Whistler, BC - The history of the Power Wagon stretches back to the Second World War. In 1945, Dodge manufactured Power Wagons for the transport of military weapons. As this meant driving often in difficult conditions, this truck had to be able to cross every possible terrain. Dodge built more than 225,000 Power Wagons during the war.
Based on the same chassis, another 95,000 units hit the road between 1945 and 1968 for civilian purposes, such as tow trucks and fire trucks. Other generations of Power Wagon followed until 1980, when the model took an extended break before returning in 2005.
Mr. Big - very Big
The Ram HD was redesigned last year and has retained all of its intimidating demeanor. In fact, the front of the vehicle is almost downright scary. It’s not only daring, but the very high ground clearance it benefits from makes it even more imposing. Our test model had no step-board so as not to impair its off-road abilities, which we practically needed a ladder to climb on board.
To differentiate the different versions of the HD models, there are six different front grilles. Three headlight styles are available: halogen, full LED/reflector and full LED/headlamp with autofocus headlamps moving up to 15 degrees in the intended path. You also have the Rambox exterior storage system still in place. Which means that, at first glance, off-road getaways don’t immediately top the list of things to do with this big beast.
Ready for adventure
Before we embarked on the road that would take us to the summit of Sproatt Mountain at over 1,545 metres above sea level, FCA officials took a few minutes to explain a little bit about the equipment available to help the truck with its cavorting around in the woods.
This Ram is probably the most capable HD truck ever when off the paved road. The Power Wagon features a unique factory-mounted suspension, locking front and rear differentials, disconnect sway bar and 12,000-lb winch. The latter is now made of ultra-resistant nylon that replaces metal, which could be dangerous if the cable broke (by creating a sort of whiplash effect that could cause serious injury and vehicle damage). The nylon simply falls to the ground when it breaks if the tension is too strong.
As a new feature, the Power Wagon has a 360-degree camera with guidelines for the forward-facing camera to bypass obstacles. The front-mounted integrated winch features a unique cable guide retainer with a new synthetic cable that’s easier to handle and won’t tangle or fray.
A Power Wagon options package ($8,000) is still available on the Tradesman model. It includes the necessary off-road equipment while retaining the design elements of the Tradesman model. There are also protection plates everywhere under the vehicle, not to mention specially designed off-road tires. In short, you’re as well equipped as in a Jeep Wrangler.
Ready for the road
After climbing aboard, a few minutes was required to get acquainted with the new interior of Ram’s HD models. The set-up inside is now inspired by the 1500 models, but with superior-quality material. The dashboard gets a new look which sees the central controls brought up for easier access by the driver.
Our model also featured the optional Uconnect 4C navigation system with a 12-inch configurable touchscreen that can display an application, such as the Navigation Chart, on the entire screen, or be split to display two applications simultaneously. Redundant controls for the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system and a new ergonomically improved operator panel enhance feedback and appearance.
You also have an optional 7-inch 3D colour Driver Information Centre with animation capability and a feature that allows the driver to customize the data within the instrument cluster.
All versions of the Ram Heavy Duty feature push-button start and an electronic rotary selector (with the V8 engine) for the transmission. The new selector also includes new buttons, notably for the hill descent, the axle lock and the transfer case just under the rotary wheel.
Needless to say, overall space is quite massive and five adults will be very comfortable inside.
We started our trek on a fairly gentle slope, so to begin with we left the Power Wagon in 4WD high mode. The 6.4L Hemi engine (that delivers 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque) is coupled with an 8-speed automatic transmission. It’s the only engine available for the Power Wagon and it helps deliver a towing capacity of 10,620 lb.
After a few minutes of climbing, we were instructed by a guide to activate the 4L mode which distributes the torque equally to the four wheels and can even send all the power to a single wheel if the other three aren’t touching the ground. In this low mode, speed is also limited.
Then came the obstacles, in the form of rocks. To give us even more flexibility we locked the front and rear differentials, which forces the front and rear wheels to rotate at the same speed for maximum traction on the ground. In other places we disconnected the anti-roll bar at the front, which allows the front axle to move independently from the chassis, allowing strong disarticulation to help with overcoming bigger obstacles.
After two hours of driving, we reached the top of the mountain. After lunch, we repeated the exercise going down, this time driving a 1500 Rebel model.
Despite its size and weight, the Power Wagon is a surprising and capable off-roader. Its very aggressive tires are not the most comfortable on the asphalt, but if your daily routine leads you regularly through inhospitable terrain, you’ll have nothing to fear.
That said, the suspension, while more comfortable than its HD competitors at Ford and GM, is still stiff. If this is problematic for you, the 1500 Rebel is far more comfortable and will be offered for the first time in 2020 with a diesel engine, which will undoubtedly appeal to a certain part of the customer base. A review of that version is coming next week.
Touchscreen, Uconnect system
We like less
Suspension a bit stiff
It takes a ladder to get on board
Noisy and uncomfortable tires on paved roads