2017 Ram 2500 Power Wagon First Drive
Whoever still believes this is a man’s world needs to spend some time off-roading in a ’17 Ram Power Wagon with Nena Barlow. A fixture on the Southwest’s four-wheeling scene since the mid-’90s, Barlow offers tours, instruction, and anything else 4x4-related. Knowing we’d have access to the highly capable Ram 2500 Power Wagon for a couple of days, a road trip to see a woman who personifies the off-road lifestyle was an absolute no-brainer. So we headed out from Los Angeles to Barlow’s base of operations in Sedona, Arizona—the home of red rocks, energy vortices, and of course, some fantastic trails—to have her put us, and the Power Wagon, through our paces.
Captain Obvious alert: the Power Wagon is big. With a 149.3-inch wheelbase and at 237.3 inches overall, this baby is no wallflower. Given its 14.3 inches of ground clearance, we thought we might need a trampoline to get in it. Once in the cab, its ride height proved intoxicating. We felt like we could see clear across the Pacific to Hawaii in the thing. Despite the Power Wagon’s dimensions, overall visibility is actually pretty good, but it’s best to be alert when you hit thick commuter traffic like we have in Los Angeles. Pesky German imports and the like can creep up on you pretty quick if you’re not careful.
Because the Power Wagon’s known as an off-road powerhouse, we were skeptical of her on-road comfort. What would eight hours and over 500 miles in this behemoth feel like? The answer? Like butter. The Power Wagon is the only truck in its segment to feature Ram’s five-link coil rear suspension—harsh realties of the highway were buffered even with the bed unloaded. Interior comfort has also been improved over last year’s model thanks in part to its new seats. There’s ample room inside for a party of five and cup holders for each of them to have two drinks, so bottoms up. Lifting the front bench’s center armrest reveals space for a sixth passenger, though we certainly wouldn’t volunteer to sit there. Thankfully, everything is adjustable enough to accommodate drivers of all sizes, like the greatly appreciated adjustable pedals. We were particularly happy for the heated and ventilated seats given the variable spring desert climate. All-weather rubber floor mats make for easy clean up when things get dirty. Two USB ports, an 115V auxiliary outlet, and two 12V DC auxiliary outlets make it easy to plug in and play music or stay charged. We wanted for nothing more to make our trek perfectly comfortable.
Surprisingly, the backup camera is only available as an option on the ’17 model. We thought this should have come standard given we could have backed over a small pony without knowing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is taking care of that issue though by mandating backup cams for all light-duty vehicles by May 2018, so next year’s model year buyers won’t have to pony up for it.
Given its 7,000 pounds and 6.4L Hemi V-8, we weren’t sure how fuel-efficient the Power Wagon would be. But thanks in part to the engine’s cylinder-deactivation system that shuts down four cylinders during highway cruising, we happily sailed along I-10 spending far more time gazing at the landscape blanketed in purple lupine, golden poppies, and fiery orange globe mallow than staring at a fuel pump. We got on average between 12 and 13 mpg out of the 31-gallon tank over our four-day excursion—a tad better than expected. Throttle response was great on the wide open stretches of highway, making passing effortless, and steering control was solid at highway speeds. There were a couple of times we had to hit the brakes because a 90-mph–plus clip simply didn’t feel like it.
Sedona greeted us with its epic flaming red rocks that have made the area famous. Barlow met us with her Flame Red Power Wagon named “Ellie” that was virtually identical to ours. Barlow grew up in the rural Southwest where it was perfectly normal for women to drive big, badass trucks like the Power Wagon—and just as normal for them to encounter gender stereotypes as soon as they ventured away from their farms and ranches. We knew we wanted to be part of her tribe after she told us about registering for a California off-road event in 2011 (yes 2011, in California) when she was asked where her husband was to help her drive. Her response: “At home with the kids.” Barlow instantly became our spirit animal.
Before heading out to the Broken Arrow trail, we aired down all four tires to 40 psi, from the factory-recommended 60 psi up front and 65 psi at the rear. Traversing Broken Arrow’s slick, step-like sandstone formations, the Power Wagon’s front three-link suspension system, with its high-movement joints and 2 inches of lift over a comparable Ram, showed its worth and helped minimize body roll—crucial for taller vehicles on the type of terrain we were articulating over. Ram’s “Smart Bar,” a class-exclusive electronically disconnecting sway bar that can be engaged in 4-High or 4-Low at speeds up to 18 mph, was also helpful over some of the more challenging sections. Smart Bar allowed the frontend more independent movement from the frame, improving tire contact and articulation. Barlow’s confidence in the Power Wagon was infectious. Heeding her instruction to go slow, be aware, and let the truck do the work made for success at every obstacle.
Add in its Bilstein monotube shocks, 17-inch wheels with 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires, and locking front and rear differentials and conquering impossible-looking hurdles proved more than possible in the Power Wagon. We’re betting it could tackle even steeper stuff than the 40-degree climbs we clambered up. Not only were we impressed, so were other enthusiasts out on the trail. “You drive your truck through here?” was something we heard on more than one occasion. Barlow herself is something of a local celebrity, and everyone stopped to say hello. She’s the owner and operator of Barlow Adventures, with shops in Sedona and Moab and certified by the International 4wd Trainer Association. As of July 2016, Barlow is the only woman out of 100-plus certified trainers on the planet.
Later in the day we hit Diamondback Gulch. Even with her long wheelbase, the Power Wagon easily handled the gulch’s softer terrain; steeper, longer climbs; and loose rocks and boulders. Barlow guided us over challenging obstacles that smaller machines traversing the route decided to maneuver their way around instead. The 300-foot ascents were no match for the 410 hp and 429 lb-ft of torque from the Hemi’s V-8 and its six-speed 66RFE automatic transmission that connects to the Power Wagon’s part-time manual-engagement Borg Warner BW 44-47 transfer case. When the truck is in 4-Low, its throttle response softens and idle speed increases from 650 to 750 rpm for added control.
Coming down more challenging grades was pretty easy work too, thanks to the truck’s hill-descent control system. When engaged, it takes over both throttle and brake responsibilities. The conveniently located steering column shifter allows for quick manual speed adjustments. While it worked as intended, it’s probably as close to autonomous driving as you want your off-road experience to get.
Don’t think the Power Wagon is all play and no work. This truck a Swiss Army Knife of utility. With its current payload capacity of 1,510 pounds and ability to tow up to 10,030 pounds, the Power Wagon is more of a workhorse than anything else with its level of off-road talent. Since ours wasn’t that kind of “work” trip, we utilized neither. Lucky for us, we also didn’t need the standard Warn 12,000-pound electric winch mounted discreetly behind the front bumper either, though it was comforting to know it was there in case of emergency.
Usually we’re not down with gawking or rubberneck stares, but when it’s for the eye-catching Power Wagon, bring it on. Subtle it isn’t. From fellow off-road warriors to the local carwash attendant, we heard stuff like “great-looking truck” a lot, and the Power Wagon posed for more than one beauty shot during the weekend. Its exterior metal is available in bold options like Blue Streak and Granite Crystal, names that sound more like super heroes than paint colors. Add the not-so-modest hood decal and an audacious vertical graphic treatment behind the cab that recalls a popular Power Wagon applique from the ’70s and this gal turns a lot of heads. That’s nothing new for the Power Wagon. Ass-kicking military capability during World War II made it a truck highly coveted by GIs after they returned home. In 1946, it became the first mass-produced 4x4 pickup.
Like similar trucks in the segment, the Power Wagon isn’t cheap. Base price starts at about $52,000. Optional bells and whistles, including a Leather and Luxury option ($4,995), the U-Connect 8.4 Nav System ($500), the Spray-In Bedliner ($495), and the Center High-Mount Stop Lamp with Cargo Camera View ($345), will bring you closer to $60,000. Our rig came in at $60,525.
We wished we could have been sucked into Sedona’s energy vortex longer because two days with Barlow and the Power Wagon went by way too fast. By the end of our trip there was no doubt we were two women who belonged in that truck and on those trails as much as the next guy. We found ourselves no longer avoiding obstacles but seeking them out and plowing over them with no fear, thanks in part to Barlow’s first-rate instruction and, of course, the Power Wagon. It’s a truck that makes barreling through just about anything, including off-road stereotypes, pretty damn easy.
2017 Ram 2500 Power WagonVehicle type: Six-passenger fullsize pickup
Base price: $52,000
Price as tested: $60,525
Engine: 6.4L Hemi V-8
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Horsepower: 410 @
Torque: 429 lb-ft @
Curb weight: 7,000 lbs (est.)
Towing capacity: 10,030 lbs
EPA mileage rating: N/A