With the somewhat recent debut of the Ford F-150 SVT Raptor off-roader, it's tempting to draw parallels between it and the Ram Power Wagon. But for all their similarities, these are beasts of a different breed.

Debuting on the previous generation (Dodge) Ram Heavy Duty to much less fanfare than the Raptor, the Power Wagon is just as much a hard-core off-road machine, but the target audiences share only their distaste for pavement. For the Raptor, home turf is the low-lying deserts, places where it can flex its suspension at 100 mph over sand washes and scrub. The Power Wagon, though, answers a higher calling and makes its home climbing mountains and patrolling the back roads of our highest altitudes, not our lowest.

The recipe to build a Power Wagon is rather simple. Start with a $39,430 Ram 2500 SLT Crew Cab 4x4 and mark the $6,350 option box innocuously titled "Customer Preferred Package 26P." For a base price of $45,780, you walk out the door with an old-school manual transfer case on the floor, lockable front and rear axles, a remote-disconnecting front stabilizer bar, skid plates on the fuel tank and transfer case, a Warn winch up front and a high-output alternator to run it, Bilstein shocks, a trailer brake controller and tow hitch, 17-in. wheels wrapped in 32-in. all-terrain tires, a 2-inch lift, and a 4.56 rear axle ratio.

For everything the Power Wagon offers, though, there are a few options we're left pining for. The package can only be ordered with the Crew Cab four-door body and 6.4-ft. bed, making the truck simultaneously too long for the most serious off-roading while handicapping customers who need the load space of the 8.2-ft. box. The Power Wagon also is only offered with the 5.7L 383-hp Hemi gasoline V-8 engine and its 400 lb.-ft. of torque. The combination is more than enough to pull the rig through most any situation, but we can't help but wish the legendary Cummins turbodiesel were available.

Still, considering how much else the Power Wagon offers, engine, cab and box options are small potatoes. Our tester came loaded up with the leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, a rear parking assist system, a 506-watt, 9-speaker Alpine audio system with touchscreen navigation, satellite radio and a 30-gB hard drive, power-adjustable pedals, an alarm, a sun roof, remote start, and a bed liner. Add it all up and our rig cost a cool $50,530 with the $950 destination charge.

Testing such a vehicle, then, required leaving Southern California in the rearview mirror and trekking north to the muddy forest service roads of the northern Sierra Nevada Mountains separating California from Nevada. The persistent question on the 1,300-mile roundtrip: Can a truck that'll take you to Reno the hard way also get you there with relative ease?

The key word here is "relative." The Power Wagon is a trucker's truck. No coil springs or unibody niceties here; this is a purpose-built vehicle. Still, the Hemi V-8 is plenty eager, the brakes have no trouble with the heft, and the ride is rarely punishing, save for the worst of surfaces. Yes, it takes up the whole lane on the freeway, and parking anywhere near civilization can be an adventure, but for all its off-road prowess, it's no less livable day-to-day than a standard Ram Heavy Duty.

But the question you really want answered is whether or not that $6,350 Power Wagon package is worth the coin, and the answer is yes. Simple math demonstrates you'd be hard-pressed to upgrade a standard Ram Heavy Duty with all the parts in this package for the price, and they won't come with a five-year/100,000-mile warranty.

The package's worthiness is borne out on the trail, where the Power Wagon happily crawled its way over any rut or rock we found and handled mud and snow with ease. For better or for worse, we were never left in a situation where we had to test the winch, but venture far off the fire roads and you may find yourself in such a position. Attempting to balance fuel economy and on-road manners with off-road capability, Ram worked out a middle ground with the 32-in. tires that don't roar on the pavement but don't offer absolute grip off-road, either. Test their limits, and you'll find the rears will be the first to let go, but it isn't hard to push the fronts around on the soft stuff, either.

Don't think that less-aggressive tires are going to make trips to the gas pump much less painful, though. Over the entire trip, the Power Wagon returned a respectable 13.5 mpg, reaching a high of nearly 15 mpg on the highway. Even off-road, economy only dropped just below 12 mpg and we didn't spend much time running to the pump thanks to the massive 34-gallon tank.

On the trail or at the pump, though, you'll look the part. From the lift and knobby tires to the winch to the new-for-2010 bodywork, the Power Wagon has all the swagger you'll need, and that's not even counting the "Power Wagon" stickers. Inside, the truck benefits from the same heavily upgraded interior bestowed on the rest of the Heavy Duty line this year and the 1500 model last year. From the sky-high seating position, you'll have a commanding view of the trail as you toggle the manual shift-on-the-fly transfer case, flip the switch on the axle locks and punch the sway bar disconnect button, all without your hands straying far from the heated steering wheel. Power tools can have padded grips, you know.

What does that make the Power Wagon, then? The stickers say "toy," the heated leather steering wheel says "daily driver," and the suspension says "power tool." In actuality, it can be all of these things easily enough, but it leans more towards "implement" than "accessory." This rig is a piece of equipment, not a plaything. It's the kind of equipment the professional buys at his local hardware store while the weekender shops at the discount big-box store. You won't see many, but when you do, you'll know they're the real deal.

2010 Ram Power Wagon
Base price $45,780
Price as tested $50,530
Vehicle layout Front-engine, 4WD, 6-pass, 4-door pickup
Engine Engines 5.7L/383-hp/400-lb-ft OHV 16-valve V-8
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight 6350 lb (mfr)
Wheelbase 149.5 in
Length x width x height 237.4 x 79.1 x 77.7 in
0-60 mph 8.5 sec (MT est.)
EPA city/hwy fuel econ N/A
Observed fuel econ 13.5 mpg
On sale in U.S. Currently

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