Our test-drive began with a tour of the Power Wagon. We were shuttled to the parking area at the entrance to the Poison Spyder Mesa trail, just across the Colorado River from Moab. Pulling in, we saw about 20 pre-production Power Wagons, as well as a gorgeous original model for show.
What immediately caught our eyes, though, was the Power Wagon up on an RTI ramp (Ramp Travel Index). Long-used as a measure of articulation and off-road "ability," the RTI has become somewhat of a standard for measuring how much axle travel a truck has. Looking at the Power Wagon on the ramp made our jaws drop. In standard swaybar mode, the truck measured 460 on the ramp. What we saw, however, was with it disconnected, which gained it a score of 655. This is an awesome score for a production off-the-lot vehicle. We couldn't wait to get on the trails to test it out.
And test it, we did. Led by Dan Mick, we all climbed aboard a Power Wagon and headed up the hill. The Dodge Rams all have a very commanding view of the road to begin with, but the extra inches under this big guy really made you feel like you were on top of the world.
We got the chance to take the trucks over everything from slickrock, rock-strewn hill-climbs and even wall-like ledges that would make most trucks cringe with fear. The suspension soaked up the rocks very well and the ride inside was quite comfortable and we noticed little head-toss. Though the seats were comfortable, we would have preferred more side bolstering to keep our rear ends planted on the rockier stuff.
The boys from Dodge were not afraid to let us really drive these trucks, even though they were pre-production versions. Though Poison Spyder is not the toughest trail in Moab, we still did no bypasses. When tackling the big-boy obstacles, the Power Wagon's 35 degree approach angle allowed us to get the front wheels where they belonged. One of the biggest hurdles to driving full-size pickups off-road, is the long wheelbase getting you hung up. The Power Wagon's 25.5 degree breakover angle was excellent (compare to 20.7 degrees on a Jeep Unlimited Rubicon) and our trucks were equipped with rock rails, so sliding over anything we came in contact was no big deal. Coming off the rocks, the 27.7 degree departure angle (26.5 degrees on Standard Cab Long Beds) kept our rear ends from dragging in all but the most extreme cases (compare to 22.0 degrees on Jeep Unlimited Rubicon).
The axles allow 8.4" of ground clearance up front and 8.3" in the back, which is perfectly acceptable. If you know where your diffs are you simply keep them out of the way of the rocks. My rookie co-driver from another magazine did manage to hang the truck up on a rock up front so badly that we all got to see the Warn winch in action as it was freed from it's rocky prison.
It was a real pleasure to electronically disable the front swaybar at will and have it locked down for other stretches where we wanted the truck a little more stable. We can only wish the gang at Jeep is sneaking around the parts been at Dodge to snag this setup.
I had the pleasure of trying some of the more difficult spots on the trail and really got a great feel for the Power Wagon's abilities to tackle the tough stuff. Going against my own trail judgement, I followed the corporate spotter's lead and he had me rather sideways, dangling off of an 8 foot ledge. I knew better, but when you're driving someone else's truck you tend to obey your spotters commands unless you really think they are full of you know what. I knew that I could get the truck not only free of the predicament but also up the obstacle and asked if I could try. He nodded and said as long as I was comfortable, I could. With both lockers engaged, I hit the gas. Knowing my rear end would swing me around, I counter-steered and sure enough - walked right up the ledge without so much as spinning a tire. The truck did exactly what I wanted and expected it to. Well-done Dodge!
Our playground soon turned dangerous, though, as one of Moab's famous storms set in upon us. While drivers were playing on Slickrock 101, the storm came in fast and furious. I had been in one of these storms in Moab before - on this very tail, in fact - and I knew how dangerous they can be and how fast the low areas can flood and swallow up a truck. As the rain came in quickly, Dan Mick rounded us all up and into our trucks.
It was my co-drivers turn and he was a wild one. Nervous, he was driving fast over the rocky trail to get us off the plateau. The Power Wagon's throttle sensitivity is greatly reduced in 4LO to help eliminate jerking due to your foot bouncing on the throttle, which also helped to cut down the the bouncing as we bounded our way down the trail. Once again, we got to feel how well the trucks' retuned suspensions soaked up the bumps.
We escaped unscathed and after a quick break, headed further out into the canyons further outside of town. The rain had stopped and we spent the next hour or two winding through the back country. The truck, once again, proved itself to be a rugged, confident and comfortable driver.
The final test of the truck, for some, proved to be the most fun - and most abusive. Dan led us far out of town to a closed 8 mile circuit where we were turned loose, one at a time, ralley-style to test the Power Wagon's mettle on the dirt circuit. Of course, our dirt on this day was really soaking-wet, muddy sand.
My co-driver was at bat so he took the first run. A self-proclaimed Grand Turismo champ, my new friend took his directions a bit too literally when told that you can run the truck in second gear as hard as you want. " Don't worry, there's a rev limiter." Well, run it he did! We found out pretty quickly that the HEMI can run hard right up to the 5800rpm max.
Our first run through the course, was pretty hardcore. At every twist and turn he tried to "set up" the truck for drifting but was usually not very successful, as the truck stayed well-planted, despite the wet terrain. Being our first run, we didn't know the course but it didn't stop him from a full-speed affront. Spotting a blind wash at the last minute, he jammed the brakes and we went nose-first in at about 50mph. My back still hurts from that one today, but the truck kept going.
Toward the back end of the course, the truck's front shocks were screaming for mercy. We had hit so hard, that we thought for sure that he had blown a shock and possibly even bent the front steering in the wash. We stopped to inspect it and everything was just fine. Yes, the brakes were stinking hot from his two-foot driving style but everything was still in one piece and straight. Wow!
On my turn I was a bit more analytical and careful. I put the transmission in Drive and ended up driving mostly in tow/haul mode to keep the engine revs up high. I took it easy at first, hoping to cool off the brakes and the shocks but soon had the truck up to light speed on the straights. I tried to bring the tail around around on several occasions but was mostly unsuccessful. The truck just wanted to go where the front wheels were pointed. It was a blast to drive a truck hard like this.
By the time I finished my run around the circuit, it was time to head back to town for dinner. It was late and we were behind schedule so we were double-timing it home. We drove over 80mph and the Power Wagon tracked straight as an arrow and followed every curve perfectly. I just couldn't believe it. What, no alignment problems? No steering issues?
The truck drove perfectly the whole way back (about 30 miles) to the ranch where we stayed. Throughout the day, we had brutalized these trucks and they didn't so much as have a squeak or rattle in them. In pre-production vehicles, rattles would have been expected but there were none. Zero!
The Power Wagon really proved itself on the rocks, on the trails, in the dirt and on the road. I guess you could say it really knocked our socks off.
So who's going to buy this truck? Well, obviously, people who want or need a pickup truck that want to also go out in the back country for fun. But is Dodge really going to make a real off-roader just for the four-wheeling crowd? No. Not really.
Though the truck was designed by 'wheelers, we expect that a good many will go to those who are the big-time Dodge fans who just want the biggest and baddest truck they can buy. But more than that group, we think the truck will really appeal to workers who really use their trucks, such as farmers, ranchers and contractors. Imagine having a truckload of hay bails and getting bogged down in a muddy pasture. Turn on the lockers and go. Still stuck? Pull the winch cable and pull yourself out. And let's not forget our forestry and rescue workers who need to get to remote areas without fear of getting stuck out there.
So by know you've certainly figured out that we are big fans of this new addition to the Ram family. DaimlerChrysler is well-known for taking some risks and putting to market niche vehicles. Can you say Jeep Rubicon? Dodge Viper? Dodge SRT-x?
Dodge, we salute you. See you on the trails!
Michael Cohn is the Editor and founder of Rockcrawler.com. Michael takes great joy in driving other peoples' rigs in foreign lands then letting them clean them up while he settles down to a cold one.
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