Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has been on a bit of a mental streak lately.

Rip the seats out of a Hellcat to create the Demon? Sure!

Drop a V8 engine the size of a grand piano into a Durango and perform all-wheel drive burnouts? Why not?

The level of brash, automotive lunacy on offer from Auburn Hills is appalling. I think it’s great.

It’s no surprise, then, Ram chose to amp up the capability and in-your-face style of its Power Wagon when it came time for a refresh. Big tires, bold grilles, and billboard-sized badges; customers in the market for a Power Wagon are not generally a bunch of wallflowers.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

The Power Wagon was initially produced from 1945 through 1980, and early trucks were based on the Weapons Carrier (WC) series of Dodge ¾-ton military-use trucks built during World War II. The Power Wagon went on to become a civilian vehicle, reintroduced in 2005, and now exists as an independent model in the Ram lineup.

For 2017, Ram has seen fit to equip the Power Wagon with some new style and a couple of tweaks to improve its off-road prowess. It won’t have escaped your attention that Ram has cribbed the Rebel’s grille to adorn the Power Wagon’s nose, although it bears mentioning the grille is simply similar in style and not an interchangeable Rebel unit. Why? The 2500 has a taller hood and flatter grille area.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

The optional POWER WAGON wallpaper along the side of the truck is now vertically placed and not splashed horizontally along the bed, and the front and rear bumpers are powder-coated to help prevent unintentional off-road pinstriping. Like the Rebel, an enormous blacked-out R A M badge adorns the tailgate. New eight-spoke wheels, replacing the old five-spokers, are designed to look like gears.

Sticking out of the Power Wagon’s front bumper is a Warn winch, which is especially made for Ram and not available off-the-shelf from Warn’s catalog. The Power Wagon’s winch cable is wound slightly differently than a standard Warn winch, Nick Cappa from Ram Communications explained to me, and features some unique armature. The unit is rated at 12,000 pounds to help you play hero on the trail.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon off-road gear, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Locking front and rear differentials, the winch, and an electronically disconnecting sway bar help distinguish the Power Wagon from other Rams. This equipment is also available on the Tradesman model, marketed towards buyers who, unlike this author, don’t feel the need to broadcast their vehicular superiority with bold grilles and loud colors. That model is equipped with a traditional Ram gunsight grille and chrome bumpers.

Longtime Ram owners will instantly feel at home inside the Power Wagon, as its style apes that of every Ram produced since the 2009 redesign, and particularly the 2013 refresh. That’s not a bad thing. UConnect is present and accounted for, hosting one of the best infotainment systems available in a truck today. Acres of legroom encourage riders to buy cowboy boots and splay their feet. Between the swing-down centre armrest, the floor console, and the door pockets, no fewer than half a dozen cupholders present themselves to front seat passengers while a suitably manly transfer case lever sprouts from the floor. Floor coverings are of the rubber, hose-it-out variety. The Power Wagon is also equipped with satellite radio permanently tuned to Outlaw Country, and a beard in the glovebox.

2017 Ram Power Wagon interior, Image: FCA
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Our tester, a Power Wagon Crew Cab, opened its Monroney at $51,695 before piling on a wallet-hoovering $8,810 worth of options. Most of that figure was consumed by a $4,995 leather package, which included niceties like heated/ventilated seats with Power Wagon badging and a heated steering wheel. Customers choosing cloth seats (*raises hand*) will find their bench seats embossed with an off-road tire tread pattern, similar to the design found in the half-ton Rebel. Including destination, our Bright Silver Metallic Power Wagon rang the bell at $61,825.

There are a few areas where the Power Wagon is starting to show its age. It’s attractive dashboard is devoid of any off-road readings, such as the truck’s current angle of pitch and level of steering input. Such information is found in the digital menus of some competitors. The Ram does have a handy backup camera (and an optional bed-view camera), but an extra camera on the nose of the Power Wagon would do wonders to help judge gnarly off-road situations. When asked at dinner about the lack of a damped tailgate, a Ram engineer simply shrugged his shoulders and nodded sagely. But most of those details are academic. It’s the off-road toys that separate the Power Wagon from its lesser brethren: front and rear lockers, a Warn winch, butch tires, and a disconnecting sway bar.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon interior switchgear and instrument cluster, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

When you do punch that sway bar disconnect button – and you had better punch it, as this is not a truck in which you ‘touch’ or ‘press’ buttons – solenoids whir and click to disconnect the sway bar, allowing for a truly remarkable 26 inches of wheel articulation. That amount of travel assures all four wheels will stay in contact with terra firma, no matter how gnarly the terrain. Ram’s unique “Articulink” front suspension incorporates high movement joints with the disconnecting sway bar, allowing for gonzo flexibility and axle articulation.

Drivers put the Power Wagon in four-wheel drive with a satisfying yank of the floor-mounted transfer case lever. No wimpy buttons for activating the four-wheel drive here. A BorgWarner 44-47 transfer case proves resistance is indeed futile, and allows the truck to operate in two-wheel drive, four-wheel-drive high or four-wheel-drive low, with a 2.63 crawl ratio.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

There’s no wimpy dial selector for the transmission, as a baseball bat of a gear selector sprouts from the steering column like an overgrown larch, precisely the way nature and the Dodge Brothers intended. In place of the transmission dial selector (found in Rams with the eight-speed automatic) is a knob for controlling the locking front and rear differentials. The diffs can be configured three different ways: everything unlocked, only the rear locked, or both front and rear locked. This sets the Power Wagon apart from lesser trucks as locking diffs allow power to be evenly distributed to all four wheels when drivers deem it necessary.

Hammering the Power Wagon over some high-speed sandy whoop-de-doos revealed more bucking motion than, say, the new Ford Raptor, but the motions were more than managed by the beefy Bilstein shocks. The Power Wagon is not meant to directly compete with the Raptor, though, and that becomes clear when we started crawling up a near vertical rock face, one which I’m not sure I could climb while standing erect on my own two legs.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive Review.jpg
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive Review

Armed with 14.3 inches of ground clearance and a 33.6-degree approach angle, this 7,000-pound brute accepted measured throttle inputs and vaulted up the Nevada rock face as if it were a speed bump in the parking lot of Mandalay Bay. Like an obedient canine waiting for its master’s next command, it sat at the precipice, unperturbed by the physics-defying feat it just accomplished. Controlling 7,000 pounds in a vertical fashion is a great experience.

The Power Wagon’s 23.5-degree breakover angle and 26.2-degree departure angle allowed it to scamper down the other side with equal aplomb. The downhill descent control, which allows drivers to take their feet off the pedals and surrender braking control to a series of computers, worked well here. In second gear, the system expertly held the big brute to a very manageable 1.6 mph.

Returning to the trailhead after four hours of off-roading, I felt like I could spit further, yell louder, and open beer bottles with my teeth. I had hairier knuckles. The brawny Power Wagon really did have that effect.

2017 Ram Power Wagon, Image: © 2017 Matthew Guy
2017 Ram Power Wagon

Driving back to Vegas, my driving partner and I — a burly mountain of a man sporting a well-groomed handlebar moustache — decided to take a swing past Nellis Air Force Base. As luck would have it, training exercises were happening and fighter jets streaked low overhead, doing their best impressions of Maverick and Goose from Top Gun. It put an exclamation point on a suitably macho day.

There was plenty of pavement noise uttered from the 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler tires on I-15. That’s to be expected, given their aggressive tread pattern and off-road raision d’etre. If this bothers you, please feel free to take up knitting at the earliest opportunity. Towing is rated at a relatively scant 10,030 pounds. This is far off an equal-bodied Cummins-powered 2500, but if it’s towing prowess you’re after, get the oil burner and ditch the off-road kit.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive Review.jpg
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive Review

How much fuel did it burn? Well, all of it, really. I measured approximately 16 mpg on the highway run back to Vegas, and about 10 mpg on the trail — about what you’d expect with copious amounts of full-throttle sand running, measured-input vertical rock climbing, and plenty of idling. Besides, you’re not a man if your truck gets twenty-something fuel economy, right? The 410-horsepower 6.4-liter Hemi V8 runs fine on either regular gasoline or ground-up Priuses. It’s pleasing exhaust note sounds like Chewbacca on a bad fur day.

The evening after a day of busting rocks and flattening sand in the Valley of Fire, I strolled down The Strip to take in all the sights and sounds of Vegas. Upon reaching the Flamingo, two cop cars roared up to the sidewalk and flung open their doors, nearly catching me in the midsection like a prizefighter’s fist. The only way I could’ve been any closer was to have been in the back seat of that inky black Charger. A squad of Las Vegas’ Finest ran into the Flamingo and subdued a man who seemed hell-bent on exerting his male dominance over another patron. As he was led away, all I could think of was he could easily have saved himself a night in the clink. How? Well, a day in the hairy-chested Ram 2500 Power Wagon is all anyone needs to make them feel macho … no fights at the Flamingo required.

2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive Review.jpg
2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive Review

[Images: © 2017 Matthew Guy, FCA]

From: thetruthaboutcars.com

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