Every once in a while the offices of Truckin' magazine receive a phone call from a manufacturer so excited about an upcoming product they invite us out to test it and provide our input months before the vehicle is even announced to the public. This is one such occasion. Dodge had been biting its tongue the last few times we met and finally decided to invite a small group of editors from leading truck and off-road-related magazines to come see its newest creation. Last May, we were lucky enough to be one of the four magazines hand-selected by Dodge to spend a few days in beautiful Moab, Utah - a haven of the off-road community - to experience the rebirth of the mighty Dodge Power Wagon.
When the idea to revive the Power Wagon first came up, an important decision was made not to water down the new version, keeping intact the heritage of the legendary truck, which was offered in America between 1947 and 1968. The new Power Wagon had to be every bit as rugged and capable as the original, and to achieve that goal, Dodge put together one of the most comprehensive factory off-road packages to come out of Detroit in many years. Ford's Ranger FX4 Level 2 and Toyota's Tundra and Tacoma TRD packages, while comprehensive in their own right, are geared toward the moderate off-roaders, while the new Dodge Power Wagon can easily hold its own with sister company's Jeep Wrangler Rubicon and the General's Hummer H2. There is much more room for cargo and passengers in the Dodge than either the Rubicon or H2.
The new Power Wagon is based off the popular Dodge Ram 2500 4x4 and can be had with either a Quad Cab shortbed or regular cab longbed configurations, each with the same 140-inch wheelbase. A 2-inch-taller stance was achieved by adding a 1-inch suspension lift, using coils up front and one-stage leaves at the rear, along with taller LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich A/T KO tires wrapped around special 17-inch Alcoa polished forged-aluminum wheels. Helping the wheels get rolling is a 5.7L Hemi V-8 connected through either a five-speed automatic or a six-speed manual delivering power through lower front and rear 4.56 helical differential gears that incorporate locking differentials. The rear differential has the advantage of being a limited slip when it is unlocked, while the front remains open. The Power Wagon also has a couple of aces up its sleeve in the form of an electronic disconnecting front sway bar and hidden Warn 12,000-pound rated winch, which is crash-test certified and included in the Power Wagon's factory warranty.
Once the introduction of the truck and trail briefings were out of the way, we set out to conquer the trails of Moab with trail guru Dan Mick in the lead and us following closely in one of six unmarked pre-production Power Wagons. Jeepers stopped dead in their tracks to watch in amazement as the caravan of six nearly 3-ton, 19-foot-long vehicles tackled infamous Moab runs such as Gemini Bridges Road, Golden Spike, and Poison Spider, shrugging them off as if they were unspectacular fire roads. Sacrificial metal on the bottoms of the diff housings, reinforced forged trailer hitches, and extensive underbody skidplating mounted to stronger tubular crossmembers make the Power Wagon impervious to suspect rocks awaiting their moment to jump up and cause underbody and drivetrain damage. Increased approach and departure angles make this extra protection rarely necessary. The Power Wagon can even ford water as much as 30 inches deep.
Part of the Power Wagon's off-road agility comes from the improved wheel travel - 10.9 front and 10.7 rear, compared to 7.9 front and 10.7 rear on the standard 2500. The improvement was definitely noticed when we were asked to test out the Power Wagon's suspension by launching it off a rise on a high-speed section of dirt road. At 85 mph, the heavy Dodge soaked up the landing without hitting the bumpstops. After a day of hard 'wheeling, the Power Wagons proved to be bulletproof steeds without vehicle failures to mention.
On the highway, the Dodge Ram - already one of our favorite fullsize trucks - is only made better with the Power Wagon package. The ride is surprisingly smooth while still retaining its trucky character, which is what we like in a big truck. Bilstein 45mm monotube shocks replace standard 35mm twin tubes, and the softer spring rates soak up road imperfections better than a standard Dodge Ram 2500 4x4. As with all Dodge Rams, the brakes are top-of-the-class with excellent fade-free performance and a solid pedal feel.
If there were any complaints to levy against the Power Wagon, they would be minor ones. The first lies in the Hemi's peaky nature, making its 345 hp at 5,400 rpm and 375 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm. Feeling fine in Low range on the trail, the throttle did have to be dipped into for good passing power on two-lane roads, however, most people would find the Hemi power more than adequate in day-to-day use. While we are told there are no plans for a diesel at this time, we think it would be a natural progression for this truck, and we bet it won't be long before it is an option. The other complaint, aimed at its size, is that it takes some time to learn where the corners of the truck are, especially when trying to judge distance over the massive hood. Maneuverability on the trail is exceptional for such a large machine, but the Power Wagon is what it is and will never be mistaken for an agile Jeep.
Dodge has brought back the Power Wagon not only for those who prized the unstoppable nature of the Power Wagons of yore, but for a new generation of truck owners who truly love off-roading and have a need for fullsize capability and dependability. There is just nothing else on the market today that even comes close to it in terms of off-road competence, cargo carrying, and all-around livability. Since we never leave anything alone, we would add an on-board air compressor, mild suspension lift, and some 35s for a slightly better break over and departure angle. This would make this one of the most capable trucks on the planet. Prices haven't been announced yet, but the Power Wagon, which will be available in three trim levels, will be priced competitively.
One of the technical achievements of the Power Wagon is the use of an electronically disconnecting sway bar. The sway bar works by resisting lateral weight transfer in corners, making the handling more predictable and stable. However, while stabilizer bars are excellent on the road, they have the distinct disadvantage of limiting suspension articulation, which hurts low-speed off-road performance. To get around this problem, many off-roaders add manual disconnects or remove their sway bars altogether, which can make for sketchy highway handling. With the Power Wagon, Dodge engineers tackled the problem and have come up with a solution in the form of the Electronic Disconnecting Stabilizer Bar, or Smart Bar in Dodge parlance.
The Smart bar works with the touch of a dash-mounted switch and can be disengaged by the driver in 4-Hi or 4-Lo at speeds below 18 mph. In case the driver forgets the sway bar is disengaged it automatically re-engages at speeds above 18 mph and will automatically disengage at speeds below 14 mph when selected. In case of failure, the system has a safe mode that returns the bar to the engaged setting.
As the pictures above illustrate, the suspension is at its most effective when the sway bar is disconnected. With the sway bar connected, the Power Wagon is capable of a 460 score on the Ramp Travel Index, or RTI, which gives a maximum score of 1,000. With the bar disengaged, the Power Wagon is capable of an impressive score of 655 on the RTI.
Year/Make/Model: '05 Dodge Power Wagon
Vehicle Type: Four-door pickup
Base Price: TBA
Engine: 5.7L pushrod V-8
Power: 345 hp at 5,400 rpm
Torque: 375 lb-ft at 4,200 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic or six-speed manual (late availability)
Wheelbase (in): 140
Length (in): 227.7
Width (in): 79.8
Height (in): 80.6
Curb Weight (lb): 5,890
Payload (lb): 2,620
Max Tow Rating (lb): 11,000