2017 Ram Power Wagon First Drive

Feb. 07, 2017 By Josh Burns, Photos Courtesy of Ram and Josh Burns
The 2017 Ram Power Wagon has serious off-road chops thanks to a host of enhancements and upgrades.

Ram set a lofty goal for its 2017 Power Wagon: Be the most capable off-road truck on the market. Thatís quite the aspiration for a 3/4-ton truck that would typically spend its days hauling cargo or pulling a hefty trailer. The Power Wagon can certainly do those things, but it also comes to the table with some serious off-road chops thanks to a combination of upgrades that no other truck on the market has. 

Ramís 2017 truck lineup does feature off-road vehicles other than the Power Wagon, including the Ram 1500 Rebel and the new Ram 2500 4x4 Off-Road. The Power Wagon, however, is the cream of the crop, and it separates itself from the rest of the market thanks to enhancements that make it impressive on the trails in spite of its size.

Truth be told, the 2017 Power Wagon isnít significantly different from the truck we tested back in 2014. The biggest changes for the 2017 model include a restyled front end (much of which is borrowed from the Ram 1500 Rebel), a new powder-coated front bumper, updated interior styling cues, and new optional exterior graphics that pay homage to the 1979 Power Wagon. Where the Ram outshines the rest is where it counts for off-road enthusiasts: trail-worthy upgrades, increased ground clearance, locking differentials, and more.

What Gives This Wagon its Power?
Ram starts off on the right foot by getting the Power Wagon off the ground, which is thanks in part to 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires and upgraded Bilstein monotube shocks. The end result is the Power Wagon offers an impressive 14.3 inches of ground clearance. It also boasts an approach angle of 33.6 degrees, a departure angle of 26.2 degrees, and a breakover angle of 23.5 degrees.

A disconnecting sway bar helps give the Power Wagon 26 inches of wheel articulation.

One of the greatest features on this truck is the disconnecting front sway bar. With the push of a button, the Ram Articulink front suspension electronically disconnects the sway bar to provide 26 inches of wheel articulation. This means the front end has more flexibility to move freely during slow-speed crawls on uneven terrain to help keep the tires planted for improved traction.

The 2017 Power Wagon receives exterior and interior updates for 2017.

The Articulink front suspension is definitely impressive, but another crucial upgrade on the truck is its front and rear locking differentials. Ram features 4.10 gearing on the Power Wagon to properly match the tire-and-wheel combination to the truck, but the diffs also are fitted with electronic lockers for supreme traction Ė so essentially the Power Wagon has the same locking diff setup one would find on a Wrangler Rubicon. Out back, the Power Wagon relies on Ramís five-link coil rear suspension in place of traditional leaf springs.

At the heart of the 2017 Power Wagon is Ramís monster 6.4L HEMI V8, which is rated to produce 410 hp and 429 lb.-ft. of torque. The HEMI is mated to a 66RFE six-speed automatic transmission, while a Borg Warnger BW 44-47 transfer case allows the driver to manually shift into 4WD High or 4WD Low. When allís said and done, the Power Wagon features an impressive crawl ratio of 35:1.

A 12,000-pound Warn winch gives the Power Wagon some serious pulling power.

When the going gets rough, or gets too rough for another vehicle on the trail, the Power Wagon comes standard with a 12,000-lb. Warn winch to help solve problems. Of course, the winch can be used for more than on-trail recovery (as shown in the funny ďWinch ItĒ social media spots).

Circle Up the Wagons
We met up in Las Vegas for our test drive. Ram brought out a slew of Power Wagons for us to drive that day, and after a brief introduction we made our way away from the Vegas Strip toward the Valley of Fire. Our guide for the day was Nena Barlow of Barlow Adventures, which offers Jeep tours in Moab, Utah, and Sedona, Arizona. My co-driver, Chris Collard of Overland Journal, and I were tasked with driving the Power Wagon attached to a 9,000-pound trailer that was fitted with one of Barlowís well-equipped Jeep Wrangler JK rentals. It was a great test of the truckís power, but it also meant we had to make sure Barlowís Jeep was just as pretty at the end of the day as when we started.

Our first on-road impression of the truck was while carrying a load, which was a great test because it allowed us to tow with the Power Wagon while heading out of town and on uphill grades. The truck definitely shines as a tow rig (not something other off-road trucks on the market do so well). The 6.4L HEMI had no trouble powering confidently away from dead stops, and steep hills proved to be no match for the truck. The one downside with using the Power Wagon as an everyday tow vehicle, however, comes in the fuel consumption department. Although we were unable to verify the accuracy of the truckís fuel consumption gauge, it said our average was right at 9 mpg. The fuel tank gauge was nearing the halfway mark after less than 100 miles, so itís safe to say the figure isnít too far off from the truth. The final verdict: The Power Wagon is great at towing, but the fuel consumption prevents it from being an ideal everyday tow rig.

No issues towing a hefty load in the Power Wagon. The Power Wagon can tow up to 10,030 pounds and offers a payload capacity of up to 1,510 pounds.

On the road, the Power Wagon feels much like most modern 3/4-ton trucks Ė it handles turns and tight maneuvering well for its size, but it can be a little stiffer than a smaller half-ton truck. But the five-link rear suspension certainly aids in soaking up some of that road chatter compared to traditional leaf sprung rear ends. The Power Wagon is a significant improvement over 2500s of the past Ė this is a vehicle you could drive the family in for a road trip and have no complaints. Still, even without a load, the fuel consumption of the truck on the highway was about 14-15 mpg, so fuel efficiency wonít be a bright spot on this truck, though this buyer isn't looking for a fuel sipper. On the plus side, it is fitted with a 31-gallon tank.

The Power Wagon is very comfortable tackling the terrain where the pavement ends.

Wagon Wheels Hit the Dirt
Like most good adventures, the best part of our day was when the tires touched dirt. We had a wide variety of terrain to tackle throughout the day. We first followed our trail leader Barlow at a moderate pace of 25-30 mph on trails that offered rocky sections and soft, sandy corners. Using the manual shifter to put the Power Wagon into 4WD High, we cruised confidently down the trails in a truck that, although approaching 7,000 lbs., felt surprisingly playful on the loose, sandy berms.

The Power Wagon feels right at home in this type of desert landscape. Make no mistake: The Power Wagon is not trying to compete with Ford Raptor as a pre-runner-style off-road truck that can pound over trails at 70 mph. The Power Wagon is more so a comfortable cruiser, as the Bilsteins, five-link rear and removable sway bar do a good job of soaking up the rocks, ruts, holes and adjusting on the fly to berms and small hills. It also helped that we did have the tires aired down to a reasonable level of roughly 30 psi Ė still not at an ideal range of 20, but a far cry from the suggested 65 psi setting for the tires on the highway.

This steep downhill section was the perfect place to test the Hill Descent Control.

We encountered multiple rocky uphill climbs and downhill descents that allowed us to test both the locking front and rear differentials and the Hill Descent Control. The Hill Descent Control function is not unique to the Power Wagon, as many other rigs in the industry now feature such a system, but it is a useful upgrade because it allows the driver to focus on steering while it controls the speed at which the vehicle descends. On the Power Wagon, the speed can actually be adjusted using the plus or minus toggle on the column shifter. It works as intended and can be a great asset to someone whoís not quite an off-road expert or simply wants to remove one variable when descending a challenging section.

This final climb was the perfect highlight to our day, and it showed how well the truck hooks thanks to the front and rear locking differentials. We only wish we had time for one more run!

Late in the day we had the opportunity to really test the low-range crawling ability of the Power Wagon on a steep, rock-and-boulder-strewn hill. This is truly a hill that no stock truck would consider scaling, and it was our truest test of whether the locking diffs and the Goodyear Tires could keep us hooked up. With the sway bar disconnected up front, the Power Wagonís suspension moved freely while the lockers did their job in keeping the tires planted during the climb. Our Power Wagon handled every section in stride, and we were happy to have the added peace of mind of transfer case and fuel tank skid plates to protect us if we had a miscue. This final climb, and a few of the other obstacles we scaled, are places 99 percent of truck owners never will go. The Power Wagon didnít shy from the challenges, proving it can handle way more than most will ever throw at it.

The Power Wagon is the most complete off-road truck available on the market, and while the Raptor may be the king of fast-paced open desert driving, the Power Wagon can still holds its own in the performance department.

Pricing for the Power Wagon starts at just under $52,000, but that will be the base model that does not include navigation or some of the creature comforts one might want. We drove in a nicely equipped version during our test with a sticker price of $62,905, and that came with upgrades like on-board navigation and Uconnect, heated/ventilated leather front seats, rearview camera, keyless entry, spray-in bedliner, etc.

The Power Wagon gets high marks in our books because it isnít trying to be something itís not. The Power Wagon is a one-of-a-kind off-roader built on a 2500 package, whereas every other off-roader out there is a half-ton or smaller. Itís a unique truck in a class of one offering true off-road upgrades that can crawl with the best of them, tow a camper out to the campsite with confidence, and it can help pull out recover that stuck SUV on the trail with its Warn winch. Thereís no doubt: the Power Wagon delivers on its promise of being the best all-around off-road truck. 

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