By G.R. Whale
It's fair to say the Ram 2500 Power Wagon is a class of one — a three-quarter-ton pickup truck designed to go farther up the trail than any other while maintaining some semblance of comfort and practicality.
In our recent 2017 Monster Factory Off-Road Challenge, the 2017 Power Wagon finished sixth of six and plenty of readers (me included) didn't see it that way. Full disclosure: I served as one of the judges for the Challenge.
PickupTrucks.com Challenges do not weigh categories, leaving it up to readers to find their own winner. As a result, when I did my own weighting, throwing out a few categories irrelevant to me and matching it up against competitors with similar options, my finishing order changed considerably.
The Power Wagon's closest competitors are "off-road" versions of the Nissan Titan XD, Chevrolet Silverado 2500, GMC Sierra 2500 and Ford F-250. As with the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Power Wagon doesn't carry or tow as much as the less-focused challengers (roughly 1,500 and 10,000 pounds, respectively) and the price premium is greater. At roughly $4,600 to $4,800 more than the most similar Ram 2500, the Tradesman Power Wagon's premium is not insignificant.
What You Get
For that extra cost, the primary upgrades are a unique front suspension and axle shafts, a winch, 33-inch tires, locking differentials at both ends and a disconnecting front anti-roll bar. Three of those are not offered on any other factory pickup, and when I searched you couldn't buy the lockers, winch and "smart bar" for $5,000, never mind have them installed at the factory.
And those 33-inch tires are unique in the heavy-duty pickup realm; they're the only manufacturer-provided load range D tire where squish, flex and sidewall protection are favored over maximum carrying capacity.
There are other features I like, too, such as hill descent control (one of the quietest we've ever tested), trim pieces and, if you want them, wallpaper and dual alternators for a 380-amp output. I prefer the forged-aluminum five-spoke wheels and small-logo tailgate on the stealthier Tradesman version of the Power Wagon, but the cast-aluminum eight-spoke wheels on the other versions suit those who desire matching spoke and lug-nut counts. However, feature options on the Tradesman are limited; you cannot get the 7-inch dash display, 8.4-inch Uconnect or the cargo-view camera. At the other extreme, the Laramie Power Wagon doesn't offer the rubber floor option, so I advise sticking with an optioned mid-grade trim level if you require leather and such.
While the Tradesman Power Wagon keeps the Ram crosshairs grille, other Power Wagons get the Ram 1500 Rebel's grille design and full Ram lettering on the tailgate. The bumpers are powder-coated, the surface resembling a fine-grain spray-on bedliner; dash trim is meant to look like cast aluminum — looks yes, feels no — and the Power Wagon logo is added to instrumentation and seats.
How It Drives
My drive began on the highway where the Power Wagon's height delivers a visibility advantage, as it does on off-road trails. Of course, the extra step-in height makes it tricky for many drivers, but those grumbling about that probably haven't been in a new Ford F-250.
On the highway, the Power Wagon's ride is quite plush when compared with other pickups in this segment with its softer-than-standard coil springs. Performance was perfectly stable towing 9,000 pounds without a weight-distributing trailer hitch, and the integrated trailer brake controller made quick work of comfortable threshold braking. To the extent that heavy-duty, tall 4x4s "handle," body roll was no more evident than in stiffer trucks; the empty rear axle was far less prone to skittering about; and the truck tended to understeer, generally preferable for hauling and towing.
This Power Wagon was quiet, with the 6.4-liter V-8 bristling when dropped in gear. It sounded a bit flatulent, though, as cylinders occasionally dropped out for improved fuel economy. Cruising at normal speeds kept the engine at moderate noise levels; however, romping on the throttle delivered a throaty howl. According to the onboard computer, after hundreds of miles split evenly between pavement and dirt, we averaged in the high 15 mpgs on the highway, about 9 mpg towing, about 10 mpg in 4-High and closer to 5 mpg slogging through sand and muck in 4-Low.
Off-road adventures included sandstone steps and climbs, silt and sandy washes, a few rocks, graded hard pack, plenty of washboard, some mud and an open lakebed.
At speed the Power Wagon never felt like it was running out of shock travel or damping, though it wasn't as quiet because of little pebbles being thrown up from the trail and antilock brake engagement.
Traction during the trail drive was only limited by surface friction coefficient, never by a wheel off the ground thanks in large part to the Power Wagon's flexible suspension — unless you count when all four tires went airborne. Drivers who stopped in the soft, sandy wash using their brakes occasionally needed to engage the rear locker to get free, but we discovered that a little throttle modulation got us as far as the locking differential. The Power Wagon only allows you to lock the front after you lock the rear and only when in low range.
Another feature we made use of on our trail drive was the front electronic disconnecting anti-roll bar that functions only when in four-wheel drive (high or low range) and at slower than 18 mph. Front axle articulation improves about 20 percent based on Ram's ramp travel index numbers (a measurement of a vehicle's suspension articulation), letting the front axle do more work with the tires on the ground.
We spent more time in 4-High with the front anti-roll bar unlocked on the trail to improve the ride and lessen our fatigue. With the bar engaged, we found the Power Wagon was essentially fighting to keep the front of the truck flat, completely unnecessary at 10 mph in undulating terrain. Unlocking it allowed the truck to roll gently side to side, absorbing bumps rather than arguing with them, thereby eliminating a lot of head toss for those inside. We spent two days and 120 miles doing that and, despite the fairly luxurious cabin, we have no doubt that we felt better after our trail drive than we would have if the sway bar was connected.
The Power Wagon isn't for everybody, whether you want a $46,000 work truck or a $64,000 luxury trail dominator. Certainly, utility workers could be spoiled by it, and friends of mine will simply buy it because they want to go wheeling, right now, anywhere they want.
Manufacturer images; Cars.com images by G.R. Whale