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Tested: 2017 Dodge Power Wagon


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Car & Driver  /  February 2017

About 150 million years ago, shifting sand dunes in the Nevada desert created the natural world’s precursor to modern-day Las Vegas. The Valley of Fire’s orange and red sandstone formations radiate with as much intensity as the Strip’s neon tubes 50 miles to the southwest. And while humans are scarce out here, early inhabitants left their ancient graffiti in the form of petroglyphs found along the rockscape. On the northern edge of the valley, at the Logandale trailhead, a herd of heavy-duty off-roaders waits restlessly. The 2017 Ram Power Wagon is ready to leave its own markings in the sand.

The Power Wagon begins its life as a Ram 2500 Crew Cab 4x4, but it isn’t your typical heavy-duty pickup. Its 10,030-pound towing capacity is topped by some light-duty trucks, but that’s a trade-off made in favor of serious off-road skills. The transformation starts with a 2.0-inch lift that elevates the ground clearance to 14.3 inches. Bilstein monotube dampers do their best to control 7300 pounds of Power Wagon over the red sand whoop-de-dos, but any attempts at speed will provide the same sensation as riding a mechanical bull. The Power Wagon is not a desert racer in the vein of the Ford F-150 Raptor. That’s not its mission; the Power Wagon is a tool for picking your way over rocks and slogging through mud bogs, and some trick hardware aids this heavy-duty rig in that task.

As with the previous Power Wagon, thrust comes via Chrysler’s 6.4-liter Hemi V-8, producing 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission and a manually shifted BorgWarner 44-47 two-speed transfer case that sends torque to either the rear or all four wheels. Our Save the Manuals! campaign might not encompass transfer cases but perhaps it should, as there’s a special satisfaction in yanking a mechanical lever to engage four-wheel drive. When you’re out on the trail, the last thing you want is an electrical failure stranding you at the bottom of the climb back to civilization.

The 2017 Power Wagon’s rear axle has a 11.5-inch ring gear, while the front axle remains at 9.3 inches. Both ends contain an electronically locking differential with a 4.10:1 final drive. Beefier axle shafts measuring 1.4 inches in diameter up front and 1.5 inches in the rear deliver torque to the wheels. When low range is selected, throttle sensitivity is dialed back, idle rpm is raised from 650 to 750 to maximize crawling ability, and stability control is partially deactivated. The Power Wagon’s 2.64:1 low range delivers effortless climbs up the loose-gravel, two-track trails and many elevation changes in the Logandale trail system. The 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires never lose their bite on the way to the summit. Because what goes up must come down, the Power Wagon has hill-descent control, which turned our downhill runs into a pedal-free drive. The manual gear-selector toggle on the column-mounted shifter is used to set descent speed.

Articulation that Rocks

Axle articulation is key when crawling over challenging terrain. To enhance the Power Wagon’s abilities, an extra joint in the front axle’s leading arms, which Ram calls Articulink, increases the range of motion. To provide up to 26 inches of front wheel articulation, Ram installs an electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bar—made by American Axle—that can separate at speeds up to 18 mph. With trail guides watching to make sure our wheels never fell into craters, this simple, effective device allowed the Power Wagon’s tires to maintain contact with terra firma, as the big truck clambered like a native bighorn sheep over jagged sandstone rocks.

The Power Wagon boasts some impressive stats, with an approach angle of 33.6 degrees, a departure angle of 26.2 degrees, and a breakover angle of 23.5 degrees. These numbers may not mean much to flatlanders, but they’re crucial when you drive up to a smooth sandstone wall in this giant rig, climb—say—a 70 percent slope, and crest over the top with only the edge of a rocker panel nicking the ground.

In the event that the Power Wagon—or a fellow four-wheeler—becomes stuck, this mighty three-quarter-ton pickup is ready, thanks to its standard 12,000-pound Warn winch with 90 feet of cable mounted behind the front bumper.

All Day Drivability

For a vehicle built for extreme off-road environs, the Power Wagon is surprisingly well mannered on the asphalt. Only a slight hum from the aggressive all-terrain tires is present in the cabin, and the hydraulically assisted recirculating-ball power steering feels light and loose off-center. The Power Wagon’s coil-sprung front and rear live axles have softer springs than the standard Ram 2500 pickup and provide a compliant ride while driving to and from your off-roading adventure. They’re cushy enough that you might think you’re riding on the 2500’s optional rear air springs, but those aren’t available on the Power Wagon.

Heavy-duty trucks like this escape full scrutiny from the EPA, meaning there are no estimated mpg figures. The in-dash computer, however, indicated that the Power Wagon possesses an undeniable thirst for gasoline. Even with the Hemi V-8’s cylinder-deactivation system, our previous test of a 2014 Ram Power Wagon returned 11 mpg. There’s no reason to expect that will improve much.

Newer: In and Out

Minor upgrades appear throughout the interior for 2017. The cloth seats feature inserts embossed with the tires’ tread pattern. Select the creature-comfort-packed $4995 Leather & Luxury group and the seat bolsters are embroidered with Power Wagon logos. Either way, three-person front seating is retained despite having bucket seats for the driver and the right-front passenger. The floor-mounted console dictates that any middle-seat occupant must ride as if straddling a horse.

Outside, the new grille is shared with the Ram Rebel, and the front and rear bumpers receive a powder-coat treatment. Whereas the bedside graphic on previous Power Wagons looked as if the truck were shedding its own sheetmetal, the new vertical Power Wagon logo is simplified, paying homage to the late-1970s Dodge W150 Macho Power Wagon. New 17-inch wheels are specific to this model.

Ram’s claim that the Power Wagon is “the most off-road-capable” pickup will certainly raise some eyebrows in Dearborn. However, there is a clear division between the Ford Raptor and this truck. While a Raptor is a desert-racing hypertruck, the Ram Power Wagon is the go-anywhere, all-terrain, heavy-duty off-road machine. Starting at $53,015, Ram Power Wagon pricing falls right in line with that of the Raptor. How would you prefer to carve your line in the sand?

Photo gallery - http://www.caranddriver.com/photo-gallery/2017-ram-power-wagon-first-drive-review

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