For some folks, Dodge’s Power Wagon represents the Ultimate Truck. This is a vehicle whose name is a veteran of several wars and has conquered some of the least hospitable terrain on earth, and it’s not about to let down its predecessors. Of course, that’s just the name, and it’s gracing an all-new truck underneath. Can the new Power Wagon live up to its legacy?
As with past versions, the Power Wagon is available only on the sturdier chassis of the heavy-duty Ram. The Power Wagon as we know it today has existed quietly since 2005, as the toughest off-roader in Dodge’s stable. A modified suspension, locking differentials, underbody armor and of course a winch mounted behind the front bumper all ensure that this truck is ready for serious off-road action.
It graduates to the third-generation Ram platform for 2010, and picks up a bit more distinction. The Power Wagon is available as a Crew Cab model with a 6’4″ cargo box. A distinctive yet tasteful graphics package brings to mind the Power Wagons of the 1970s, with a blacked-out hood and red-lined POWER WAGON lettering emblazoned on the tailgate and just under the hood scallops that set the heavy-duty Rams apart from the lesser half-ton trucks. The integrated 12,000-pound Warn winch rides behind the front bumper, and the Power Wagon features some of the most extensive underbody armor to be found on any factory-built truck, with hefty skid plates and a metal cage protecting all of the Power Wagon’s vitals. This is a mean truck. It might use that winch to help yank a stuck truck out of the mud…or it might just calmly watch it die.
On the inside, the Power Wagon shares appointments with the Ram 1500, including handsome carlike soft-touch surfaces on the dash and elegant full stitching. The seats are comfortable enough for all-day driving, and there are dozens of cubbies for gear, including under-floor storage in front of the rear seats that can stow drinks and ice. An available backup camera in the tailgate is also helpful for negotiating tough off-road obstacles. Don’t let the soft materials and high-tech tricks fool you, though; the Power Wagon is a serious piece of equipment.
Only one powertrain is offered: the HEMI 5.7 liter V8. Tweaked for 2010, the HEMI features variable valve timing, and Dodge’s engineers have improved both output and fuel economy. In the Power Wagon, this engine produces 383 horsepower and 400 pound-feet of torque. It’s backed up by a five-speed automatic transmission. Unfortunately, the massive torque of the Cummins turbodiesel can’t be had in the Power Wagon, as the longer engine interferes with the mounting of the winch. That’s a shame; a diesel, six-speed manual Power Wagon would be a hellacious thing indeed. The HEMI’s instant power is well-suited to off-road duty, however. That’s a good thing, considering the standard four-wheel drive. Though the front and rear locking differentials are engaged electronically, the four-wheel drive is controlled by a lever rather than a push-button, reminding you that the Power Wagon is a Serious Truck in the old-school sense of the word.
On pavement, the Power Wagon rides like a truck, in a good way. Bilstein shocks provide a compliant ride that’s stiffer than that of the standard Ram 2500. An electronically disconnecting swaybar improves suspension articulation, reducing the body twist and toss that are common to large pickup trucks on uneven trails. For drivers who like a truck to feel sturdy and firm, the ride is perfect; it’s not bouncy over small bumps, but there’s not a hint of float in it as well. Off-road, this translates to a suspension that’ll keep the driver informed of what’s going on underneath, even when it’s out of sight. Walking the Power Wagon around obstacles is easy, even with limited visibility.
Driving this truck off-road is an experience. Where off-roaders like the Jeep Wrangler and Land Rover LR3 are all about finesse in the rough stuff, the Power Wagon is as un-subtle as it gets. This is a punch-it-and-hang-on off-roader, bred for tackling muddy bogs and slippery hills with gusto. A combination of grippy 32-inch BF Goodrich tires, an ultra-low 4.56 axle ratio and Bilstein shocks allow for a level of point-and-shoot hill climbing that’s unheard of in a stock Wrangler. The Power Wagon positively churns through hostile terrain, the HEMI singing a song of unembarrassed horsepower, yet the steering remains responsive even with all three differentials locked up. More than once, it looked like the truck would be powering into the woods with a bootfull of opposite lock dialed in, and at the last moment the Power Wagon would hook up and turn just the right way in a slow-motion four wheel drift. This is not to say that the Power Wagon can’t “Tread Lightly,” of course. Healthy approach and departure angles, articulation and breakover angle combined with a controllable throttle mean that it can creep with ease. But when the situation requires power, that’s where this truck shines.
The Power Wagon is a truck that knows its purpose in the market, and it’s got nothing to do with fashion or trends. When asked how Ford’s hot-rod off-road pickup the SVT Raptor compared to the Power Wagon, one Dodge representative said that the Raptor was a nice truck, but that the Power Wagon “will be around long after it’s gone.” For a hard-working tough truck like this one, longevity just might be the biggest achievement of all. Of course, that durability and toughness doesn’t come cheap: pricing starts at $45,780.
Specifications: All specs are for the 2010 Ram 2500 Power Wagon.
Length: 237.4 in.
Width: 79.1 in.
Height: 78.4 in.
Wheelbase: 148.9 in.
Curb weight: 6398 lb.
Towing capacity: 10,450 lb.
Payload: 2400 lb.
Base price: $45,780
Engine: 5.7 liter OHV V8
Drivetrain: five-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Horsepower: 383 @ 5600
Torque: 400 @ 4000