If Jeep were to build an extreme off-road 3/4-ton truck, it would have hefty solid axles filled with low gears and lockers front and rear. A powerful V-8 would reside above a supple suspension, and the truck would actually work off-road. Well, Ford and GM better shelve the off-road sticker packages and get back to the drawing board, 'cause somebody put a Dodge logo on the most capable factory pickup truck ever offered.
Complain all you like; we're adopting the '05 Dodge Ram Power Wagon into the Jeep family much like the Kaiser-built M-715 was accepted in the late '60s. However, this modern-day M-715 has more cool hard parts than the ol' Kaiser ever dreamed of, including selectable lockers front and rear and a 345hp Hemi V-8 under the hood. But it doesn't stop there. The Power Wagon also comes with a 12,000-pound winch and roller fairlead hidden in the front bumper, 33-inch tires (285/70R17) on sweet-looking forged-aluminum 17x8 wheels and 4.56 gears. Underneath you'll find an unbelievably soft-riding 3/4-ton suspension, plenty of hefty skidplates and even an electronically controlled sway-bar disconnect for increased articulation.
If you haven't spent much time wheeling a fullsize, you will appreciate the 140.5-inch wheelbase (the Power Wagon is available in a Quad Cab shortbox or standard-cab longbox), which smoothes rough roads and makes short work of steep climbs. But even with 345 hp, you still notice that it's a 6,000-pound truck; acceleration on-road isn't neck snapping but is still quick. However, when you get the Power Wagon on high-speed dirt roads, you forget it's a 3/4-ton truck (it's based on the Ram 2500 chassis). The suspension sucks up irregularities and allows you to control the big rig over almost any obstacle. Sliding S-turns over loose, bumpy surfaces between 60 to 70 mph is extremely comfortable - you forget it's a 6,000-pound truck. It's unbelievable; Dodge boys and girls did their homework on the Power Wagon suspension.
The electric lockers on the truck are controlled with a rotary switch on the dash. We appreciated the rear locker but found the front one to be almost unnecessary for most situations that we would get into. With both lockers on, you could easily drag the truck through a trail that would literally tear the body apart if you desired. The actuator to engage the front locker is a little slow to react; we wished it would toggle on and off much quicker. The electric sway-bar disconnect is a cool idea (controlled with a small button on the dash), although we're not sure such a complex system would be our first choice. Also, we like having at least a light sway bar for off-road use rather than totally disconnecting it. As expected, with the sway bar disconnected, the truck rides noticeably smoother. If we could get over our complexity issues, maybe a three-position sway bar would be a cool idea. Setting One could be stiff for on-road use while loaded or towing, Setting Two could be slightly lighter for on- and off-road empty use and Setting Three could be totally disconnected. With the current system in place, however, the sway bar can only be disconnected when the truck is traveling at less than 18 mph and shifted into four-wheel drive, which is done via a real shift lever just like a 3/4-ton should shift.
With most models of the Power Wagon priced around $40,000, it isn't exactly inexpensive. But when you consider you get a 3/4-ton truck that can tow around 10,000 pounds as well as take you over nasty trails, it starts looking like a pretty good deal. It's only available with the 5.7L Hemi. The Cummins diesel would have been too heavy and hurt the overall performance. Currently the Power Wagon is only offered with the 5-45RFE five-speed auto, but the G56 six-speed manual will also be available later in the year.
So what would we change to make the new Dodge Power Wagon even better? Well, it looks like 35-inch tires (actually 315/70R17s) would fit (maybe with slight rubbing), and we'd like to see the new 425hp 6.1L Hemi find its way under the Power Wagon's hood, even if only as an option. Oh, and it needs a Jeep logo.