Want to drive around on some dirt? Buy a truck. Want to go overlanding, exploring way beyond the tendrils of 4G services? You want a Ram Power Wagon. A beefed-up version of the 2500 heavy-duty pickup, the 2017 Ram Power Wagon is designed to take you anywhere and back, no matter the terrain. Providing that kind of performance from the factory is no small feat, requiring dozens of upgrades from front to back and hours of testing to ensure everything works properly. “You could build this truck, probably (see here), but it would cost you more money,” brags Ram vehicle integration manager Rod Romain. “We’ve had hundreds of people working on each and every single piece.”
Ram subjects every new part on the Power Wagon to its usual tests, including hot- and cold-weather trips, as well as the same legal and crash-test requirements as any other pickup truck. Most aftermarket truck-part suppliers can’t say that. “The durability we run them on is pretty rigorous,” Romain says, noting real-world tests everywhere from Michigan’s Silver Lake off-road park to Moab, Utah. “We beat the crap out of them. It’s brutal.” What exactly does it take to turn an ordinary Ram 2500 into a Power Wagon? Let’s find out.
1. Front and rear bumpers are made from steel to be tough, and painted matte black to look tough. The lower plastic air dam has been removed because, well, it would get removed the second you ventured off-road anyway, according to Romain: “If you’re sticking way down there, you won’t be for long.”
2. A 12,000-pound Warn winch designed to Ram’s specifications. “You can’t buy this winch,” says Romain. It has 125 feet of cable and mounts securely to a fat steel plate bolted directly to the truck’s frame. It’s also why you can’t get a Power Wagon with a diesel engine, as there simply wouldn’t be space for the 6.7-liter Cummins turbodiesel and its cooling apparatus while still fitting the winch behind the front bumper.
3. Two functional recovery hooks up front, should you get seriously stuck.
4. The 6.4-liter engine makes the same 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque as in other 2500s, but its throttle mapping is retuned for gentler response off-road. The top-speed limiter also drops from 106 to 99 mph in deference to the new tires. Cylinder deactivation helps save fuel in low-load situations, such as cruising unladen on the highway.
5. All-new look for 2017, including a new front grille inspired by the Ram 1500 Rebel, blacked-out body cladding, smoked lights, and a gloss-black hood decal.
6. Anti-roll bars reduce suspension articulation, which is why the Power Wagon has an electronic disconnection system called Smart Bar. The anti-roll bar is essentially split into two pieces, with an electric actuator that moves a collar back and forth to connect or disconnect the bars’ alignment splines. That allows for far more front suspension movement, meaning the Power Wagon can keep rubber on the dirt more often. The disconnect is available only below 18 mph for safety reasons because, Romain explains, “You don’t want that sway bar disconnecting on the highway.”
7. Even more suspension capability comes from the appropriately named Articulink. By installing an extra rubber bushing and link in the usually solid front control arms, Ram engineers allow the Power Wagon’s front live axle to twist more than in a standard 2500, again providing more articulation. “It allows the axle to roll with the suspension,” Romain says. “This helps you keep four tires on the ground.”
8. The front axle can mechanically unhook from the rest of the driveline to save a minuscule but still critical 1 mpg when driving in rear-wheel-drive mode.
9. The wheel openings are wrapped in matte-black cladding to prevent scratches when you’re on the trail.
10. The springs are taller, improving ground clearance to 14.3 inches versus the standard Ram 2500’s 12.0 inches. The springs are also softer to help soak up impacts and traverse big obstacles without crashing over them, but that also means towing capacity is reduced to 10,030 pounds and payload to 1,510 pounds.
11. Bilstein monotube shock absorbers were chosen because they can better handle the rigors of off-road use, where they must deal with rapid movements through almost their entire length of travel. “It’s able to handle those high acceleration rates without overheating,” says Romain. “A traditional twin-tube [damper], you can actually crack the disc in an off-road situation.” Ram worked with Bilstein on unique valve tuning for the Power Wagon’s shocks.
12. The Power Wagon manages an impressive 26 inches of suspension articulation between its front left and right tires, ideal for uneven terrain.
13. An extra bit from Bilstein—the PowerHop damper—links the top of the differential and the truck’s frame, reducing windup that can result when the tires spin on loose surfaces such as sand and gravel. “It just keeps your driveline from winding up and unwinding,” says Romain, noting that rival trucks sometimes try to counter this by staggering the shock absorbers, one ahead of the axle and the other behind.
14. Electronically locking differentials front and rear “allow you to go places you shouldn’t go,” says Romain. They give drivers the benefits of locked axles on loose surfaces without compromising on-road performance, and they’re better for intense off-roading than simpler limited-slip differentials. Electromagnetic actuators physically link each halfshaft within the diffs and force them to function as if they were one solid axle. “When it’s locked, it’s locked. [The wheels] won’t differentiate,” says Romain. The rear locker can be engaged when the truck is in 4-High, but only in 4-Low can the front also be locked.
15. The exhaust resonator is unique to the Power Wagon, giving the truck a more aggressive sound.
16. Steel bars protect components, including the transfer case and gas tank, stopping owners from damaging critical parts because, Romain explains, “the last thing you want to do is high-center on your driveshaft.”
17. Hill descent control uses engine braking and the anti-lock brake system to help slow the truck when going down steep grades. Drivers use the column-shift up and down buttons to adjust speed. “It frees your attention up for going over obstacles and not paying attention to your vehicle speed range,” Romain says.
18. Most Ram trucks have an electronic four-wheel-drive controller on the center stack, but in the Power Wagon a rotary switch for the locking differentials takes up that space. So the Power Wagon has a more traditional floor-shifted manual transfer case. “Some of these guys like this old-time 4×4 stick.”
19. These 17-inch wheels are specific to the Power Wagon (though humbler Tradesman trim levels get steelies) and Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac 33-inch tires provide the ideal blend between on- and off-road performance, with particular attention paid to the ability to deflate when off-roading, as well as to sidewall compliance for better ride comfort. “They’re a little noisy,” admits Romain, but “the all-around performance of this tire is very impressive.” Engineers chose tires with siping to help on wet or icy roads.
20. Why only a crew cab, short-box setup? That’s what customers wanted. Ram originally sold the Power Wagon with a regular cab option, but it proved unpopular and was discontinued.
2017 Ram Power Wagon Specifications
|On Sale:||Fall 2016|
|Engine:||6.4L OHV 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:||237.3 x 79.1 x 81.0 in|
|0-60 MPH:||8.5 sec (est)|
|Top Speed:||99 mph|