Everybody selling trucks in America has crapped out a few "Off-Road" packages; many of which stop at stickers and skid plates. The 2015 Ram Power Wagon may be a long enough to land a plane on, but damn if it doesn't deliver as a bona-fide off-road work truck.
(Disclosure: Ram let me borrow a Power Wagon because I promised them I'd do some towing and winching. It did, rather well.)
Straight off; stop comparing the Power Wagon to the Ford Raptor. It's an easy enough mistake to make… both trucks are tall, sit on knobby tires, and are typically seen in garish graphics. Besides, nobody's slinging mud at each other like Ford and Ram right now.
But basically; the Raptor is built for (relatively) high-speed desert driving; where the ground wants to swallow you up between bumps and you've got a lot of room to run. The Power Wagon is build for low-speed crawling; where the ground is wet and sticky and there are a lot of rocks that want to keep your oil pan as a souvenir of your visit. The Ram's also a three quarter-ton truck that's made to tow and haul a lot more than the F-150 on which the Raptor's based.
PickupTrucks.com did a nice job in-depth explanation of the differences between the trucks in 2009, you can check that out here.
Ram did flirt with the idea of challenging Raptor in the desert space with the Ram Runner; a sand pig you could "build" from the dealership's Mopar upgrade catalogue, but it didn't do much to impress the die hards.
We Get It Already, So What Is The Power Wagon?
The Ram Power Wagon is a real fucking sledgehammer of an off-road work truck.
Ford and GM have both offered off-road trim packages for their pickups. Like, with "off-road" actually in the name. Ford's FX4 Off-Road featured modestly more robust shocks, skid plates, and some dress-up items. Chevy and GMC's Z71 Off-Road trucks featured (and continues to feature) modestly more robust shocks, skid plates, and some dress-up items.
The Ram Power Wagon has a 2" lift, aggressive 33" tires, locking front and rear differentials, a quick-release sway bar to increase articulation, and a 12,000 pound winch over a standard Ram 2500. That is an off-road package you can talk mustaches and wood choppin' with, my friend.
In most press photos we've seen, the Power Wagon has a graphics kit that looks like it was barfed out by a dragon who just ate the whoriest Cigarette boat on the Jersey Shore. I mean, really, that eye-searing red isn't enough?
Thankfully you can opt out of these. Above is a Power Wagon in my pick of the palette; Prarie Gold. You're still going to be hard to miss, but you've mitigated about 80% of onlooker eye-rolls.
Once you make the climb, which is a struggle for anyone under about 5'6", the Power Wagon is very comfortable, with surprisingly satisfactory level of material quality. After the Dodge Durango R/T, a great vehicle which really only falls flat in interior-textures, I was expecting McDonald's plastic all-around. But no; the range-topping Laramie is really quite a nice place to sit in.
The truck is built to seat six; the center console up front folds to a bench seat (yes!) but at a skinny six feet tall I reckon you could fit at least ten of me in the cab with minimal awkwardness.
Audio, Infotainment, Gadgets
I still reckon Chrysler's Uconnect is the best infotainment software on the market right now for ease-of-use, features, and my grandmother being able to figure it out without smashing her glasses in frustration.
The back-up camera is perfectly placed for lining up a trailer (even though you need a 5" receiver-drop to pull a car trailer). Winch looks nice and tidy behind the bumper, but the lock/unlock lever is a pain to reach and it gets very hot after the engine's been running for a bit. Stereo's nothing special.
This truck could stand to take a page out of Ford's book and make some cool inclinometer/tilt meter screen. At least that'd help you remember how off-roady your truck is when you're not looking at the outside.
The 6.4 V8 gasoline-guzzlin' HEMI is enough to propel the truck forward. It's not particularly spritely even unladen, but seemed altogether unaffected by even 6,000 pounds of metal hooked up to the trailer hitch. Until you start looking at the gas gauge, which interacts with the tachometer as though they're a couple of same-pole magnets.
Ezra Dyer tested the truck for the New York Times and said to "expect 16 MPG highway." John Cappa of Pickuptrucks.com got "13 to 14," and I reckon they either both made those numbers up or conducted their entire road tests downhill. We were looking at about 11 on the highway with 9 under acceleration, dropping to 6 under acceleration towing my International Scout which became a ghastly, steady 3 towing that same Scout uphill. That's all according to the Power Wagon's gauges.
Gearbox & Transfer Case
On the road with or without a trailer, the gearbox behaves well and keeps the engine where it needs to be without succumbing to the meteoric mass it's charged with moving.
4x4 engages with acceptable swiftness, and low-speed shifting is effective. The clunks only get a little disconcerting in low range shifts between drive and reverse, and I promise I was being gentle.
The curb weight on the Ram Power Wagon is over 7,000 pounds before your fat ass even climbs in. If you don't respect that you're going to rear-end somebody because physics. That said, the big Ram's brakes are up to the task of reeling this monster in with much less pre-planning than is required to stop a commercial truck of similar size.
Ride & Handling, Suspension
"Diminished on-road grip," said Car & Driver's Mike Sutton. What was he, getting into it on a skid pad or something? (Turns out, yes. Well alright then.)
From a daily driving standpoint, the coil-sprung Power Wagon has pretty good manners for a heavy-duty pickup truck. Compared to a 2500 from a few generations ago, the ride is downright decent... though that can be said for new Super Duty Fords and HD Chevys, too.
Off-road, the big (32" of travel-big) Blistein shocks walk over rocks gently enough to drink coffee on the way to Jeremiah Johnson's house; where you'll definitely be going because he'd love this truck.
Regarding articulation, Ram says the Power Wagon scores 680 on a 30º Ramp Travel Index Test. That means it's able to drive up a seriously steep obstacle without lifting its opposing wheels off the ground... Edmund's got a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon to do 687 with its stabilizer off, and that's pretty much as good as it gets from the factory. For a little more context, Four Wheeler was able to get stock Chevrolet Silverado Z71 to score 438 on a 20º ramp.
Hauling, Towing, Cargo Management
The lift makes access to the bed a bit of a struggle, but space is ample once you've figured out how to get your cargo inside. I'm a fan of the optional (about $1,500) Ram Box storage spaces on the gunwales; it's nice to have waterproof spaces without investing in a cap.
Hooking up a trailer is easy thanks to a perfectly-positioned camera. We towed about 6,000 and we only felt it in our wallets when we hit the gas station afterwards.
Off-Road & Maneuverability
In short; "Yes" & "No."
The Ram Power Wagon has a unique skill set; it can get an immense amount of cargo to places where infrastructure has yet to be invented. Not only can it climb a two-foot rock with one wheel and keep the rest planted on flat ground, but it can clear its own path through tighter trails through sheer force of will. And more often than not it actually has to; at almost 240" long (more foot longer than a fin-tail'ed Cadillac Eldorado) the damn thing doesn't fit anywhere... per se.
But if you don't think battle damage looks cool you're not buying this truck anyway.
All Power Wagons are full four-door, 4WD. Ram offers the Power Wagon in their base "Tradesman" trim, bless their hearts, which gets you all the off-road goodies but skips temperature controlled-seats, leather, navigation, and other niceties a whiskey-swillin' man's man like yourself can dispense with, for about $42,000.
A 2015 Ford F-250 XL in the same size is certainly cheaper ($38,000) but it doesn't come close on off-road ability. A comparable Chevy 2500 LT starts at $43,000, and that doesn't even include the Rancho shocks and little skid plates you get in the Z71 upgrade.
Verdict: Truck Yeah!
I love the fact that somebody offers an off-road configuration of a work truck that unquestionably includes more than just a badge; even if those badges are outrageous stickers (which you can opt-out of, thankfully.) The 2014 Ram Power Wagon truck can haul, tow, and go seriously deep. Pair that with a comfortable interior and a nice computer interface and you've got a winner.
Besides the obscene fuel consumption, the hardest thing to come to terms with on the Power Wagon is its almost-unmanageable length. A single cab version of this truck would easily seat four normal-sized humans across and be much, much easier to maneuver on the trails. But alas, that's not what The (paying) People Want, is it?
The Ram Power Wagon might be a little large, but in a market that's saturated with flimsy "off-road appearance upgrades" it's a refreshingly capable and honest rock'n roll work truck.
Specifications As Tested
2014 Ram 2500 Laramie Power Wagon
MSRP As Tested: $55,030
Engine: 6.4 HEMI V8 (gasoline)
Output: 410 hp @ 5600 rpm / 429 lb-ft of torque @ 4000 rpm
Transmission: 6-Speed automatic
Rear axle ratio: 4.10
MPG As Tested: 10.8 over 250 miles: 40% towing 6,000 pounds on the highway, 40% driving empty on the highway, 20% driving around town/off-road.
Max payload: 1,492 lbs.
Max towing: 10,800 lbs.
Max GCVW: 18,000 lbs.
Curb weight: 7,324 lb
Bed length: 6'4"
Ground clearance: 14.5"
Approach angle: 34º
Departure angle: 23.5º
Breakover angle: 25.5º
Water fording depth: 30"
Images: Andrew P. Collins, Chrysler