COMMERCE TOWNSHIP, Michigan — This 2015 AEV Prospector is far more capable than we need for our drive on average roads around southeast Michigan. The Prospector is an overlander, designed to take long journeys far from civilization to places that would leave a regular pickup quaking in its light-truck tires.
The Prospector uses a Ram 2500 or 3500 as its backbone and draws its name from an old truck trim level for which Ram let the trademark expire. Though AEV (American Expedition Vehicles) has developed aftermarket parts and packages for Jeep Wranglers since 1997, the Prospector is the first time the company has modified a pickup truck. After the company’s extensive experience working with Jeep, moving to sibling brand Ram wasn’t much of a leap. As with its Jeeps, AEV will sell you individual parts to modify your vehicle yourself, but the company’s primary focus is on selling turn-key vehicles. Have Jeep or Ram ship a brand-new vehicle to AEV, and you can pick it up a few weeks later with all the upgrades you desire (or can afford). The advantage of this approach, according to AEV marketing manager Matt Feldermann, is that the modifications have been properly tested and vetted, which you can’t do in your driveway. “Everything is all engineered to work together,” he says. “We opt for parts we’ve proven.”
This particular truck, which started life as a 2015 Ram 2500 Power Wagon, actually belongs to Feldermann, who in the past year has driven it more than 20,000 miles, many of them far from pavement. Despite the DualSport 3-inch suspension lift and aggressive 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain T/A KM2 tires on AEV’s Salta HD wheels, the Prospector drives extremely well. It tracks straight at 75 mph on the highway, and although the well-worn tires hum a bit over concrete, there is nothing abrasive or punishing about the upgraded suspension.
Credit for the civilized driving manners, in part, goes to the upgraded Bilstein dampers that are specially tuned for AEV’s application to keep body roll to a minimum. AEV’s lift kit also includes a litany of other parts designed to keep ride-and-handling as close to factory specs as possible, including new drag links, new brackets to relocate the front radius arms and rear track arms, and various other bits. AEV is then able to keep the truck’s factory steering geometry and suspension roll centers, preventing the vagueness and floatiness that we generally expect from lifted aftermarket trucks.
“Out of everything that we do, suspension tuning is the most important,” Feldermann says, noting that AEV has a former Chrysler suspension engineer on staff. Compared to the factory model, “We want it [the Prospector] to be more comfortable on-road but more capable off-road.”
On snow-slickened dirt roads, the AEV Prospector gives us all the confidence we want to keep pushing forward. Its toughened steel front bumper and Warn winch are there in case things really go south, and Feldermann’s truck has new LED foglights and an LED light bar for extra visibility. A front differential cover provides more protection over tough obstacles, and there’s even a high-mounted air intake to feed the 6.4-liter engine. Just don’t call it a snorkel: “It’s not for deep-water wading.” Rather, it was designed to site the air filter high above any dust kicked up by other vehicles on dirty trails. “We were kind of inspired by military equipment” with similar intake designs, says Feldermann.
Building the Prospector takes three to four weeks once AEV receives a donor Ram 2500 or 3500 at its facility in southeast Michigan, which is a giant warehouse with Jeep Wranglers and Ram trucks in various states of disassembly. The downside of the newness of the Prospector program is that AEV offers far fewer aftermarket parts for Ram trucks than it does for Jeeps. “Our big vision is to have a complete front-to-back, completely optioned package for Ram,” says Feldermann, hinting that many more parts will become available later this year. But for now, the Ram parts list pales next to AEV’s Jeep offerings.
As with the company’s Wrangler conversions, there will be plenty of shoppers who think it “just looks cool,” plus what Feldermann calls recreational off-roaders, people who hit the dirt no more than a few times per year. Still, we get it; there’s something awesome about driving around on average roads in a truck that has the chops to take you way, way, way out of town.
2015 AEV Prospector Ram 2500 Power Wagon Specifications
|Price:||$13,295-$26,000 (conversion plus cost of donor truck) (est)|
|Engine:||6.4L DOHC 16-valve V-8/410 hp @ 5,600 rpm, 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm|
|Layout:||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD truck|
|L x W x H:||237.4 x 85.0 x 73.7 in|
|Top Speed:||99 mph|