Working and Playing With the 2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Cars.com photos by G.R. Whale

By G.R. Whale

The Ram 2500 Power Wagon has established a reputation as the factory off-road heavy-duty pickup truck. But how does the Power Wagon work as, or compare to, a three-quarter-ton pickup? Ram delivered this well-used, near-loaded sample that I towed at capacity to find out.

Related: Is the 2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon King of the Mountain?

Relevance of the "half-/three-quarter/one-ton" nomenclature has waned as pickup truck lineups continually expand. We've driven half tons that carry anywhere from 740 pounds to more than 3,000, as well as one tons capable of from less than one ton to more than three-and-a-half tons. The general premise of a 250/2500 series three-quarter ton is a pickup between light-duty 150/1500 series "half-ton" and 350/3500 "one-ton" pickups. Like many segment separations, there's a regulatory classification involved — in this case, a gross vehicle weight rating of more than 8,501 pounds up to 10,000 pounds. To further muddy things, a "heavy-duty" pickup generally refers to 250/2500 series or higher, but these are recognized by the Federal Highway Administration as "light-duty trucks."

2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Every pickup builder except Toyota offers a three-quarter-ton pickup. But only two have a GVWR outside a narrow 9,900-10,000-pound window, and one of those is the Power Wagon (the other is Nissan's Titan XD).

How Much Can the Power Wagon Tow?

The Power Wagon claims a base weight of 6,907 pounds, payload of 1,660 pounds, GVWR of 8,565 pounds, top trailer weight of 10,620 pounds and a gross combined weight rating (truck, trailer and everything in them) of 18,000 pounds. Most other gasoline-engine, crew-cab, four-wheel-drive, short-bed three-quarter tons — the only Power Wagon configuration — have a maximum payload in the range of 3,300-3,800 pounds and top tow rating of 14,000 and 17,000 pounds. Primarily because of its winch, unique front suspension and front anti-roll bar disconnect — the decals and tires don't help — it weighs 285 pounds more than a plain, gasoline-powered Ram 2500, with most of the additional weight on the front wheels. However, its maximum rear axle load is 200 pounds more than the plain 2500. This sample, with all its options, scaled at 7,485 pounds.

2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

In terms of outright load and towing capacity, the Power Wagon trails other three-quarter-ton pickups. The reasons are simple: The suspension is designed primarily for flexible articulation with capacity secondary, and you can't plop a big winch on the front of any front-engine vehicle without affecting airflow over the radiator, air-conditioning condenser, transmission fluid cooler and so on. Heat rejection and towing capacity are intertwined.

It does deliver all the other three-quarter-ton advantages over a half ton, including a full-floating rear axle and stouter frame, axles, brakes, steering, cooling and electrical systems. Those are just some of the things that make towing or backcountry travel less stressful.

How Well Does the Power Wagon Tow?

Since a friend and I both have three-quarter-ton pickups, I volunteered at his business for a day, tasked with collecting a 9,800-pound Bobcat trailer from a job site. Myriad indoor storage and RamBoxes make great places to put messy or noisy tools without mucking up the plush cab. The fine display lined up the tow ball the first time, and the trailer brakes were quickly adjusted. With 950 pounds of tongue weight, the Ram's rear dropped by 3 5/8 inches, while the front lifted by three-quarters of an inch and put me over the GVWR by 24 pounds. I should've parked that Bobcat an inch or two rearward.

2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

With the same 410-horsepower Hemi engine and eight-speed automatic as Rams listed for trailers twice this weight, the Power Wagon had no trouble pulling the load up a 7 percent grade at the posted 55 mph, accelerating if needed. Yes, it was turning 4,000 rpm in 4th gear, but you've surely heard the 2019 Ram 2500 is quiet. It wasn't as nice as a diesel going downhill and required regular but brief service-brake applications (still in 4th gear), and you knew there was nearly five tons tied to the back. Indicated fuel economy while towing averaged 14.2 mpg versus empty on the same route (with a 65-mph limit) of 19.9 mpg. Using Tow/Haul mode showed 55-57 mph around 2,000 rpm in 7th gear even on level ground, but when I switched it off, the truck went to 8th gear, around 1,600-1,700 rpm, and stayed there when I re-engaged Tow/Haul.

So, a Power Wagon will tow a moderate trailer like a typical three-quarter ton and carry less weight. However, the same philosophy of flexibility over capacity, and Ram's rear coil spring suspension unique in HD pickups, provides ride comfort most three-quarter-ton pickups can't match. Comfort levels on an 8-foot-bed crew-cab Ram with the optional rear air suspension will come close on smoother roads, but this is the league in which expansion joints come into play and short trucks sometimes ride better than long ones. There's also the tire pressure variable: Once I was done with load testing, I took 10 pounds per square inch out of the rear tires, primarily for better wear, though that also makes the tire — the first part of any suspension movement — a tad softer.

2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

The Power Wagon also maintains its advantage in off-highway performance, the new-for-2019 eight-speed automatic adding another degree of ease to low-range climbing and descending, or serious grunt for soft sand and clearing muddy clay from tire treads. I spent a few hours in low range on "moderate" 4x4 trails; my only problem was the 149-inch wheelbase is less than ideal in an environment built for less than 120 inches.

The nearest competitors I could configure to my $67,220 Power Wagon, including destination fees, were a 2019 Titan XD SL with lift and flares for about $60,000, a 2019 Ford F-250 Lariat FX4 at $62,000; a 2020 Chevy Silverado 2500 LTZ Z71 at $62,000; and if you're a Ram loyalist in need of more capacity, a 2500 Laramie with off-road package (which can't be combined with the optional rear air suspension) for $65,000. None of those include a winch, locking front axle, disconnecting anti-roll bar or installation. The 2020 F-250 Tremor package for off-road use could add a few thousand dollars to bring it close to Power Wagon pricing, but we'll have to wait for one to compare flexibility and ride quality.

2019 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

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