When it comes to Ram off-road pickups, the 2500 Power Wagon is the king of the mountain (almost any mountain you point it at, in fact). It has 14.3 inches of ground clearance and skid plates to protect vital hardware from rocks and branches, 33-inch tires to get it over challenging terrain, and a 12,000-pound winch for the slim possibility that it needs to be pulled out of a sticky situation.
We drove the restyled 2017 Power Wagon last fall on a sprawling ranch during the Texas Auto Writers Association’s Texas Truck Rodeo. As soon as we got a chance to book one to review for a week earlier this year, we did. We were looking forward to pointing its R-A-M grille toward the top of a rocky incline, and climbing to it.
Just before Ram’s media fleet service was scheduled to drop it off to us, a representative from that company informed us that the Power Wagon was going to be used for a media event and that they would be replacing it with a 2017 Ram 2500 Laramie with the $445 4×4 Off-road Package.
It was no Power Wagon, but it also wasn’t a disappointment.
If the 2017 Ram 2500 looks familiar, there’s a reason for that. Its basic design has been around for a while. The engines available under its massive hood are still a 5.7-liter Hemi V8 with 383 horsepower and 400 lb-ft of torque, a larger 6.4-liter Hemi with 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft, and the torque-rich 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel I6 with 370 horsepower and up to 800 lb-ft of pulling power (in its most powerful state). Diesel 2500s are the only ones that can have a manual transmission; a six-speed auto is available for all 2500s, no matter which engine powers them.
That doesn’t mean 2017 is a total carryover model year, though. The ultimate off-road 2500, the Power Wagon, gets a complete makeover. It includes a new grille and interior, bumpers, wheels, and exterior graphics inspired by the 1979-80 “Macho Power Wagon.” Other 2500s can be visually and mechanically beefed up with a new 4×4 Off-road Package. It’s full of upgrades designed for fun in the wild or the generous boundaries of an off-highway vehicle (OHV) park.
According to the Ram trucks website, the 2500 is available in trim lines ranging from the base Tradesman (starting at $32,145) to the top-of-the-line Limited (with a base price of $57,775). Our Laramie test truck was equipped with a six-foot, four-inch bed, the 4×4 Off-road Package, and the black and color-match accents of the $1,795 Sport Appearance Group. In addition it had other options such as a $345 cargo view camera, 4.10:1 rear axle ratio, and the 6.4-liter Hemi V8. Those and other items, such as four-wheel drive, brought our loaner truck up from its $47,645 MSRP to an as-tested price of $59,105.
At more than 6.5 feet wide, nearly 6.5 feet tall, and almost 20 feet long, the 2500 Laramie is easy to see. You know what’s hard to spot on it, though? If you’re looking at a 2500 with the Sport Appearance Package, which our evaluation rig had, you won’t find much chrome on it. It’s on the lug nuts… and that’s about it.
What wasn’t color-matched to our truck’s Delmonico Red body, such as the bumpers, grille, and door handles, was black. That covered the grille’s wave pattern, the front and rear light inserts, the 20-inch wheels, the mirrors, and even the badges. That combination of colors made for one handsome truck.
The 4×4 Off-road Package added some cosmetic touches of its own, mainly the decals on the sides of the bed. It included front tow hooks, too (those were black, of course). The rest of the package’s features were for off-road go, not show.
The Ram 2500 Laramie comes standard with features that include heated and ventilated front seats, dual-zone climate control, and the Uconnect system running through an 8.4-inch touchscreen.
There may not be physical buttons, but there is still plenty of buttons to push.
Whoever configured our media special had it equipped with a generous amount of options that added leather seats (buckets instead of a bench up front), navigation, keyless entry and start, power adjustable pedals, and the Convenience Group. With its rain-sensing wipers and automatic high beams, that package lived up to its name.
Like the Power Wagon, our 2500 Laramie came with a 6.4-liter Hemi under its massive hood. Official output is 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. Past 3,000 rpm or so, the big V8 really comes alive. A six-speed automatic processes all of that grunt for the road. A transfer case with shift-on-the-fly capability routes it to where it needs to go on the trail.
On-Road Driving Impressions
In a truck as big and bad as the Ram 2500 Laramie, it’s tempting to throw on a ballcap and shades, and drive it with one hand on top of the wheel. The hat and sunglasses are no problem, but it’s a good idea to keep both hands on the wheel. There’s a lot of play in it because the steering is light and vague. Luckily, the brake pedal feels more connected and communicative.
Driving the 2500 Laramie made us wish we’d had a home construction project coming up. A few cinder blocks in the bed probably would’ve smoothed out some of the harsh ride quality.
Off-Road Driving Impressions
On the washboard main trail roads of the Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, Texas, we found the best way to smooth out the unladen Ram’s ride quality was to give it more throttle. If the suspension didn’t have time to react to bumps, it didn’t have time to jolt us.
Eventually, we got to a fork in the road. To the right was a long, gradual incline of uneven, rocky earth. We turned left to climb over a staircase-like formation of rocks.
The Ram was able to climb the rock staircase with ease.
We had experienced the behavior of the performance-tuned front and rear Bilstein shocks for miles and miles, but the land in front of us would be a good test of the Ram’s ground clearance and Firestone Transforce AT tires. Late last year, when we took a 2016 Power Wagon up the same passage, we just picked a line and drove it to the peak.
Perhaps it was wisdom that caused us to be a little less cavalier in the Laramie. We had a friend get out and spot us, especially since we didn’t want to crunch up the tube steps our test truck wore.
When we came to a particularly worrisome step up, our friend placed a few chunks of rock in front of it so that we could roll the front driver-side tire up them and get to the next level. With his guidance, we avoided scraping up the rear diff. There were one or two spots where we felt the tires losing their grip on the land underneath them, but a little backward and forward got them to bite down enough so we could get moving again.
Ultimately, we reached the top of the collection of natural stairs, just as we did in the 2016 Power Wagon. The 2500 Laramie might not have given us the exact same amount of confidence the ultimate off-road Ram gave us, but with some planning and wise choices, we reached the same heights the Power Wagon had previously taken us to.
We’re still waiting to drive the 2017 Power Wagon off-road again. That didn’t lessen our enjoyment of the 2017 Ram 2500 Laramie with the 4×4 Off-road Package, though. It was a handsome, well-equipped truck that was tough when the going got rough… even without a badass winch up front.