The Power Wagon is back. Maybe not with all the glorious and heroic fanfare it deserves, but the name is back nonetheless. Continuing the ever-expanding line of Ram variations, the newest member is a rough-and-tumble, hard-core 4x4 vehicle, now called the Power Wagon. Offered only in a 140.5-inch wheelbase length that includes Quad Cab (shortbed) and Regular Cab (longbed) configurations, this new truck is based on a 3/4-ton platform. To date, the only engine for the Power Wagon is the Hemi, mated to DaimlerChrysler's popular five-speed automatic transmission. Dodge's stout six-speed manual trans will be available in January 2005, previously only offered as the standard transmission for the Cummins turbodiesel.

From a parts-and-pieces standpoint, it's an understatement to call this particular factory setup simply "heavy duty." They could've just as easily called it the Christmas Edition Ram: It has just about everything a truck guy could put on his wish list. To begin, the differentials run 4.56:1 gears--an exclusive ratio offered only for the Power Wagon--excellent for strong pulling power as well as for creeping at slower speeds, and the axle shafts have been beefed up as well. Inside, front and rear heavy-duty axles are electronically controlled, manually selectable locking differentials. Operated from a switch on the dash, the rear diff lock can act like a limited-slip when not engaged (for everyday driving/towing), while the front diff lock remains completely open when not in use. The suspension system remains similar to previous 4x4 models; however, unique springs give the Power Wagon two inches of lift and a more supple on- and off-road ride due to softer spring rates. Longer, larger, and more sophisticated high-pressure Bilstein monotube shocks are a solid upgrade over the general-purpose twin-tube shocks they replace. At the wheels, all Power Wagon Rams use 33-inch BFGoodrich All-Terrain T/A tires. In addition, Dodge has included a specially designed integrated brace mount behind the front bumper (and tied to both framerails) to support a Warn 12,000-pound-rated winch.

However, our favorite piece of technology in this package acts as a coupler between a divided front anti-roll bar. The "Smart Bar" is an electronically controlled (by a switch next to the locking differential toggle on the dash) decoupler that allows the front stabilizer bar, designed to restrict axle travel, to completely relax when engaged. When engaged, the high-tech stabilizer bar will "relax" at speeds below 15 mph in either 4WD high-range or 4WD low-range and will automatically re-engage (tighten up) when speeds exceed 20 mph. During our excursion through the slick-rock trails around Moab, Utah, we found this particular piece of technology to be stunning. Not only does it allow the front end to be exceptionally forgiving and flexible in extreme terrain, but it invisibly reconnects the anti-roll bar when speeds pick up on flatter ground. And depending on how long you keep up the higher speeds, the system will automatically disengage again when you slow down to maneuver the rig up an off-camber, twist-and-flex slope where every inch of tread grip is necessary. The more flex the suspension can give, the more able it will be to keep its tires on a tractive surface--and not get stuck.