Car Reviews First Drives

2017 Ram Power Wagon First Drive Review: Big. Heavy. Capable

3,175 kg never felt so fun

3,175 kg never felt so fun

“Are you interested in trucks that grow hair on your chest?” my editor emailed me. I looked down at my barren torso and looked up again to read the subject line: “2017 Ram Power Wagon drive.” My dormant macho emotion had been stirred.

The 4×4 Power Wagon has one of the longest automotive histories in America. What originally started as a vehicle to defeat the Axis in World War II, the former Dodge Power Wagon arrived on the market in 1946 with the intention of taking its customers on incredible off-road adventures. Now 71 years and several interrupted generations later, the Ram Power Wagon continues delivering on that promise—but with considerably more power and enhanced technology.

At 149.3 inches of wheelbase, there’s no doubt the Power Wagon is a big pickup. Based on the Ram 2500 HD 4×4 Crew Cab, the off-road-capable truck comes with only a 6-foot-4-inch bed yet is 237.3 inches in overall length. With 14.3 inches of ground clearance, it was difficult for this 6-foot-tall journalist to jump into the cabin without having to hoist myself up—but that’s partly a consequence of the side steps having been removed.
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon front three quarter 04 1

Because the Power Wagon was built to spend most of its time off-road, Ram equipped it with a unique 2-inch lift suspension system composed of high articulation three-link front and five-link rear live axle suspension and Bilstein monotube shocks for better axle control. Added to that is an electronically disconnecting front stabilizer bar that allows the truck even more axle articulation. Although the Power Wagon was designed to conquer the great outdoors, it also has a towing capacity of 10,030 pounds (4,550 kg) and can carry a payload of 1,510 pounds (685 kg).

To test Ram’s latest addition, we headed to the Logandale Trails, which is about an hour outside Las Vegas. Located adjacent to the Valley of Fire, the terrain is a playground of sand dunes, rocks, and steep hills. Before getting the trucks dusty, the pressures of the 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires were knocked down to 30 psi from the on-road recommended 65 psi. Once we got the thumbs-up from our guide, Nena Barlow of Barlow Adventures, we were ready to start our off-road rumbling.

A small input on the throttle brought a quick answer from the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8. With 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque under the sprawling hood, our caravan was instantly spewing a dust wake. The only transmission available is a six-speed automatic. But once connected to a part-time transfer case, it allowed us to enable 4WD High for better traction on the sand. As the terrain started to change from sand to rock and the trails became narrower, the Power Wagon’s width became noticeable, and we were all hitting the branches curtaining the trail.

Climbing steep hills was effortless for the Power Wagon, but descending was even easier with hill-descent control, a system that allows the drivers to control the truck’s speed without touching the throttle or brake pedal. Using the buttons on the shift column, the drivers can select the descent speed, and the truck applies brake pressure to all four wheels in order to slowly guide the 7,000-pound (3,175 kg) truck down rugged terrain. The driver need only aim the steering wheel.
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon interior

Being able to lock the front and rear differentials gives the Power Wagon a big advantage when rock crawling. In 4WD Low and with the anti-roll bar disconnected, we slowly climbed what seconds before seemed impassable. With an approach angle of 33.6 degrees, we avoided (barely) hitting any rocks, and the axle articulation allowed our hulking truck to crawl another 150 turbulent yards before getting to the finish line. There was zero drama. The Power Wagon makes rock crawling downright easy. A small and steady throttle input moved the truck just enough to slowly avoid obstacles; the Bilstein shocks minimized cabin movement, and the Articulink suspension gave the axle extra articulation for a better crawling performance.

Although one would only use the 12,000-pound (5,443 kg) electric winch behind the front bumper in an emergency, Barlow performed a stunt with one of her crew’s Toyota 4Runners. With the Toyota sprawled on its right side and the Ram’s winch hooked to the 4Runner’s underbody, the Toyota was back on its four wheels in less than five minutes. Operating the winch was simple thanks to a controller that’s plugged in behind the front bumper.

With such a big truck, you would expect the interior to be spacious—and it is. In fact, you can even slot a third person in the front—a middle seat acts as part of the center console when folded. Sure, whoever sits there will have trouble with legroom, but at least there’s a lap belt. Our fully equipped Power Wagon came with leather seats, which were comfortable after most of the day, but you can also opt for cloth. The Power Wagon’s floor is covered in hard plastic, making it easy to clean after a day in the dust.

Ram gave the Power Wagon a strong posture. Evidently, the smaller Rebel 1500’s visual formula has struck a nerve with Ram’s customers. And if you’re a fan of the thunderous Power Wagon from the late ’70s/early ’80s, you can even add the Power Wagon graphics to the truck’s flanks and the hood. A two-tone paint job is optional.

With pricing starting at around $53,000 USD, the Power Wagon is hardly inexpensive. But that’s typical for the truck market these days. If you add goodies to it, such as the Leather and Luxury package ($4,995 USD), the Cargo View Camera located next to the stop lamp ($345 USD), and the RamBox Cargo Management System ($1,295 USD), you’ll wind up close to the $60,000 USD mark. Our tester included even more toys than that, ringing in at $62,610 USD.

For that price of admission, the Power Wagon resolutely keeps its promise to deliver off-roading smiles while simultaneously awakening your inner machismo.