four corners, there isn’t much this truck can’t just up and drive over.
Out in the desert near Nevada’s Valley of Fire state park, I’m scaling steep grades and jagged rocks with confidence. Make no mistake, no vehicle is invincible out here, but considering how easily the Ram handles any obstacle I throw at it, it’s easy to believe otherwise. There’s a satisfying feeling when manually shifting the transfer case into low-range, though every other helpful feature takes place auto-magically. Press a button to disconnect the sway, another for hill descent control. Point the nose where you want to go, and hope the earth under your wheels doesn’t erode away. Don’t forget, you’re trusting each new piece of terra firma to hold 7,000 pounds of pickup truck.
Oh yeah, this thing is huge. It’s about the same size as a Raptor SuperCrew, though the Power Wagon stands a few inches taller. It’s hard to know exactly where your wheels are at any given time, and on tighter sections of an off-road course, the Ram’s big limitation is its sheer size. I have this problem with a lot of fullsize off-road vehicles – when the going gets technical, I long for the smaller dimensions of a 10-year-old Wrangler or 4Runner, not the 20-foot-long Ram.
The Power Wagon starts life as a heavy-duty Ram 2500 with the 6.4-liter Hemi V8, mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. That’s nothing to scoff at – 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque are plenty for getting this beast up to speed with a quickness, and with a throttle that’s easy to modulate during super-low-speed crawling situations.
I’ll call it a wash between Ram and Ford in terms of interior comfort, but both are nicer inside than Chevy, GMC, and Nissan heavy-duty trucks.
Driving off the Las Vegas strip and onto the highways that lead to my desert playground, the Power Wagon’s ride quality is superb. It doesn’t hop and bounce over broken pavement, and at no point does the on-road experience feel stereotypically “trucky.” Feedback through the steering is nonexistent, and big body motions are part of every cornering experience. The tuned Bilstein shocks provide better damping for bounding through thick sand, but the truck bottoms out quicker and easier than the Ford Raptor and its sophisticated Fox units. Comparing the ride quality of both, the Ram feels closer to a traditional HD pickup than some off-road racer. And the Ram is better than the Ford for doing real truck stuff, with the ability to tow up to 10,030 pounds and carry 1,510 pounds of payload, compared to 8,000 and 1,200 for a Raptor 4x4 SuperCrew.
The most noticeable changes for the 2017 Power Wagon are cosmetic, with bolder front and rear fascias. A new grille design mimics that of the Ram 1500 Rebel, and the tailgate proudly wears the huge “RAM” text across the middle that you’ve seen on the company’s other trucks. A second row of text spells out the Power Wagon designation, as do optional graphics along the side. No one will ever mistake this thing for anything but a Power Wagon. Thankfully, this year’s graphics aren’t nearly as offensive as they used to be, and yes, you can have them removed at no extra cost.
Inside, the cabin can be as sparse or luxurious as you like, with cloth or leather upholstery, a unique gauge cluster, and every new bell and whistle and connectivity feature imaginable. Ram engineers tell me “we still think we have the best truck interior in the market,” but I’ll call it a wash between Ram and Ford in terms of interior comfort and convenience. However, both are nicer than the cabins offered by Chevy, GMC, and Nissan in their heavy-duty trucks.
Almost nothing out there is as all-around capable as a Power Wagon.
If you go to the Ram Trucks build-and-price site, you’ll see the Power Wagon situated between the Laramie and Laramie Longhorn models, with a base MSRP of $51,695, not including $1,350 for destination. But there’s an even cheaper way to get into the Power Wagon, if you don’t mind sacrificing some of the machismo exterior flair and premium interior amenities. Spec a Ram 2500 Tradesman Crew Cab with four-wheel-drive, and the six-foot, four-inch box, and then check the “Power Wagon Package” option. You get all of the same suspension and powertrain components as the more expensive version, for just $48,315 out the door. Here’s a build sheet, so you can see what I’m talking about.
All in, you can spend around $60,000 on a loaded Ram 2500 Power Wagon. That’s not too bad in the context of Ford’s Raptor, which costs about the same, but in the larger scope of Ram pickups, I’m not really sure why you’d actually buy the Power Wagon. Seems to me you’re either getting this thing for its appearance or its heavy-duty capability, and in both cases, there are more reasonable choices to be made. The less expensive Ram 1500 Rebel looks the part, and is more comfortable to drive every day. A Ram 2500 Laramie is the same price, is just as nice to drive, and offers more towing and hauling – but less off-road – capability, especially with its optional Cummins inline-six (that you can even get with a six-speed manual!).
Nevertheless, should you need to pull down a barn, rescue a heap of stranded GTIs, or drive into and up the side of the Grand Canyon, almost nothing out there is as all-around capable as a Power Wagon.
Photos: Steven Ewing / Motor1.com & FCA US