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by David Zatz in
When Ram put a link/coil rear suspension into its Ram 2500 heavy-duty pickup, they made it the only heavy duty in America to eschew leaf springs. But what would be the effect on the “king of the off-road” Power Wagon?
The link/coil system works well for regular Ram 2500s because it provides the same load and towing capacities, with far superior handling and ride quality. The engineers still managed to work up a system that would allow the higher ground clearance of the Power Wagon, while improving the front suspension’s articulation.
We are no strangers to heavy-duty trucks, from Ram 2500s to a Ram 5500 dump truck, with some Silverados and such thrown in, but we were still surprised by the handling of the Power Wagon. Despite being jacked up far from the ground and all its heavy offroad goodies, the Power Wagon handles better than any heavy duty truck we've driven.
Cornering was surprisingly good despite off-road tires; it’s no sports car, but it’s surprisingly nimble for a pickup in general, and incredible for a tall rig on inappropriate-for-pavement tires. The base Ram 2500 must be fun on race track curves.
The ride was smooth for a lifted heavy-duty pickup, but not car-like or even Ram-1500-like. On regular pavement it was smooth enough, but the potholes and other bumps so common in the summer of 2014 brought the shortfalls of any heavy duty pickup into sharp relief; and the faster we went, the bigger the effects. We definitely felt the bumps, but usually only once — without the jouncing and continued bouncing of some competing trucks, and of Rams of the past. All bumps felt cushioned. A full load or trailer should smooth the ride out.
On the highway, the ride was busy and a little bouncy without a full load; the solution is presumably a few hundred pounds of ballast. This is not unusual in heavy duty pickups, and it’s not surprising in a lifted 4x4.
The steering is precise for a big pickup, and one quickly gets used to driving the Power Wagon in traffic, thanks partly to oversized mirrors; while tall, the Power Wagon is not too wide. The Power Wagon is easy enough to drive around town and in the highway, being tall but not so wide as to have problems staying in lanes (that’s a problem for duallies). The turning radius is quite large, and gets much larger when the 4x4 is engaged.
The optional rear camera makes a big difference, especially in parking; anyone buying this vehicle should be springing for that feature, partly to help line up trailers, but mainly to avoid killing children who might pass behind the truck, into the massive blind spot. (It also helps in parking, especially in front of low-slug cars.) There is also a distance-sensor system which beeps at you, for those who can’t get used to the camera; there’s not much point in getting both.
The truck 6.4 Hemi is standard on Power Wagon, optional on other 2500s. Performance has been balanced with durability and low-end torque, resulting in 410 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque rather than the 475 hp and 475 lb-ft of the SRT version. Numerous internal changes were made to make the engine suitable for long tows and such.
Both standard and big Hemi cut off four cylinders when they aren't needed, raising fuel mileage ever so gently. (Don’t buy a Power Wagon for its mileage, unless you’re comparing it to... hold on, we'll think of something. The weight, height, tires, and power all conspire to burn fuel.)
The 6.4 Hemi is well behaved, if thirsty in this heavy, raised truck. Driving gently among densely packed suburbs, we managed 13 mpg; our 82-mile (unloaded) test trip down Route 80 netted just 14.8 mpg, moving with traffic. Taking into consideration the fact that our test truck was barely broken in (1,500 miles), we'll estimate city driving at 11-14, and highway driving at 15-18...the higher numbers reserved for those who can drive 55. Mileage is higher than in the prior, less-powerful model, due to the change in axle ratio from 4.56 to 4.10 — a change allowed by the 6.4’s torque and wider-range automatic.
The big Hemi engine was ready and willing to go, with plenty of low-end torque; the transmission was sometimes slightly reluctant to downshift, though responsive to gas-pedal “tickles” (pushing the pedal down a little further to get the lower gear). Once a downshift was achieved, the Power Wagon flew forward in a manner that would shame the original. Passing and merging were absolutely no problem, and hill climbing was generally easy. Torque was strong enough that the engine could be going at a mere 1,300 rpm or so, without that “rubber band” feel too common in some vehicles.
The standard 66RFE TorqueFlite six-speed automatic is a (moderately) new version of a seasoned design; the main differences from the old 545RFE are programming (to go through all six gears rather than reserving one for highway kickdown), different gear ratios (with a wider spread), and tougher internal components. The transmission is smooth (despite occasional clunky downshifts) and nearly always in the right gear.
One last word — the brakes on the truck work well, and quickly, always an achievement on a vehicle of this size and shape. These are the standard Ram brakes, 14.2x1.5 discs in front, 14.1x1.34 in back.
What makes this truck a Power Wagon?
The original Power Wagon, based on a World War II military truck, was a standard pickup with upgraded components, including “mud fenders,” a two-speed transfer case, and numerous heavy duty components, all driven by a 94-horsepower engine. It was slow but tough and easy to fix, and was sold in the U.S. from 1946 to 1968 (exports continued until 1978).
Today’s Power Wagons have a standard 410 horsepower 6.4 truck motor. The most obvious difference from the normal Ram 2500 is the higher stance; a double-take reveals the 12,000-pound Warn electric winch built into the front bumper, which is also standard. The Power Wagon’s other visible 4x4 features are tow hooks, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac off-road tires, and the graphics (not all are like the extroverted ones on our test truck).
A more subtle feature is the modified front suspension, called “Articulink,” with Bilstein shocks and high-movement links for better flexibility and articulation (it also adds roll stiffness for carrying heavy loads). An electronic disconnecting sway bar adds suspension travel at low speeds, while skid plates, including the only Ram 2500 fuel-tank skid plate, protect key parts of the undercarriage.
Ground clearance on standard Ram 2500 Crew Cabs is roughly 11 inches, compared with 14.5” on Power Wagon SLT, but the location is measured at a different point on non-Power-Wagons than Power Wagons and varies by tire size anyway.
The 4x4 powertrain includes a shift-on-the-fly, two-speed transfer case (NV271); the manual transfer case, operated by a stiff lever in the cab, is shared only with Ram 2500 ST, the base heavy-duty pickup. All higher pickups other than Power Wagon have an electronic shifter; but the manual shifter seems to make sense in this truck. Power Wagon is, though, the only Ram with electronic locking front and rear differentials, controlled by a simple knob. The rear driveshaft is also now friction welded for greater durability.
Inside, the Power Wagon is a study in contrasts. The dashboard in our truck had the traditional “wrinkle finish” plastic, in black and dark gray, with a “work truck” look. The center stack cover has dull silver, dull bronze-silver, and black portions, but the controls have chrome accents, and there is a chrome outline around the climate controls. Chrysler really went to town on places where the eye goes, though — the gauge cluster and 8.4 inch stereo.
The seats in our test car appeared to have been designed for the larger customer, providing good bolsters for a wide person; they seemed a bit stiff in the back and bottom cushions (we use the term “cushion” a little lightly; they could have more “stuffing”). Our test truck had a power adjustable driver’s seat / bolster, and manually adjustable passenger seat (fore-aft and recline only). The rear seats were around as comfortable as the fronts, and were similarly designed.
Trucks traditionally have more gauges than cars, and both GM and Chrysler have gone to town lately with both standard and digital gauges. The layout of the Chrysler system is dignified and attractive, with white-on-black analog gauges and a seven-inch customizable screen. The primary gauges, speedometer and tachometer, are clearly differentiated, with heat and fuel level set up as inserts; numbers (limited t0 speedometer and tachometer) are large and legible. Above, drivers who care can see the voltmeter and oil pressure on two more analog gauges.
The optional seven-inch screen (part of the worthwhile $695 Luxury Group) provides more, including two digitally rendered analog gauges which the driver can choose from a short list of options (e.g. transmission or oil temperature, current fuel mileage, etc).
There are information points at all four corners, and the driver can also assign these (e.g. range, compass, temperature). The combined information display is new; it shows the coolant and transmission temperatures, and oil temperature and pressure. Other gauges show engine hours — idle, driving, and total — oil life, tire pressures, trailer brake settings, and trip information.
Finally, when using the navigation system, any upcoming turns will be displayed right there in the dashboard, replacing whatever else was showing up.
The system works well, but it would be nice to have larger numbers for some things, and to be able to choose what information to aggregate. Picking out options is easy with the four-button steering-wheel-mounted navigation pod.
The base system is 2012’s premium setup, a 3.5” display which can display almost as much information, but doesn't have the fancy graphics. (See our 2010 Ram 2500 review for pictures.)
Most controls will be very familiar to buyers of any new Chrysler product. Special controls are:
Our Power Wagon had real buttons for the heated seats and heated steering wheel as well.
The climate control was easy to use, despite awkward buttons for adjusting temperature; the air conditioner was not as powerful as we’d expect, though. The essentials are physical, everything else has to be done through the touch-screen. The stereo was similar, with one knob for volume and another for tuning or scrolling through options, and no physical tone or balance controls.
It would have been nice if Ram had tuned the stereo specifically for the Power Wagon, because the noise of the tires seemed to interfere with music reproduction. The stereo was simply excellent while stopped; once moving, complex music didn't come out well. We had the most success with old country songs, if that helps. (This is one reason why DSP controls would be nice in these UConnect systems.)
The headlights had full manual controls, with the ability to pick automatic headlights, parking lights, headlights, or nothing at all.
You can set a wide number of options via the center 8.4 inch touch-screen display (part of the UConnect Navigation package, at $1,005). This has an easily configured Wi-Fi hotspot, (subscription required), which provides your iPod Touch, laptop, or non-cell-equipped tablet with Internet access on the road; by default there is no security, but it allows WPA2 or WEP access. (WEP is close to no security; pick WPA2.) The system was glacially slow in our tests, but far, far better than no access at all.
The system includes (subscription required after one year) TravelLink, for weather, ski information, sports scores, and such, mostly the same as in prior years but with jazzy new graphics. You can also install apps now, such as music streaming services, that use your cellphone for the connection. Most of the rest of the system is carryover with fresh graphics, but the navigation system seems much faster at calculating routes, and there is a new “trip computer” setting which shows all sorts of information at a glance.
While the original Power Wagons were spartan, engineers went around to job sites to see how people used their trucks, resulting in the 1994 Dodge Ram 1500’s revolutionary new interior; that has been updated over time. Thus, today’s Power Wagon has a massive center console / workbench which can swallow a small laptop, large tablet, DSLR camera, or two full size tissue boxes, and also has a change tray. It can be flipped up to form a seat, though the occupant won’t have any place for their legs. Within the console/armrest/seat back is a headphone-style audio jack, SD card slot, and USB slot. One can now buy very small thumb drives which fit nicely into the USB slot, and seem to work better than large-capacity SD cards.
There is also a USB charging port, AC outlet, and car-type 12V outlet under the center console. Outside the cover, one finds no less than three cupholders, with bubble-style stabilizers (to handle smaller cups), all oversized to handle Big Gulps, ceramic mugs, etc.
Above the transmission hump are three more large cupholders; a rubber-lined bin; a hidden bin all the way back towards the firewall; and the transfer case controller, a big heavy-feeling stick with positions for 4x4 High, 4x2 High, Neutral, and 4x4 Low.
There are also small bins in the doors, large map pockets in all four doors, two more foam-surround cupholders in each of the front doors, more cupholders in the rear doors, small rubber-lined bins under the front side vents, and another above the AC outlet. Oops, did we mention the dual glove compartments? The large upper one comes empty, the lower one is half-full with the manual and warranty.
Our test vehicle had optional lift-up rear seats; underneath was yet more storage space (where a thief would hardly think to look), big enough to swallow up a moderately sized laptop, and a flat-floor system. Oh, and underneath the carpet in back... yes, a deep, plastic-lined storage bin, that easily swallowed a DSLR for safe keeping. Both storage areas were in both sides of the cab.
There is a great deal of space in the rear, with seat cushions similar to the front, and grab handles for rear as well. A side step is not a terrible idea in this truck; we had to use the grab handles to get in, and getting out meant dropping a few inches to the ground (the writer is 5’11”).
Overall, the interior is roomy, and manages to be pleasant and upscale while remaining masculine and work-ready. There are points that enhance the look and prevent it from looking like seas of cheap plastic: using two different shades of plastic that work together (gray and black); a bronzed metal look, dull metal look, and chrome look; and simple patterns on the seat cushions with solid bolsters. Everything adds up to make a consistent whole which looks simple but, on closer inspection, is deceptively complex.
You’d never know the chief Ram designer, Klaus Busse, came to Chrysler with Mercedes, and stayed behind because Chrysler gave him better opportunities for expression. Or maybe you would.
The bed in our test vehicle had an optional spray-in bedliner ($475), which we strongly recommend; it prevents rust, stops loads from shifting, and looks good, though it must be hard to clean without any smooth surfaces. The spray job was thorough and neat.
One major advantage of Ram trucks now is the RamBox storage system, a set of locking, metal-covered bins which support a set of removable containers (or whatever you want to dump in there). Ram showed these off holding fishing rods and guns (with optional holders), coolers filled with ice and cans, and tools; they can be unlocked independently and manually, and also lock and unlock with the rest of the truck.
Getting into the bed is a trip, especially when the gate is down, due to the height of the truck. For that matter, getting into the truck can be a trip, especially swinging into the passenger seat. There are grips at each of the four doors, perhaps a little high up for shorter people. Aftermarket steps or a plastic stool may be good accessories for those who are relatively short, inflexible, or unused to getting into tall trucks. But while you can climb into the bed easily enough with the gate up, thanks to a rubberized-top bumper, getting there with the gate down is quite hard. Now is the time to look forward to a half-gate.
The system also had a tailgate management system, which included moveable tie-downs, steel hooks in the bed, and a center divider which could be locked into place in various parts of the bed, or set up as a “cage” while hauling something that didn't quite fit in the bed; the outer parts sit on the edges of the tailgate.
Our test truck was a Ram 2500 Power Wagon Crew Cab SLT, with the six-speed automatic, 6.4 liter Hemi V8, and cloth front bench seats.
According to Chrysler’s sometimes-correct Build & Price site, SLT adds chrome-clad bumpers and wheels, a five-inch touchscreen stereo (instead of 3 inch), projector headlamps, LED tail-lights, auto-dim mirrors with turn signals, USB charge port, satellite radio with Bluetooth™, overhead console, power rear window, carpeted floor mats, remote entry, and the trailer brake control.Power Wagon towing capacities range from 10,700 to 10,810 pounds, depending on trim; the Ram 2500 SLT equivalent is rated at 15,360 pounds for trailer and equipment weight. Power Wagon’s GVWR is 8,510 lb, for payloads of 1,380 to 1,490 lb.
Starting in 2012, Power Wagon had three trim levels: ST or Tradesman (depending on year), SLT, and Laramie. The Tradesman version starts at $44,495; the Laramie, at $55,020; and the SLT, between.
We listed the standard 4x4 features earlier (let’s mention the heavy steel skid plates again). Truck features include a trailer brake control, 180 amp alternator, tow package, four/seven pin harness plug, class IV receiver, and the rear power sliding window. All Power Wagons have crew cabs and six-foot-four boxes — sorry, no Mega Cab, regular cab, or eight-foot box.
Luxury goodies include automatic headlamps, cruise, power locks and windows, air conditioning, five-inch touch-screen satellite radio, trip computer, and USB/aux inputs for the stereo.
With all those standard items, the Power Wagon 4x4 lists at $49,145. (A base Ram 2500 Tradesman 4x4 starts at $32,935, or $36,545 with a crew cab and six-foot box to make it more closely comparable to ours. The 6.4 Hemi would tack on another $1,495; the Cummins diesel, nearly $8,000.)
Our truck was ordered with a great deal of optional equipment, some of which was more cost-effective than others. First was premium bench cloth seats, with a power ten-way driver’s seat and 60/40 rear split folding seat (folding up to the back of the cab). This option may be worth it, though those who don’t plan to use the rear storage feature may want to see about junkyard seats instead, since the upgrade costs $900.
The Luxury Group, at $595, included the handy seven-inch customizable gauge cluster, automatic-dimming interior and exterior mirrors, leather-wrapped steering wheel, heated folding mirrors, garage door opener, audio controls in the steering wheel, and vanity mirrors in the sun visors. This one is hard to turn down, as is the Comfort Group: $395 for the heated front seats and steering wheel, plus the steering wheel audio controls and vanity mirrors again.
A 220 amp alternator was $100 more. If you need it, you need it; if you need more, you can get a 220 amp and a 160 amp alternator. That should be enough power, right?
Other standalone options were the rear park assist ($250) and the rear backup camera ($200); if you get the camera, you probably don’t need the park assist. RamBox was surprisingly steep at $1,295, but is also surprisingly useful; and we mentioned the $475 bedliner already.
UConnect 8.4 Nav added $1,005, and included the big touch-screen, a year’s subscription to satellite traffic and travel information, navigation, a media hub with SD card as well as USB and auxiliary ports, and UConnect Access. Toss in a $1,195 destination charge, and you have a total price of $55,555.
Once you add a lot of options, the Laramie starts to look attractive. That adds leather, memory control, dual-zone a/c, heated seats, the backup camera and alarm, UConnect 8.4 Access, better stereo, mirrors with integrated turn signals, the premium seats, remote start, and other features.
The warranty is five years or 100,000 miles on the powertrain (with roadside assistance for that time), and three years or 36,000 miles on most everything else. Our test truck was made in Mexico, and was rated four stars overall and for front safety, three for rollover, and five for side crashes.
The Power Wagon is a vehicle made for a purpose, though many of its buyers will just use it as a commuter car and appreciate its outgoing looks. It’s more attuned to work in the forest, or beach, or desert, or quarry, though it can be used as a big car and has enough gadgets and gizmos to choke a horse. We could not test it properly, which is a shame, but our trustworthy and hard-to-impress off-road enthusiasts gave it their seal of approval.
Power Wagon is all about mobility under tough conditions, and it does that well; it’s just a bonus that you can drive it around the city or suburbs, with the main penalty being poor mileage.
2015 Ram Power Wagon: specs and more • Thanks to Nick Cappa for digging up some of the information on this page.
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