Someone at DaimlerChrysler has a job that involves spelunking through the musty, bat-guano-stained archives looking for rich veins of heritage to mine. Names from the past seem to be showing up on new Chryslers and Dodges with increasing frequency. The 300C? Made in ’57, made now. HEMI? It was the classic Mopar muscle engine, now it’s reborn for the 21st century. Magnum, Charger, R/T… can the re-born Omni, Diplomat, Dynasty and Aries be too far off?The latest name to be de-mummified is Power Wagon, once the appellation Dodge hung on the most brutally capable, four-wheel-drive trucks it made. Now it’s back on, well, the most brutally capable, four-wheel-drive truck it has ever made.
The more things change, the more temptation there is go grave-robbing.
Aftermarket ideas, OEM execution
Pick up a copy of 4 Wheel & Off-Road or Four Wheeler and you’ll understand the genesis of this new Power Wagon: The vast off-road aftermarket. The Power Wagon is, to oversimplify only slightly, a 3/4-ton Dodge Ram 2500 powered by the outstanding, 345-horsepower, 5.7-liter, HEMI V-8 equipped with most of the aftermarket parts an off-road enthusiast wants and wouldn’t mind folding into his new truck financing package. They start with the Ram 2500 and not the 1/2-ton 1500 because it features the one thing all hardcore off-roaders crave: a solid front axle.
The 1500 4x4’s independent front suspension may be more supple and sophisticated, but suppleness and sophistication aren’t generally considered virtues among off-roaders.
So atop the familiar Dodge Ram Heavy Duty 4x4 structure (either regular or Quad Cab) the Power Wagon gets a whole dumpster full of classic off-road lust items. That includes good stuff like electrically operated locking front and rear differentials, a trick electric disconnecting front sway bar for those hairy times when more wheel travel is needed, 33-inch tall LT285/70R17 BFGoodrich all terrain tires, tow hooks, a 4.56:1 final gear ratio, transfer case and fuel tank skid plates, and a Warn 12,000-pound winch. Unfortunately it doesn’t include the indispensable tubular steel side rock rails that Dodge has bizarrely left in the Mopar accessories catalog and does include an ugly and unnecessary set of roof-mounted running lights.
2005 Dodge Ram Wagon
Anyone can bolt on a series of parts, but what makes the Power Wagon something more than that is how well they’ve been integrated and tuned to work together.
There’s already been plenty of hosannas sung about the HEMI’s glories and whether it’s hooked to the six-speed manual or five-speed automatic Dodge offers in the Power Wagon it continues to impress. But what’s most impressive about the Power Wagon is the suspension; beyond the tires the suspension gets unique front and rear jounce bumpers and special Bilstein monotube shocks. Not only is this truck amazingly nimble off-road but it rides astonishingly well on-road too. “Nimble” isn’t word that should be thrown around casually when discussing a truck that rides on a 140.5-inch wheelbase, stretches out 227.7 inches long overall, and weighs (in Quad Cab with automatic form) 6081 pounds, but nimble is what this truck is.
On the rock-strewn fire roads around Moab, Utah, the Power Wagon never put a wheel wrong and never lost its dignity even when faced with some daunting obstacles. Even when the truck was teetering near the edge of some precipice it was confidence inspiring. At one time we took the truck over a bump along a crushed rock road at high speed and launched it for a 30-or-so-foot flight. It came down with assurance and without an unnerving bounce. Off-road the Power Wagon’s sheer bulk keeps it off some trails that 4Runners and Wranglers will scramble up with ease, but given enough room the big Dodge can rock crawl with the best of them.
This isn’t a machine that tries to do everything for its driver, but assumes that the driver knows whether the manually operated transfer case should be in two-wheel drive, four-wheel high or four-wheel low ranges. It’s up to the driver to decide when to engage one or both of the locking differentials and/or to disconnect the front sway bar. After driving more and more vehicles that rely on computers to do the thinking, the Power Wagon’s trust in the vehicle’s operator to actually operate it is almost quaint… and absolutely refreshing.
2005 Dodge Ram Wagon
Of course this isn’t a sports car by any stretch of the imagination; the steering isn’t particularly quick and can be rather numb and the four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are okay but nothing special. But in the context of its size and intent, it’s dang near wonderful.
There simply are no badly designed full-size pickup trucks. The Tundra, F-150, Super Duty, Silverado, Sierra, Titan, and Ram are all competent machines with advantages and disadvantages relative to the competition. The Ram 2500’s advantage has been the boldness of its styling, the versatility of the Quad Cab four-door layout, the clean design of the cabin, its solid 2400-pound payload capacity. All those attribute carry forward into the Power Wagon.
Unfortunately many of the Ram’s deficits are also aboard the Power Wagon. Many interior pieces feel flimsy, some interior pieces seem ill-fit, the upholstery can be cheesy and touching the headliner causes it to lift as if it weren’t really fixed in place. And it’s not a squeak- or rattle-free pickup either.
As well conceived as the Power Wagon’s mechanical package is, this still isn’t a truck that seems to be assembled with the precision it should be. Somehow one gets the feeling like the drivetrain, frame, and HEMI can survive almost any abuse. But the rest of the truck will sort of just rattle along on top of them.
Pulling up to a country club in a Power Wagon won’t earn the driver much admiration. But this thing gets big respect at biker bars, rib joints, and feed stores — places where a truck that can work and play this hard is an object of desire. And desire it the prospective owner should because prices start at $38,500 for the Quad Cab and keeping it below $40,000 is virtually impossible. Dodge claims that all the equipment the Power Wagon carries would cost $10,000 if bought separately and they’re only charging about $6,300 for it all. That may be true, but that still leaves the Power Wagon $6,300 more expensive than other Ram 2500 4x4s.
This is a truck that needs an owner with red-state, country-music tastes to crave and blue-state upper management wherewithal to buy. It’s the sort of machine that successful plumbing contractors with access to off-road territory just won’t be able to resist and that university faculty members dismiss as one more example of how crude, rude, and wasteful American culture has become.
So the question is: Are you with the plumbers? Or the professors?
2005 Dodge Ram Power Wagon Quad Cab
Base price: $38,500
Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 345 hp
Drivetrain: Five-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 227.7 x 79.8 x 80.6 in
Wheelbase: 140.5 in
Curb weight: 6081 lb
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes
Major standard equipment: Power windows/locks/mirrors, A/C
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles comprehensive and seven years/70,000 miles powertrain