First Drive: 2019 Ram Power Wagon

The heavy-duty trail king gets a new robe

Do enthusiasts today even understand just how special the Power Wagon is? In the age of Rubicons, Raptors, ZR2s, TRDs, and Rebels, are people too spoiled to realize just what a game-changer the big Ram is to the off-road world? We were one of the first outlets to drive the original modern-day Power Wagon when it was unveiled in 2004 as a 2005 model, and we immediately fell in love. Available in either a regular cab or Quad Cab, the Power Wagon had a 140-inch wheelbase, a 345hp 5.7L Hemi, a factory lift, 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain tires, a unique factory-installed Warn winch, front and rear electronic lockers with a rear helical limited slip when unlocked, 4.56 gears, an electronic disconnecting sway bar, Bilstein monotube shocks, rock rails, and forged Alcoa aluminum wheels. All for the amazingly reasonable price of $36,660 with a six-speed manual (yes, those things were available on fullsize trucks once) regular cab, or $39,970 for a five-speed automatic Quad Cab.

There was a period of time, in and around Moab, when the Power Wagon was the veritable Yeti. The first trucks didn't even have any Power Wagon markings on them, and locals spoke about a small group of extremely capable fullsize pickups testing all over the Jeep trails. The only evidence: marks on the slickrock where the trailer hitches had dragged. In fact, the original Power Wagon's receiver hitch collar was upgraded to forged steel in order to make it tough enough to drag in extreme terrain.

Much to the delight and cheers of the assembled crowd at the 2005 Moab Easter Jeep Safari, our Power Wagon testing culminated in climbing Hell's Gate. Remember, in 2005 this was a novel thing to see. The '05 Power Wagon won our Four Wheeler Pickup Truck of the Year award that year, and again when it was redesigned in 2010. Clearly this special truck ranks as one of our all-time favorite factory pickups.

Fast-forward 15 years and the soul of the Power Wagon is intact, albeit with a few changes here and there over the years: The wheelbase is now 149.3 inches (but only available as a crew cab), the LT285/70R17 BFGs have been swapped out for Goodyear DuraTracs, the 4.56s were replaced with 4.10s, the forged wheels have been replaced with cast units, and the rock rails were dropped in the 2010 redesign. What remains: the 2-inch lift; the AAM axles and traction aids; a manual T-case; the electronic sway bar disconnect; and a factory-installed Warn winch, though with its own upgrades. More on that in a moment. The current Power Wagon also has Ram's excellent link-coil rear suspension and the "Articulink" setup to the frontend, which adds an extra link and bushing to the control arms of the Power Wagon to allow the axle to roll with the suspension, increasing front axle articulation in extreme terrain.

Based on the redesigned '19 Ram 2500 Heavy Duty, the new Power Wagon benefits from changes to the rest of the Ram lineup. Starting with a nearly all-new frame that is now manufactured with 98.5 percent high-strength steel, the Power Wagon frame weighs less and offers the best torsional rigidity in the segment. Ram has also made a concerted effort to make this truck the quietest HD Ram ever, with improved NVH that includes new C-pillar hydro mounts, frame-mounted anti-vibration technology, new engine mounts, in-cabin active noise canceling, and upgraded exhaust attachments. Also, a new braking system has received a complete overhaul, including upgraded calipers, master cylinder, and booster that work together to improve stopping distances and improve brake feel.

The body structure, while having a similar look to the outgoing truck, uses more aluminum (hood) and high-strength steel in the body structure where there was formerly mild steel. The new truck features all-LED lighting (including the clearance and taillights) and a cleaner interpretation of the previous Rebel and Power Wagon grille that prominently features the new R-A-M logo. With the running lights on, these simple changes give the Power Wagon a menacing, strong look.

Inside, the Power Wagon is the perfect juxtaposition of traditional and unexpected. The award-winning Ram 1500 interior has been adapted to the Heavy Duty cab, which means the exceptional 12-inch Uconnect screen is optional, as is a 17-speaker audio system, a 360-degree camera system, and adaptive cruise control. However, purists will still appreciate the manual transfer case shift lever on the floor and the six-passenger seating.

As far as powertrain goes, the Power Wagon still uses the 410hp and 429-lb-ft 6.4L Hemi V-8 with MDS, but for 2019 the old 66RFE six-speed automatic has been replaced by an exceptional ZF 8HP75 eight-speed automatic, which is an absolute game-changer for the Power Wagon. For example, the First gear ratio changes from the six-speed's 3.23 to the eight-speed's low, low 4.71:1 with Second gear now sporting a 3.14:1 instead of 1.84. This not only means better drivability, better towing, and a smoother launch, but the Power Wagon's max crawl ratio with the 2.64:1 BorgWarner 44-47 T-case increases from 35:1 to an astonishing 51:1. No diesel option is available because the torque rating would necessitate different axles, rougher-riding suspension, and the cooling stack intrudes on the electronic sway bar's real estate. However, we think that Cummins' sweet (and lighter) 5.0L V-8 would be the absolutely perfect powerplant in the Power Wagon and take up less space. Just sayin' if anyone at Ram is listening.

Back to that winch. The old 12,000-pound Power Wagon winch was similar to the venerable Warn M12000, but with a reverse-rotation drum, a special low-voltage interrupt control box, 90 feet of wire rope and roller fairlead, has been replaced by a Power Wagon-specific version of the Warn Zeon 12 with 90 feet of synthetic line and a Hawse fairlead. This change alone has carved 28 pounds off the front of the Power Wagon and added a more modern winch with faster line speed to the truck's toolbox.

We also like Ram's implementation of the 360-degree camera idea, especially with that gorgeous 12-inch screen. The cameras show an immense amount of detail around the truck, perfect for when a spotter is not available, and the front camera offers dynamic gridlines and assists in visibility over the massive hood.

Drivability of the Power Wagon is as good as you remember. Some might bemoan the addition of the rotary shifter knob instead of the column shift, but we don't mind it, and it makes the vehicle interface a little cleaner. On highway, the Bilsteins and coils partnership works out well and the Power Wagon doesn't give up on-road comfort for off-road capability, or even on-road capability, as the unlocked rear differential reverts to a very effective helical limited slip, which means there are no clutches to wear out. We will say that we prefer the BFGoodrich All-Terrains of previous Power Wagons, as the DuraTracs, as good as they are on the trail, have an annoying lack of directional stability on the highway, requiring constant smaller corrections to keep our heading between the lines. This has been a complaint on every other DuraTrac-equipped competitor we have sampled. Otherwise, the cabin deals in quiet, comfortable, and luxurious accommodations, with excellent outward visibility as well.

Off-road, the manual T-case shifter reminds us of simpler times, even as we are soaking in the latest in tech. Quite frankly, we love it. We have little to complain about on the trail. The DuraTracs are tough, the lockers work seamlessly, and the newfound lower crawl ratio makes the Power Wagon a mountain-climbing beast. If anything, we wish Ram would upgrade to the widely available 60mm (2.65-inch) Bilstein shocks from the current 46mm (1.81-inch) shocks to help control those big axles over faster, washed out terrain. We'll also echo the same sentiment that we have for the last 15 years: The Power Wagon should have 35s. Period. Other than those improvements, the big trail-ready Ram is about as perfect a factory 4x4 as you are likely to find.

One last item of note is that the Power Wagon starts at a reasonable $52,900, nicely equipped. However, if you are looking for something a little simpler, the pro tip is to order a Tradesman ($39,850) and add the $7,995 Power Wagon content package that adds all of the Power Wagon goodness and none of the fluff for $47,845.

In 2005, we piloted the (then) all-new Power Wagon up Hell's Revenge in Moab at Easter Jeep Safari, putting many modified vehicles of the day to shame.

Power Wagon: Then and Now

2005 (Quad Cab)

Engine: 5.7L Hemi V-8

Horsepower: 345

Torque (lb-ft): 375

Payload (lb): 2,430

Towing (lb): 11,000

T-case/low range ratio: NVG271/2.72:1

Final drive ratio: 4.56:1

Crawl ratio: 37.2:1 (auto)

Wheelbase (in): 140.5

Ground clearance (f/r, in): 8.4/8.3

Approach angle (deg): 35

Breakover angle (deg): 25.5

Departure angle (deg): 26.5

Curb weight (lb): 6,081

2019 (Tradesman)

Engine: 6.4L Hemi V-8 w/MDS

Horsepower: 410

Torque (lb-ft): 429

Payload (lb): 1,660

Towing (lb): 10,620

T-case/low range ratio: BorgWarner 44-47/2.64:1

Final drive ratio: 4.10:1

Crawl ratio: 51:1

Wheelbase (in): 149.3

Ground clearance (f/r, in): 8.3/8.2

Approach angle (deg): 33.6

Breakover angle (deg): 23.5

Departure angle (deg): 26.2

Curb weight (lb): 6,907

Quick Specs (as tested)

Vehicle/model: '19 Ram Power Wagon

Base price: $52,900

Engine: 6.4L OHV Hemi V-8 w/MDS

Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 410/429

Transmission: ZF 8HP75 8-spd

Transfer case: BorgWarner 44-47, part-time, manual shift

4WD system: 2-Hi, 4-Hi, Neutral, 4-Lo

Low range ratio: 2.64:1

Frame type: Ladder

Suspension, f/r: Three-link (Articulink) with track bar, coil springs, electronic-disconnecting stabilizer bar, solid axle/five-link with track bar, coil springs, stabilizer bar, solid axle

Axle ratio: 4.10:1

Max crawl ratio: 51:1

Steering: Hydraulic power recirculating ball

Brakes, f/r: 14.17x1.54-in disc with twin-piston pin-slider caliper and ABS/14.09x1.34-in disc with twin-piston pin-slider caliper and ABS

Tires: LT285/70R17 Goodyear DuraTrac

Wheelbase (in): 149.3

Length (in): 238.8

Height (in): 80.9

Width (in): 83.4

Base curb weight (lb): 6.907

Approach/departure angles (deg): 33.6/26.2

Minimum ground clearance (in): 8.3

Payload (lb): 1,660

Max towing capacity (lb): 10,620

Fuel capacity (gal): 31

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