By Derek Price
When an off-road truck comes with its own built-in winch, you know it means business.
Far more than an appearance package and beefed-up suspension, the new 2017 Ram Power Wagon goes places few off-road vehicles dare, especially at its gargantuan size.
It comes from the factory with the kind of equipment hardcore enthusiasts would want on their own off-road rigs, including front and rear locking differentials, 33-inch Goodyear DuraTrac tires, a disconnecting sway bar and, of course, that very conspicuous Warn 12,000-pound winch behind the front bumper.
It would be easy to write this truck off as a middle-school fantasy with its laughingly huge (and thankfully optional) stickers that shout “Power Wagon” on the sides, inspired by the brand’s Macho Power Wagon from 1979.
Heck, I bet my test truck could be identified from space with stickers this macho.
Having grown up in a tiny Texas oil town, though, I know trucks like this ought to be taken seriously.
There are people who need a Power Wagon not because it looks cool or makes for a fun weekend toy at the off-road park. They need it to get to work in the oilfield, on the farm and on construction sites, including workplaces that are so muddy and remote that having a highly capable truck can make the difference between earning a paycheck or not on some days.
But I’ve got to admit this is one of the most appealing trucks I’ve ever driven, and not because I need one. My job site is sitting in front of a desk, typing on a keyboard.
The difference is the Power Wagon’s attitude, starting with the look.
For 2017, the Power Wagon puts a distinctive, bold spin on the already eye-catching Ram 1500 Rebel’s grille. It looks like a bigger Rebel up front, with dinner-plate-size, silver “RAM” lettering offset by villainous black trim.
Inside, it takes some of the Rebel’s best ideas, too, including a tire tread pattern on the seats that matches its actual tires. Special Power Wagon badges help set it apart.
This is no fancy-pants luxury truck, though. The cabin is clearly designed for work, even when you order the optional leather seats on the premium trim. All-weather mats and a floor surface that’s easy to wash out will make you feel perfectly comfortable plopping muddy boots inside.
Based on the Ram 2500 platform, the Power Wagon begins life as a massive truck and then cranks it up another notch with more than two inches of lift from its specially designed suspension.
Without any running boards to help you step up into it — because anything hanging underneath the bottom of the truck could potentially get caught on rocks or terrain — climbing in and out of the cabin is an adventure. My kids joked about needing parachutes when they hopped out.
Its special suspension makes it feel unique from the driver’s seat, too. There’s not another truck that drives quite like the Power Wagon.
Unlike the Ford Raptor, with a floaty-feeling, highly articulated suspension designed for high-speed blasts through the wilderness, the off-road Ram feels stiffer and heavier, more like it belongs slowly climbing over rocks than speeding through a cow pasture. There’s very little body roll in turns, but the sway bar disconnect system and “Articulink” suspension allow for more articulation when crawling over difficult terrain.
Although the engine choice should be obvious on a truck with this name and attitude, the answer when your friends ask will be, “Yes. This thing’s got a HEMI.”
The Power Wagon comes standard with a 6.4-liter HEMI V8 engine that makes 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. The engine is calibrated specifically for the Power Wagon, including special throttle mapping that makes it respond differently when four-wheel-drive “low” is selected. It idles 100 rpm higher and has softer suspension response to make it easier to modulate your speed when climbing or descending over obstacles.
Pricing starts at $51,695 for the Power Wagon. The leather and luxury trim package adds around $4,500 to that price.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon Crew Cab 4×4 ($51,695). Options: Leather and luxury group ($4,995), tonneau cover ($545), keyless entry ($195), cargo view camera ($345), Connect 8.4-inch with navigation ($500), power adjustable pedals ($195), remote start system ($245), RamBox ($1,295), spray-in bedlinen ($495). Price as tested (including $1,320 destination charge): $61,825
Wheelbase: 149.3 in.
Length: 237.3 in.
Width: 79.1 in.
Height: 81 in.
Engine: 6.4-liter HEMI V8 (410 hp, 429 lbs-ft)
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Fuel economy: Not rated
Why buy it?
Based on Ram’s heavy-duty 2500 platform, the Power Wagon is modified for brutal off-road use. Huge stickers on the side give it a throwback look.