2012 Ram Power Wagon
Total Points: 79.48/100
Base Price: $41,855
Off-Road Package Contents: Lever-actuated part-time four-wheel drive, Bilstein shocks, LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tires w/fullsize spare, forged-aluminum wheels, 4.56:1 gearing, electronic locking front and rear differentials, electronic-disconnecting sway bar, full skidplating, 12,000-pound Warn winch
The Ram Power Wagon, winner of our Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year competition in ’05, ’10, and ’12, is no question, our favorite heavy-duty truck. Starting with the ’12 model year, the Power Wagon became available in the base SL trim level, lowering the point of entry to less than $42,000.
The Power Wagon is as comprehensive a package as you’ll find from an OE manufacturer. The shocks are upgraded, the tires are bigger and better than anything else offered in the Ram line, the front and rear axles are stuffed with lockers (the rear is a helical limited slip when unlocked), and the front sway bar can be disconnected via switch on the dash. Add to that a 12,000-pound Warn winch hidden behind the front bumper and you have a truck that is ready to go out of the box.
Disconnecting the sway bar exposes so much flexibility in the suspension that the tires will literally tuck up inside the wheelwells at maximum articulation. The Ram also has big doses of ground clearance and meaty towhooks that would make an excavator proud.
We had high hopes for the Power Wagon in this test and with a Top 3 finish, it didn’t disappoint. However, the Power Wagon did show a chink in its armor on the hillclimb where it clawed for traction, shuddering and axlehopping all the way to the top. There is no finessing the big Ram; it often required lots of throttle and brute force.
The same held true for the Power Wagon on the stairsteps, where, as one of our testers put it, “Like a bulldozer on a shale face, the Power Wagon gets the job done, but there is nothing fast or subtle in the way it goes about its business.” Here again, the Ram didn’t respond too well to finesse, but gladly tackled the obstacle with our foot in the throttle. While it was helped by a long wheelbase in most climbing activities, you can never escape the mass of the Power Wagon. In whatever you do off-road, it feels substantial and heavy.
Clearly, the rock garden was where the Power Wagon was most agreeable. With plenty of ground clearance, the Power Wagon might as well have been traveling on a dirt road. This was the one pickup that never stressed the driver in the rocks. Despite crawling during a downpour, we completed the rock garden without ever turning on the lockers. The Power Wagon always has the traction it needs, and if you want more, at the push of a button you can lock it up.
The biggest drawback to the Power Wagon is its sheer size, making it an uncomfortable partner on tight trails. Although it has good visibility to the sides, the truck’s massive hood makes seeing the trail nearly impossible. In technical terrain, driving by Braille soon becomes your greatest skillset as a driver.
Those things aside, the Power Wagon is an exceptional do-all truck. Its operation is instinctive and simple. If you need a trail-worthy pickup with ¾-ton capability, the Power Wagon is impossible to beat.
Hot: Hemi grunt, well-tuned suspension, keeps up with Jeep in the rocks
Not: Big, heavy, axlehop in sand
Our Take: No one makes a better ¾-ton for ‘wheeling
2012 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor
Total Points: 79.59/100
Base Price: $42,570
Off-Road Package Contents: Electronic part-time four-wheel drive, wide bodywork, Fox Racing Shox internal bypass shocks, LT315/70R17 BF Goodrich All-Terrain T/A tires w/fullsize spare, cast-aluminum wheels, 4.10:1 gearing, Torsen front differential, electronic locking rear differential, full skidplating, traction control, Hill Descent Control, Off-Road Mode, forward-facing camera ($525 option), front and rear recovery points
When it comes to dirt, the Raptor is one serious truck. Wide bodywork, 35-inch tires, long-travel suspension, internal-bypass shocks, and an electronic rear locker are what come standard on the Raptor. While it may have been bred in Baja, improvements for 2012 make it even more potent everywhere else.
New to the Raptor, and possibly the most significant upgrade since the 411hp 6.2L made its debut, is a Torsen limited slip that now takes up residence in the front axle. Designed to work in conjunction with the traction control system, the limited-slip differential gives the Raptor a much-needed locker-like capability to the front axle, without any of the binding or bad habits associated with a front locker. Also available is a forward-facing camera, which answers the criticism of limited front visibility over the hood.
With these new upgrades, the Raptor proved it deserved the crown as the best factory-equipped four-wheel-drive pickup. Nowhere was this clearer than in our testing, where the Raptor aced the hillclimb with a level of smoothness and effort not seen in any other vehicle. The wide track meant that the Raptor never fell into the ruts formed by the vehicles that went before it. The Torsen and traction control are also nearly imperceptible in their operation. On the downslope, the Raptor HDC was the most refined of the group, quiet in operation, and did a remarkable job to slow the big truck down.
On the stairsteps, it took a little more technique to complete the climb. Once we figured out the right amount of throttle application that would get us up and over without allowing the suspension to fully extend and hop, the Raptor scaled the stairs with ease. Here again, the front Torsen and traction control worked well together with the rear locker.
The Raptor’s only weakness was revealed in the rock garden, where its relatively low clearance and wide track had it occasionally kissing boulders. Like the Power Wagon, though, traction was not an issue and the Raptor strolled through without its locker engaged. This was also the perfect opportunity to use the front camera, which allowed us to pick lines we normally wouldn’t be able to see.
While it may be a bit wide and low for really technical trails, the fact is that as long as it fits, the Raptor will take you anywhere you want to go. The any-speed rear locker also works in any transfer case position, and the electronic nannies can be completely defeated in Off-Road Mode.
Ford has done a remarkable job with the latest iteration of the Raptor, and has truly created the best off-road truck on the market. This solid all-around piece is what every factory ½-ton 4x4 should be aspiring to be.
Hot: Potent engine, long-travel suspension, supportive seats
Not: Thirsty V-8, it’s really wide, most expensive vehicle in the test
Our Take: The best off-road package on a pickup