These days, the Ram 2500 Power Wagon comes out of the Saltillo Truck Assembly Plant in Coahuila, Mexico. Back in the 1940s, the civilian version of the original Power Wagon was born out of requests from G.I.s who had served in World War II for trucks like the ones they used during their service. In 1946, Dodge obliged with the WDX, which FCA states was “similar in design to the 3/4-ton military weapons carrier.” A 230 cubic-inch flathead six powered the closed-cab, one-ton truck. A four-speed transmission and a two-speed transfer case put power to the ground.
The WDX’s 8×4.5-foot bed helped it carry a maximum payload of 3,000 pounds. Perhaps most importantly, the WDX came with four-wheel drive from the factory in a time when other truck makers didn’t offer it on their rigs. The W100, W200, W300, and W500 Power Wagons came in 1957. Of course, they had four-wheel drive. They also had more conventionally styled bodies – and available V8 power.
Between 1972 and 1980, the Power Wagon wore different grille designs and paint schemes. The automotive world lost the Power Wagon after the 1980 model year. It didn’t return until 2005 as the ultimate off-road version of the Dodge Ram 2500. Engineers fitted it with a long list of hardcore equipment, including 33-inch all-terrain tires, a 12,000-pound winch in the front bumper, and optional Mopar heavy-duty steel rock rails.
Since then, Ram has incorporated a number of cosmetic and mechanical changes. In recent years, the 6.4-liter Hemi V8 replaced the 5.7-liter power plant. For 2017, the Ram 2500 Power Wagon received new looks. We recently got an eyeful of them at the Texas Auto Writers Association‘s (TAWA’s) 2016 Texas Truck Rodeo – and a few minutes to drive the restyled legend on- and off-road.
Ram makes the Power Wagon in two trim levels. The work-oriented Tradesman comes covered with monotone paint and a variety of black accents. It may look different than the regular (if there is such a thing) model, but both trucks have the same off-road gear. The one we drove at the Longhorn River Ranch during the Texas Truck Rodeo was the non-Tradesman Power Wagon. In fact, the Ram trucks representative riding with us had recently purchased the exact truck we were in. No pressure, right?
The designers of the 2017 Power Wagon wanted to leave no mystery as to which company makes one of the biggest, boldest, baddest trucks out there: Ram. You can’t miss the name on the 1500-Rebel-style blacked-out grille. The bezels inside the casings for the projector headlights are just as dark.
Below those is what can be considered the Power Wagon’s party piece: its 12,000-pound Warn winch. That hook sticking out of the opening for the winch is connected to 125 feet of steel cable.
A set of 17-inch, two-tone forged aluminum wheels wrapped in rugged-looking, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires get the Power Wagon down the road, through streams, and up steep grades. The approach, break over, and departure angles are 33.6, 23.5, and 26.2 degrees, respectively.
The Power Wagon’s suspension significantly contributes to its prowess in the rough, too. So does more than two inches of lift. Up front, there are Bilstein monotube shocks and a three-link setup engineered to resist body lean. Its Ram Articulink design allows for greater flexibility and axle articulation.
The electronic disconnecting sway bar, which gives the front axle the freedom to move more independently of the frame, offers the Power Wagon’s front suspension, even more, flex. Out back, the Power Wagon also features Bilstein monotube shocks, as well as a five-link coil rear suspension design for improved articulation and holding up the truck’s 1,510-pound maximum payload.
A vertical stripe graphic inspired by the 1979-80 “Macho Power Wagon” runs down the side of the bed right behind the Crew Cab just to remind onlookers which truck they’re ogling. The “RAM” and the “Power Wagon” below it on the tailgate echo that statement.
The cabin of the Power Wagon can be outfitted with either technical grain/fabric seats in Diesel Gray/Black (if they’re heated, they look significantly different) or leather seats with Power Wagon and Ram logo embroidery. In front of the leather-wrapped steering wheel, there’s a seven-inch center cluster. An 8.4-inch UConnect screen sits in the middle of the Iron-Gray-Metallic-accented center stack.
Control of the Power Wagon’s transmission and transfer case is just a lever away. A column shifter manages the 66RFE six-speed automatic, while the floor-mounted lever requires a strong arm to shift the BorgWarner BW 44-47 T-case into and out of four-wheel drive.
Engineers installed a 6.4-liter Hemi under the 2017 Power Wagon’s pseudo-vented hood. It cranks out 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. In four-low, the throttle responds a little more slowly and the idle speed jumps up from 650 to 750 rpm to provide additional low-speed control for ascending and descending slopes.
On the roads surrounding the ranch, we encountered both smooth and rough pavement. Given its off-road focus, the Power Wagon’s suspension was surprisingly gentle when we ran over bumps in the asphalt. We also weren’t expecting the steering to be so light and vague off-center. However, we knew the thrust from the big Hemi would be plentiful – and it was.
We had our choice of three trails to take the Power Wagon down. Obviously, we chose the hardest one there. If the Power Wagon was capable of laughing, it would have. We could’ve left it in two-wheel drive and gotten through all of the mud, over all of the rocks, and up the steep hills, we threw at it. We only engaged four-low, disconnected the sway bar, and used Hill Descent Control because we wanted to, not because we had to. We wished we had more difficult terrain to tackle with the Power Wagon out of respect for its impressive abilities.
Handsome, strong, and capable – Those are just a few words that describe the 2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon. Here are a few more: the top off-road pickup of the TAWA’s 2016 Texas Truck Rodeo. Ram has the trophy to prove it.