First Drive: 2020 Ram Power Wagon
Disclaimer: the vehicle pictured here is a 2019 vehicle, but the Power Wagon continues on in 2020 unchanged save for a few exterior colour choices
“Power Wagon”. Come on. Say it with me:
Is that’s not one of the coolest names in the automotive and truck world out there today? It’s cool now, just as it was in 1945 when Dodge took the truck it had developed as a weapons carrier for the military (the Willys MB jeep can’t be expected to do everything, right?) and made it available to civilians, 4 x 4 and all.
Of course, this latest Power Wagon is a little different in that it actually gets more of a lifestyle slant than its ancestor did – it doesn’t get the 1,000 lb-ft six-cylinder diesel, for example, that other HD trucks get. It gets the 6.4L HEMI V8, and only the 6.4L HEMI V8, and is actually much more about its off-roading chops than its hauling chops.
Which is why we were sent to the wilds of Coast Mountain range around Whistler Mountain in British Colombia, and let loose on some muddy, rocky, and wet trails normally reserved for ATVs in the summer, and snowcat vehicles in the winter. We were here, though, to see if even with its massive cab (the Power Wagon is available only as a crew cab), huge hood and long wheelbase, the Power Wagon has the necessary tools to survive in adverse conditions.
Just by looking at it, you can tell that a lot of that has to do with the ride height, which has been increased by 1” on special Bilstein dampers over other 2500 HD trucks. If these trucks in particular look even taller than that, it’s because they’ve had their step-bars removed for even more ground clearance. It also gets electric locking axles (select neutral, press a button, wait a sec, select drive, done), disconnecting sway bars, big skid plates to protect your gas tank, transmission et cetera, and 33” all-terrain Goodyear tires with 17” wheels. Add the optional “Power Wagon” graphics (Simon & Simon fans unite!), the most muscular of the six available front grilles with a big 5,443 kilo-capable Warn winch sprouting out from beneath, and let’s just say that if ever there was a zombie apocalypse, this is probably the way you’d want to go.
Even the interior tech gets some offroad-specific touches; you won’t find the Off Road Pages you do in Jeeps (where they display your descent/ascent angle, front wheel position and so forth), but you do get a forward-facing camera as part of a $1,600 tow and technology group that also ads a camera looking out over your bed, power tow mirrors, rear-cross traffic alert (essential for a truck this tall), blind spot system, and 360-degree parking camera.
The cameras, meanwhile, are displayed on a tall display for a tall truck: 12.4” inches, to be precise, reaching from the top of the dash two about two-thirds of the way down. Pretty skookum stuff and the cameras only take up half the available space, leaving room for other info below.
The front-facing camera would prove to be instrumental during our drive, which would take us from 2,273 feet above sea level to 4,937 feet over the span of about 10 winding, muddy and rocky kilometers. As stated before: this is proper ATV stuff.
The front camera is not typical in that it doesn’t just face forward; it’s tilted down as well, so you can better see what’s happening under you as you climb instead of the wild blue yonder. There are also two onscreen guidelines that represent where your left and right wheels are going to be travelling.
Before that, though, I had to get in. Let me tell you: when you’re sitting this high off the ground, you’re going to want to make use of the grab handles mounted to the a-pillars. Even me and my 6’3” frame had some trouble – the seat of the Power Wagon sits pretty much at my hips. So; it’s one leg up, hand on handle and swinnng your butt into the (surprisingly luxurious, though optional) leather seat and have a look over that massive hood; oh, so that’s why a forward-facing camera is so important.
The engine is started by plipping a starter button, which actually seems kind of anti-climatic for a truck with this much presence; seems you should be turning a key to crank such a big powerplant – mounted in the engine bay of such a big truck — into action.
Regardless of how it’s done, the engine settles to a gruff idle that – if you use your imagination – does sound a little diesel-like. Not much, but enough to at least imagine you’re sitting in the torque-monsters that are the diesel-powered trucks.
Spin the gear select-knob mounted perfectly to the bottom left of the centre stack (again – shouldn’t an HD truck have a gearlever? Guess that ship’s sailed) into drive and hit the throttle and any melancholic diesel musings go out the window pretty quickly.
As we proceeded to climb (it doesn’t take long ‘round here), the power on-tap – 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of it – makes itself felt right away. Combined with the Power Wagon’s segment-first 8-speed automatic transmission and the grip provided by those tires and axles, the Power Wagon charges up steep inclines, never really feeling like it’s being stressed at all. You just get that sense that this is a vehicle that has an engine, a frame, a couple of seats, a steering wheel and little else.
Kilometer after kilometer, we charged up the trail, feeling like the Power Wagon and its big tires were just chewing it up to bits, like the earth itself was being pushed around the truck. These are some serious off-road chops, and it makes it so that even novice off-roaders like myself can be comfortable behind the wheel; I found myself carrying on a normal conversation with my passengers even though the path we were on was barely wide enough for the trucks themselves. It was narrow to the point where we did have to fold in our wing mirrors, which made thinks a little harrier as you could no longer use them to see if you were going to clear that stump, that rock, or what have you.
Much as you can really feel that power as you ascend, it’s on the descent where many of the Power Wagon’s other features come sharply into focus.
It starts with the standard hill-descent control system; simply press a button and use the cruise controls to decide how much speed you want to carry down an incline, and the truck – and its 35:1 crawl ratio — does the rest. That means all you have to do is focus on the steering inputs to help with your forward progress, and it takes a load off. It’s also here where you can really get the feel for the Articlulink off-road suspension with rear coil springs as not only does it have to deal with the weight of the truck, but now with gravity as well and if you’re not careful, that can be a real pain in the butt. Luckily, it’s tuned so that it’s rarely a worry, and the body is kept in control even as the goings get steeper and steeper and physics force more and more weight over the front axle.
Throughout the whole adventure, though, what really stuck out was how the Power Wagon was able to disguise its girth. Turn after turn that I thought would be two-, three- or even four-point affairs turned out to be able to be taken in one fell swoop; much of the credit, of course, has to go to our spotters that helped guide us through the most treacherous bits, but that doesn’t change just how impressive this massive truck was thanks to the broad wheel articulation – independent of the body — allowed by its axles and it’s well-tuned power steering.
More than just having one of the coolest names in the biz, it’s a real accomplishment, this thing. Nothing quite compares to the sheer feeling of “you can’t stop me” the 2500 Power Wagon provides; it’s so good, it’s almost addictive and you can do a whole lot worse for the $64,245 Ram asks for the Power Wagon.
One more time: “Power Wagon.”
2020 Ram Power Wagon
Body style: 5-seat full-size pickup
Drive method: Front-engine, four-wheel-drive
Engine: 6.4L V8, 410 hp @ 5,600 rpm; Torque: 429 lb-ft @ 4,000 rpm
Tow capacity: 4,817 kg.
Fuel Economy: 15.4/10.2/13.1 L/100 km city/highway/combined
Website: Ram Trucks