When it comes to badass trucks, there isn’t much that can compete with the Dodge Power Wagon. Not the current model, that is, but the original truck; the no-frills 1946 model that earned the distinction of being America’s first four-wheel drive truck. Big, brutal, and unstoppable, Power Wagons were the most capable trucks offered from Dodge for nearly 35 years. The name was brought back as a trim level on the Ram 2500 in 2005 and since then, well, let’s say we’d probably rather have a Ram Rebel than a Power Wagon.
It’s not to say that the Power Wagon isn’t still a capable heavy-duty off-roader. It is, but it’s also probably the most ostentatious factory Bro-dozer out there. The Power Wagon of today is the opposite of the barely civilized military trucks of yore; it’s more like a rolling tribal tattoo. Lighting the way for the bechromed behemoth are a pair of HID headlamps and cab over lights that look like they were pulled from the sale rack at Pep Boys. Its blackout section on the hood looks like a touch-up done after doing one too many “Dukes of Hazzard” slides across it (provided you got a really good running start), and the bizarre metallic decal on the bed reminds us of that pesky habit ’90s-era Mopar paint had of defecting from your truck after a few years. It isn’t a truck for dedicated off-roaders; it’s for guys who have “going-out” tank tops, keep their sunglasses flipped behind their heads when they’re not wearing them, and chew Skoal during parent-teacher conferences.
If you want a Power Wagon’s mechanical upgrades (and there are many), you can always opt for the plain-jane Tradesman 2500, but to us it seems like it should be the other way around. The Power Wagon nameplate is too iconic to let whither on the vine as a trim level. At the Chicago Auto Show, Ram has just barely reigned in the Power Wagon’s looks for 2017. While it isn’t much, it is a step in the right direction.
Once you get past the Power Wagon’s frustrated Tonka Truck looks, it really is one hell of a truck. Power comes from a 6.4-liter Hemi V8 engine that cranks out 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque — good for towing upwards of 10,000 pounds. For 2017, there’s a beefier 11.5-inch axle (up from 10.5) out back, and a 9.3-inch one up front. Both feature 4.10:1 ratios to handle serious rock-crawling, and a Warn winch in case you get stuck. It has 2 inches higher ground clearance over the standard Ram 2500, and its 17-inch forged aluminum wheels are clad in beefy 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires. Underneath, heavy-duty skid plates protect drive train components from uncooperative terrain.
But again, those looks. The Power Wagon ditches the standard Ram cross-hair grille for the arguably more polarizing design from the Ram Rebel. Thankfully, the red billet-style inner accents have been ditched for full blackout trim. FCA has dipped into its classic performance car stripe designs yet again and gave the truck vertical stripes emblazoned with “POWER WAGON” on the bed, designed to let the whole world know you spent over $50,000 on a Power Wagon. And if you didn’t catch that the first time, it’s plastered across the tailgate too.
Inside, the big truck has learned a thing or two from the smaller Rebel. Base trucks have black and Diesel Grey “technical grain” seats (we don’t know either), that are embossed with with the Goodyear DuraTrac’s tread print. There’s also a premium option which includes heated seats and the Ram logo embroidered on the headrests. It’s sure come a long way from the springy vinyl bench seats of older trucks.
Price isn’t likely to climb much higher than the current truck’s mid-$50K ask, and with the the market being what it is, the Power Wagon really is a lot of truck for the money. And of course, all the mechanical stuff found in the Power Wagon will still be available in the more subdued Tradesman. But we really do wish FCA would rein in the iconic truck a little more. If the current model is flat-out clownish, the new one is still too ostentatious for us to want to take to a construction site, let alone off-road. For decades, the Power Wagon was a work horse that made its reputation by doing what others couldn’t. We’d love to see Ram learn to lead by example again. Who knows, there’s always 2018.
Follow Derek on Twitter @CS_DerekS