Being history buffs, we knew that Dodge trucks played a big part in the winning of WWII. We’re fairly positive that the famed Red Ball Express, tasked with keeping up with General Patton in his race across France, were driving 4x4 Dodge trucks. And Patton’s staff car was a Dodge “Weapons Carrier” WC-56 (or WC-57. They were the same except the 57 had a winch).
Dodge made trucks ranging from the basic ½-ton to the “6x6” to the 3-ton model used in the Asian theatre, and the vast majority of them were four-wheel drive. The war brought an explosion of technological advances and while everyone thinks fighter planes when talking about design breakthroughs, the lowly truck went through its own steep evolutionary curve and Dodge was at the front in more ways than one.
When the war was over, many of the returning GIs wanted the 4x4s they drove while in the service, and Dodge jumped at the chance to take their wartime design and produce it for the masses. This led to the 1947 WDX; a ¾-ton, four-wheel truck that was equipped with an 8x4.5-foot bed. The original Power Wagon featured a 230ci flathead six engine, a two-speed transfer case, a four-speed transmission with a power takeoff opening, sending power to the front and back of the truck for operating auxiliary equipment and big 9.00/16-8-ply tires on 16x6 five-stud wheels. It also had “amenities” such as electric wipers, driver-side sunvisor, and armrest, dome light, heater, and 10,000-pound winch.
The Power Wagon underwent a myriad of changes, upgrades, and general revision over its production run. Some of it wasn’t pretty though, and the venerable Power Wagon went of out production in the early ’80s. After being acquired by Fiat, in 2009 the name Dodge was removed entirely, thus making Ram the stand-alone handle for the truck division.
Which leads us to now, and the debut of the 2017 Ram Power Wagon.
We were invited to the reveal of the 2017 Ram Power Wagon and jumped at the chance. The reveal would begin in Las Vegas, where we would put some road miles on the trucks working our way to Lake Mead and then on to the “Logandale Trails,” where we would put the PW to the off-road test.
First off, the Power Wagon is a good-looking truck that comes with some nice touches. There’s the Bilstein shocks, locking front and rear differentials, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, a Warn 12,000-pound winch and around 10,000 pounds of towing capacity. It also has a styling cue from the past with its huge POWER WAGON graphics running down the bedside. You know, we thought it was kind of hokey back in the ’70s, but are somehow OK with it now.
That’s not to say we are in any way nostalgic for how the past Power Wagons drove and felt. You had to be tough to drive one back in the day; they were capable but uncomfortable. We’ll get to that. The 2017 model is based on the Ram 2500 Heavy Duty 4x4 Crew Cab, and power is produced with the 6.4L Hemi that produces 410 hp along with 429 lb-ft of torque. Nice, but no diesel? Nope. It seems that the Ram guys looked at the diesels they had, and decided that the Hemi was the best package for the Power Wagon. It sure seemed to push the truck to fast highway speeds (just for scientific analysis, of course) and still slugged up and down rocky trails in 4-low like it could do it all day.
Up was easy as the Power Wagon has the industry-only front-locker setup, and the electronically disconnecting front sway bar allows for a good deal of articulation when disconnected. Though they seemed to work well on the varied terrains we drove on, maybe swapping out the 33-inch (LT285/70R17) Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac’s for the 34.5-inch LT315/70R17 Duratrac would give a little more clearance. After airing down to 30 ft-lb of tire pressure, a few of us put dimples in the lower rocker panel, getting up and over the rocks on the Logandale Trails.
Down was interesting, as the Power Wagon has something called Hill Decent Control. We were sitting atop a fairly steep hill and were told to “hit that button, take your foot off the brake pedal and put both of them flat on the floor. The Power Wagon will do all the braking for you.” It actually worked as advertised and the Power Wagon inched-itself down the deeply rutted hill in remarkable (and frankly, spooky) order. We kept a foot near the brake pedal just in case.
Ram claims that this interior is the nicest ever offered in one of their trucks, and it actually was nice. The seats were comfortable and fully adjustable and they’re heated, as is the steering wheel, which we consider a very nice touch. They’re actually a bench seat with a wide, but of course not very deep, center console that comes down from the back, meaning that you can get six people in the Crew Cab. Our truck had the Diesel Gray and black upholstery with highlighted stitching that was attractive enough for us.
The gauges are black-faced analog and a center-mounted screen displays everything from the GPS to stereo to a view from the backup camera. Even the A/C and heating can be adjusted from it, even though the knobs for that system are literally 4 inches away. The Ram is defiantly online in regards to electronica as a 110 inverter is there, along with USB ports to keep you plugged in and charged up.
Everything is well laid out and items such as the switch to lock the axles (Axle Unlock, Rear Lock and Front/Rear Lock) and the switch for the electronic sway bar are wisely grouped together. Changing the truck into and out of the wheel drives (2H, N, 4H, and 4L) is done with a floor-mounted shifter. One of the big plusses we saw is that the Power Wagon comes equipped with a trailer brake built right into the dash array, and all trailer light/brake electrical leads are in place near the hitch. Just hook up and go.
Which is where we think the power wagon can really shine. We look at the Power Wagon as a dealer-ready chase truck. It has Hemi power and good suspension for even harder trials. Equipped with what Ram calls their “Articulink” front suspension system, it incorporates high-movement joints and the sway bar disconnecting system, allowing for additional flexibility and axle articulation. The rear suspension is a five-link coil rear suspension to deliver a good ride and take abuse when called on. All in all, the suspension worked fine on the road and off.
There are also cool little things like lighted toolboxes built right into the tops of the bedsides. And with that you have the 2017 Dod … oops … Ram Power Wagon. It’s going to take us a while to get over the demise of the Dodge Bros, but one thing that we could get used to fast is to using a Power Wagon to get us to and around the various off-road races we cover. Yes, we could get used to that quickly.