LAS VEGAS, Nevada—There’s a “road” that begins an hour or so south of here at the Colorado River, used for westward travel before rail and interstates, which crosses tarmac roads twice in 200 km. It’s a far better place to understand a Power Wagon than Vegas’ neon-and-LED jungle.
For 2017, Power Wagon adopts the ram-horn grille from the Rebel; some cast-aluminum eight-spoke dual-finish wheels; and the billboard-size RAM tailgate letters from Rebel and upper trims. In theory the heavy iron bits below will discourage people from interpreting that tailgate as a verb.
The bumpers are now powder-coated, with more texture than the average painted surface; and the winch lurking behind the front adds a can-do element.
All the real estate beneath makes Power Wagon an imposing sight, but it’s no longer nor wider than any similar configuration HD pickup, and not the tallest either. However, if you see a sign overhead with clearance 2.1 metres or less, be very careful.
The can’t-miss graphics are reminiscent of 1970s and ’80s Dodge trucks, and while I dislike wallpaper, a flat-black hood is advantageous for glare reduction.
There’s an appearance option, too, because the base ST truck with the Power Wagon package employs the earlier cross-hair grille, Ram-logo tailgate, chrome or painted bumpers, and forged five-spoke aluminum wheels, all-in-all a more subtle, business-like look.
Of course the instrument panel has a Power Wagon badge and displays same at start-up, with tire-tread pattern backgrounds, in case you miss the half-metre tall embroidery up the seat bolster.
There’s a lever in the floor for the transfer box, and a set of additional switches lower left on the center stack: these innocuous controls are key to why a Power Wagon works so well.
The remainder of the cabin is standard Ram and can be trimmed up to leather, ventilated seats and heated steering wheel, nav, nice jukebox, and so on. The front’s ten cupholders shame even minivans, and there are multiple storage areas, at least three unseen with all doors open.
Front seats were still plenty comfy after three eight-hour days in which I made nary a single adjustment, and ergonomics are fairly good. There’s no wheel telescope adjustment but the pedals move, and the split front seat allows six-person seating in a pinch.
Rear seat cushions fold up and flat-floor plates flip down, yielding indoor storage equal to many mid-size crossovers with rear seats folded. And the Ramboxes in the bed sides kept water and mud out, and locked with the truck.
Clear gauges are backed up by additional data on the 7-inch screen and its four corners, all left-thumb managed. The Uconnect 8.4-inch display was very easy to use and had “roads” marked that weren’t on most maps and Siri Eyes-Free, though elevation would have been nice and CarPlay and Android Auto were absent.
It also had multiple USB ports, a 150-watt AC power outlet in the dash, and both tailgate and bed-view cameras. It does not have a forward camera – though that might be handy off-road or when leaving a gated driveway – nor blind-spot warning or forward-collision warnings—with these mirrors and altitude, you don’t need either.
It may look big and burly but Power Wagon is the best-riding 4×4 HD pickup out there, courtesy its relatively soft suspension and tires. That means its load-carrying ability is at the low end of the ¾-ton segment (but sufficient to take the family camping or haul some bodies and tools to a job site) and maximum trailer weight is about 4,550 kg. Many of the places a Power Wagon goes, a big trailer simply doesn’t fit.
Despite the height and soft springing, body roll is well controlled and handling stable. Unless you’re ham-footed, the Power Wagon goes where you point it, and steering and brake effort befit a big truck so you aren’t lulled into thinking 3,750 kg stops or changes directions like a Camry.
The 6.4-litre HEMI V8 brings 410 hp, with 429 lb-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. Most of the time you don’t need anywhere near that and it lopes along at 2,000 revs or less, adding a very muted throb when it cuts half the cylinders in light-load conditions.
Given the mass and aero profile I was frankly surprised how often it engaged, even at 120-plus km/h sometimes, and it probably incrementally helped my 15 L/100 km highway blasts. Around the city (or on a high-range trail) plan on 21 litres-per, and towing a 4,000-kg trailer it showed 26 L/100 km—makes the decimals kind of pointless, don’t ya think?
However, use those magic dash buttons to unlock the front anti-roll bar and lock both front and rear differentials and the Power Wagon goes further off road than any HD pickup on the same tires (and with few exceptions, any half-tons and mid-sizes, as well) thanks to generous axle articulation, squishy tires, excellent hill descent control and a frame and skid-plated components built to take it. Would you worry more about an iron piece 205 mm off the ground or an aluminum one 230 mm high?
It’s surprisingly good at high speeds, too, the suspension travel not all droop and longish wheelbase aiding stability; only lighter, purpose-built desert trucks like Raptor and TRD Pro will do better at speed. When I unloaded all four wheels but didn’t air out the rear at about 130, it landed gently and didn’t even splash my drink, but you want to know the “road” before you start doing that.
A Power Wagon is about $59,000, but an ST with Power Wagon group is thousands less. You couldn’t buy and warrant the upgrades yourself for anywhere near the premium, and even at that price there’s no better all-around factory off-highway pickup.
Disclosure—This writer’s travel and accommodations were provided by the automaker for the purposes of this first-drive review.
Vehicles driven were U.S. specification but Canadian versions are expected to be of identical performance.