In 1945, all of Detroit’s automakers were running flat out producing equipment, arms and vehicles for the war effort in the Pacific theater and Europe. In a little bit of irony, two of those products are still produced — and by the same automaker now. We all know about the Jeep Wrangler’s past, but few motorheads realize that the Dodge Power Wagon was also an important vehicle used during the war.
Larger than the earliest Jeep, the Power Wagon was usually a heavy-duty ¾-ton or one-ton truck with four-wheel drive. Power came from a 230-cubic-inch flathead straight six engine. After the war, the Power Wagon built on its work reputation, featuring a standard PTO (power take-off) and a rugged solid axle chassis. Dodge produced the Power Wagon for public sale during the mid-1950s. A V-8 engine arrived in the late 1960s, yet the vehicle essentially remained a niche product with a loyal, but shallow, customer pool. Early samples of these trucks are much sought after vehicles by collectors, off-roaders and hot-rodders today.
In 2012, Dodge’s replacement truck division, Ram, released a Power Wagon trim package, with the Power Wagon 2500 debuting as a distinct pickup in 2014. Today, the latest Power Wagon comes only as a Crew Cab with features like a 6.4-liter 410-hp Hemi V-8, front and rear electronic axle lockers, electronic front anti-sway bar disconnect, 12,000-pound Warn electric winch, coil springs all around (instead of leaf springs) with Bilstein monotube shocks, plus beefy solid axles front and rear funneling the power from the Borg-Warner 44-47 transfer case.
Ground clearance is up 2 inches over a stock Ram 2500 4X4, to almost 14 inches, while special 17-inch alloy wheels wearing 33-inch Goodyear DuraTrac tires slip into the flared wheelwells. Ram claims 30 inches of water-fording capability before sensitive items get wet. In daily use, everyone needed to use the running boards to exit and enter.
Each Power Wagon is also available with the distinctive hood stripes shown, recessed hood louvers, plus the bold “Power Stripe” fender graphics displayed on our Flame Red sample. Other Power Wagon colors include, Bright White, Bright Silver, Blue Streak, Granite Crystal and Black.
The 6.4-liter Hemi is also used in the Dodge Challenger/Charger SRT performance cars, where the thunder of this motor is often on display. Here, with the standard 4.10 rear axle ratio, the Power Wagon has wicked take-off power with just a little less enthusiasm for forward progress as the pace increases beyond posted limits — despite 7,000 pounds of truck to propel. The cabin is quiet, almost hushed, even as the single exhaust pipe has a throaty rumble outside, yet not ever apparent inside. Only some tire thrum from the beefy tires surpasses any exhaust note — which seems an opportunity for the after-market to step in and juice up the Power Wagon’s potent Hemi. Another oddity; Ram didn’t seem to take any extra effort to make the exhaust part of the Power Wagon’s styling as it has done with other Ram pickup designs. The single right-side pipe is very nondescript.
Further highlighting the truck’s off-road orientation over the max-tow ratings of other Heavy Duty series Rams, the Power Wagon is only rated to pull 10,000 pounds of trailer and carry 1,466 pounds of gross cargo. By contrast, the Warn winch mounted in the front fascia has a maximum pull rating of 12,000 pounds. Otherwise, the working end has a fixed receiver hitch, with a tow-brake controller inside, while our sample included the lockable RamBox setup in each rear fender. The bed itself earns a spray on bed-liner, a cargo retention wall, plus LED lighting. Power Wagon options include a rear view camera with front and rear parking sensors, as well as a camera mounted in the rear cab lite that offers a view of whatever you have restrained — or not — in the bed. Ram still needs to work on torsion springs for the heavy — and tall tailgate — plus some sort of foot access points are needed to reach any cargo in this heightened truck.
As good as the RamBoxes are, it makes one wonder why not carry the concept all the way down the whole face of the fender? The RamBoxes fill most of the space atop the wheelwells inside the bed so why not make more locking boxes on the lower side of the fenders for storing more gear, the heavy, dirty items you wouldn’t want to lift over shoulder height? You would be left with an interior pickup bed still more than 50 inches wide — plus whatever bed length the manufacturer deems necessary, so customers would have more than adequate space for hauling ATVs, building materials, winch straps, spare tires, camping gear, whatever you want your Power Wagon to do. Call it RamBox+Plus.
If you didn’t happen to notice the prominent Ram grille, or the bold Ram tailgate atop the flat-black bumpers, then maybe the Power Wagon’s interior will capture your attention. Logo-ed leather seats — heated and ventilated up front, with memory settings — plus a unique 40/20/40 split front arrangement that allows full six-passenger seating (even if the front middle person needs to find space for their feet) the Power Wagon is both familiar and distinct. Electronic switches for the trailer brake, the sway-bar disconnect, plus the locking differentials, fall right to your hand, while the column-mounted transmission shifter saves space for other functions and works well right where it is. A manual 4X4 lever on the floor handles the transfer case action, combined with a floor console that offers several beverage slots and other pockets. There is storage under the center seat position as well as the folding seatback section, while more beverage slots are available here and in the doors.
The rear bench also splits to fold, with collapsed plastic frame pieces flip out from beneath the seat to create a flat load deck across the Ram’s floor. A power-sliding rear window is included. Occupants commented on the excellent visibility.
Notable features include keyless access and ignition — the first such offerings on a full-size pickup — while remote starting, power pedals and a power sunroof are among the options.
The “base” Power Wagon Crew Cab starts at $53,015 with all of the hardware to make off-roading a real adventure. Hill Descent control, one-touch power windows, skid plates everywhere and heated, folding side mirrors are standard.
Check off Power Wagon Package 22P ($4,995) and the bells and whistles quickly pile up; U-connect, nine-speaker Alpine audio, auto-climate controls, the heated and ventilate seats, auto-dimming mirrors, pocket sockets and 115-volt outlet, dual alternators (380 amps total output), front and rear accent lighting, lighted side mirrors and much more. Go all in with the tonneau cover, sunroof, RamBoxes, plus navigation and the Power Wagon becomes a heady $63,115 off-roading experience.
After more than two weeks, almost 2,000 miles and numerous car washes, the burly Power Wagon proved to be a very civil warrior. The steering is precise — far better than expected from a solid axle layout — while the general ride is also impressively compliant. The cabin is a pleasant space to travel in and feels far more upscale than any truck previous Power Wagon owners are used too.
Power is ample and the truck proved to be a welcome companion when the weather went wintry; the Sirius weather alert even gives you automatic storm updates on your local weather. The EPA does not issue fuel economy guidelines for heavy-duty pickups, but our average came to just over 13-mpg. Warmer weather and more break-in miles would seemingly increase that number.
Ram sales grew over 8 percent last year, for the highest sales levels ever in Dodge/Ram history. With attractive products like the newest Power Wagon, there is no reason to suspect any change in that growth. This wide and varied lineup is making large strides in a very competitive segment. For context, Ram sells four pickups to every Toyota Tundra sold.
Good thing for FCA too, as the company is betting on the success of its trucks to carry the company forward.