There are trucks that handle off-road chores capably, and then there are trucks made for off-road. The Ram Power Wagon is the latter, making driving one around the streets of Los Angeles wholly inadequate for a vehicle review.
Mind you, the Power Wagon SLT we got from the Southern California press fleet catches stares the way a jacked-up half-ton would, especially with the splashy graphics package. And the interior — from the well-appointed SLT to upscale leather in the Laramie trim — won’t let you down at a chic restaurant’s valet stand.
But the Power Wagon is not for the “air hauler”; it’s not for the testosterone-amped bro trying to impress. The Power Wagon is meant to haul cargo, pull stumps and hop rocks far from paved asphalt. Yes, there are plenty of off-road opportunities around Los Angeles, but few that would rattle a Power Wagon, or at least none I wanted to tackle without a seasoned support crew.
The press materials will tell you the Power Wagon is a Ram 2500 Heavy Duty 4x4 Crew Cab with off-road engineering enhancements such as higher ground clearance, a 12,000-lbs. winch, fuel tank skid plates, 33-inch tires with a beefy tread pattern and engine calibrations for better up and downhill control.
What sets Power Wagon apart as an off-road workhorse is its suspension system, which is new for 2014. Ram's new five-link coil rear suspension (now standard on all 2500s) replaces the leaf-spring suspension, while the three-link front suspension has a sway-bar disconnecting system. Add upgraded axle shafts and Bilstein shocks all around. Power Wagon features standard front and rear electronic-locking differentials. The total package is designed for better flexibility, axle articulation, traction, handling and weight control.
But this was still only theory.
So upon arrival at Chrysler’s Chelsea Proving Grounds in Chelsea, Mich., this week for a media event, I made sure to carve out time to take the Power Wagon on Lyman Trail, Chelsea’s off-road course. With a mud bog, rock climb, steep downhill and plenty of bumps and holes, Lyman Trail is a pretty good challenge for most trucks. There were a few tight spots through trees, made easier by the power retractable side mirrors. And the massive hood made negotiating some blind downhill turns a leap of faith. But the Power Wagon ate up the Lyman Trail and spit it out, hardly reaching max stress.
And then we came upon a truck — a Ram 3500 dually — that had found itself where it did not belong. The truck was stuck on the top of a muddy hill, blocking the trail, in need of a rescue. A Jeep Wrangler with a winch was better positioned to do the job, but the Wrangler proved too light to budge the interloper.
Enter the Power Wagon.
Using an electronic switch box outside the cab, we (“we” meaning Chrysler engineers) unspooled the winch about 40 feet to the stuck truck and fastened the winch hook to a safe anchor point on the dually. Using the switch box, we activated the winch’s electric motor and eased the dually easily out of its predicament. The Power Wagon stood firm and didn’t bat an eyelash.
So I was able to take the Power Wagon into its range of capabilities. But was I really putting the Power Wagon to the test? Not even close.
Originally posted on Automotive Fleet