Everyone knows the Ford F-150 Raptor, the pickup that has no equal in the sand and off the road. You’d think that the best-equipped Ram for play off the beaten track would be the 1500 Rebel, but it’s actually the Ram Power Wagon. What makes it unique is that it’s offered as a heavy-duty 2500 version only.
The Ram 2500 Power Wagon wasn’t born yesterday. In fact, it was initially launched in 1946 when soldiers demanded that Dodge offer a model that was as capable as those produced for the war. Back then, it was called the Dodge WDX, and after being discontinued in 1980, it was revived in 2005. The decision was then made to use a 2500 as the base, because it was the only one with a rigid axle suspension that could accommodate a disconnecting sway bar.
An even more offensive Rebel
For 2017, the Power Wagon was updated to match the lineup’s recent makeover, but the mechanical components are unchanged. The Power Wagon comes in the biggest, most practical configuration only, namely the four-door 4x4 Crew Cab.
Style-wise, it features the same elements as its kid brother the Rebel, most notably the front grille featuring the large Ram logo in the middle. However, several unique components make it easily distinguishable, like the air intakes in the hood, the immense winch in the front bumper and the style-enhancing decal package. Its enormous 17-inch wheels with 33-inch tires raise its ground clearance, but because of the lack of running boards, you literally have to climb aboard. Ladies, don’t even think about wearing a skirt!
On board, it’s very similar to the other models, except for the dark tones and Power Wagon logos on the sides of the seats. You can spruce up the cabin with a leather and luxury package that will tack on another $4,995 to the $58,945 starting price.
As capable as a Jeep Wrangler
The 2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon is more than just a pretty face. It includes a bunch of components to make it almost as dynamic off-road as a Jeep Wrangler. The ace up its sleeve is the unique suspension with modified braces to better control roll, Bilstein dampers, an electronic sway bar disconnect system to raise the level of articulation by helping the front axle move independently of the chassis and, most importantly, a front and rear locking differential for optimal traction in extreme conditions. The vehicle features 14.3 inches (363 mm) of ground clearance and can tow up to 10,030 pounds.
While the Power Wagon was once propelled by a 5.7-litre HEMI engine, since 2014 it has been equipped with the brand’s most powerful V8: a 6.4-litre eight-cylinder that generates 410 horsepower and 429 lb.-ft. of torque coupled with an ultra-robust six-speed automatic transmission. No surprise here, it isn’t fuel efficient whatsoever, but the engine’s cylinder deactivation system improves overall fuel economy on the road.
The Ram Power Wagon is not available with a diesel engine. The belief is that the demand wouldn’t warrant it, especially because it would cost more, and the vehicle would have to be modified because the winch occupies the spot where the additional cooler would have to go.
The proof is in the pudding
We test drove the 2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon near Las Vegas. On the Valley of Fire State Park’s winding roads, the vehicle’s steering proved none-too-precise, but it isn’t exactly a sports car we’re dealing with here. Acceleration is direct and the V8 has a deep likable sound. Although the rear suspension was tweaked to make the ride a smidge more civilized, the Power Wagon remains a very testy vehicle. You’d have to be a glutton for punishment to buy it for your everyday comings and goings.
It’s hard to know a vehicle’s true calling without putting it to the test, so we took it off the beaten track and into its element. We wanted to properly assess this massive pickup, especially since it looks more like a work vehicle than a Jeep.
As our photo gallery of the Ram 2500 Power Wagon shows, we were surprised by its capabilities. The suspension absorbs bumps famously when blasting down trails. Traction is optimal on climbs, and the descent control system modulates the brakes and the traction control system to so that the vehicle can maintain its trajectory and low speed, even on the steepest slopes.
When things get extreme, the transfer case helps shift into low gear, allowing you to disconnect the sway bar and lock the differentials using two commands located on the dashboard. The Ram Power Wagon becomes a veritable tank, able to climb stone walls as few other vehicles can—an unexpected achievement for a full-size pickup. These situations made all its qualities apparent and helped us understand why it’s so popular with emergency response and patrol services. In some places, we weren't sure we were going to make it, but the Ram Power Wagon rose to the occasion every time, only coming away with a few scratches. Fortunately, there are several protection plates located under the chassis, otherwise we would have left a few pieces out there.
It you ever get stuck, rest assured that the giant winch integrated into the front bumper can pull up to 12,000 pounds. You won’t be stuck for long with that at your disposal—it can practically hoist you to the top of a tree.
The Ford Raptor is mainly for driving at high speed on trails, while the Ram Power Wagon is the machine of choice for climbing and tackling extreme terrain. You’d think this pickup’s DNA was enhanced with Jeep genes. Not other production pickup can boast such impressive off-road capabilities.