Flowers, power, wagon
There I was, near-vertical on some Malibu mudpile, transfer case in four-wheel-low, center of gravity teetering dangerously close to beyond the point of no return, in a situation where the average motorist might experience what’s known as “fear,” when Ram truck PR guy Nick Cappa launched into the differences between the Ram and the Ram Power Wagon.
“It’s based on a three-quarter-ton truck and that’s something that helps out right from the get-go,” Cappa said, as if we weren’t dangling precariously on the edge of doom. “So it’s very capable anyway, not just for off-roading but also for towing and payload.”
The engine roared somewhat as I eased onto the gas to coax the massive 7000-pound beast further up the hill. Last year’s devastating fires had torn through this part of Malibu and had burned all the manzanita to charred sticks. But in between the destruction was a purple, yellow and orange carpet of flowers. The flowers had no effect on Cappa, who continued on unabated, his enthusiasm growing stronger with every foot we climbed.
“We have a lot of strong components like the driveline and we get a bigger engine, bigger transfer case, bigger transmission.”
Roar, slip, roar some more.
“Some of the components that make it different: first of all, we lift it two inches, so we get clearance to put 33-inch tires on it. Part of that suspension system is four Bilstein shocks all the way around, the shocks are monotube, so they dissipate heat a lot better, so you can beat on them all day long without shock fade.”
I cranked the wheel and aimed a little better as the mighty and powerful Power Wagon inched up the fire-scarred brown Malibu dirt.
“On the front axle we have an extra link on the suspension system that allows that axle to move a little more freely. In conjunction with the sway bar disconnect system, now that front axle can really move freely. You wanna keep tires on the ground.”
I sure did, especially at that particular moment.
“A lot of times you’ll see pictures of vehicles with their tires in the air,” Cappa said. “You don’t want that. You want the tires on the ground because tires on the ground get you traction. And even losing one is 25 percent less traction. So the suspension flexes a lot.”
I recalled tapping the “sway bar disconnect” button down under the steering wheel earlier and was thankful I had. I recall on older Jeep Wranglers on the Rubicon Trail having to crawl underneath with tools to disconnect the sway bar. I recalled even earlier on another 4×4 having to jump out and twist the nut on the axle hubs to engage four-wheel drive. This modern era we live in is much easier.
“In the rear we have a link coilover suspension system,” Cappa continued. “All of our competitors are using leaf springs. That’s something that allows us to control the axle and allow more articulation. Leaf springs generally aren’t that great at lateral control, especially in turns and such, so it really helps. The Power Wagon itself has a much more supple suspension system to allow it to ride smoother over the bumps. Because it does have the same tow rating and payload that a ¾-ton truck would.”
That’s all true, I thought, squeegeeing up the hill, the top of which was hidden somewhere under the hood as the Power Wagon reached for the sky. A front-mounted camera would really be nice here, I thought, considering the acrobatics of which this thing is capable.
“Remind me what powers this thing,” I asked.
“You have a 410-horsepower, 429-lb-ft-of-torque 6.4-liter Hemi V8 routed through an all-new eight-speed transmission,” Cappa explained. “It goes into a transfer case that is locking front-to-rear. There’s locking axles front and rear on the Power Wagon so now you have no differentiation front to rear and no differentiation left to right. That means that when you’re fully locked up front and rear and the transfer case is in 4-low or 4-high you can spin all four wheels at the same rate, no matter what, they’re always gripping clawing for traction, they won’t give up. So they’re always looking for that, you can feel it in the steering wheel.”
Indeed, all four wheels were, in fact, clawing for traction as he said those very words. But there was more to this Power Wagon.
“Another piece of tech that makes it very much the most off-road-capable pickup truck you can buy is the 12,000-pound winch up front.”
You can’t get a winch, even as an option, on a Wrangler or Gladiator, by the way. At least not from Jeep. The aftermarket will sell you anything.
“Say you encounter a rock garden with washing machine-sized boulders,” Cappa intoned. “You have to winch through that. Or a mud pit. Same thing. So that 12,000-pound winch is more than capable of hauling the 7000-pound truck anywhere you need to and then some. Those are the components that really make up what a Power Wagon is.”
By this point we were going downhill, with hill descent control taking over everything but the steering, and doing a heck of a job of it. You can set it at different speeds. Cappa recommended three mph for this particular stretch of rocky rollercoaster.
If there is a drawback to the Power Wagon on a meaty off-road course like the one we were on, it is size. Not just overall length, which is almost 20 feet, but wheelbase, too, which is almost 12 and a half feet. In a Jeep Wrangler we would have been able to easily wend our way though the tight turns we encountered, but in the Power Wagon it required some planning and wide turns, and occasionally backing up and turning again, three-point style. Plus, unless you live on a farm with lots of space, you might destroy your mailbox once a week parking this.
Then there’s the pricing. These ain’t exactly cheap, but they’re not bad considering what you get.
“The pricing, if you start with the Tradesman and you put the Power Wagon equipment on it you’re around $50,000,” Cappa concluded. “For the truck we’re driving today with full leather, Ram box, 12-inch screen, all the goodies, the nice lighting, you’re looking at about $67,000.”
What else would you consider before buying a Power Wagon?
The obvious choice is the 450-hp Ford Raptor. In a nutshell, the Raptor is better for high-tailing it over wide-open terrain, something like the Baja 1000, while the Power Wagon is better for the rock crawling and dirt digging I was doing. The Raptor starts at $52,855 but I went through and configured one for $65,405 including options I’d want. I’ve driven a few Raptors out in the desert, both in Anza Borrego and in Baja, and found them to be fast and fun. The Power Wagon is close to the Raptor in price and performance, generally speaking.
You could also look at a Chevy Silverado 4×4 in Z71 trim with the Performance Upgrade Package, Max Trailer Towing Package and a few other goodies, which I configured to $57,530. And now there’s also the Gladiator to consider, the pickup truck of Jeeps. The Gladiator has only a 285 hp V6 and a five-foot bed but it can still tow 7650 pounds and stickers for between $33,545 to just over $44K base. That makes it the most affordable of the lot to start, but options can add up very quickly.
So there are a few options for the buyer looking to go four-wheeling with a load in the back, but each option is distinct. It’s not like cross-shopping pickup trucks or mid-sized sedans. You can tell which of these is which just by looking at ‘em. But it’s better to drive them and then decide which one is right for you. If you drive a Power Wagon, see if you can get Cappa to ride along with you. He really knows what he’s talking about.
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