Is it yeehaw, yee-ha, or yahoo? Never mind, it doesn’t matter. Whichever rebel yell you prefer, it’s appropriate from the driver’s seat of the 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon, which continues as Ram’s high-riding four-wheel-drive monolith that’s been upgraded with both attitude and hard-core off-road hardware.
Forget about the recent proliferation of fortified, factory-built, off-road pickup trucks. The lineage of Ram’s biggest, baddest off-roader was established long ago. Power Wagons have always been the real deal—tough, trail-ready trucks that aren’t just built to get dirty but look best splattered with wet earth. Like the original Jeep, the first Power Wagon dates back to the 1940s and was originally born for military use. It eventually returned for a spell in the disco era and then once again 15 years ago, when it began its current reign as the off-road king of heavy-duty pickups.
The latest three-quarter-ton Power Wagon continues to defend its muddy crown with off-road-specific underpinnings not found on other Ram 2500s, or on any other truck in its class. Taller springs and chunky 33-inch-tall Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires add about two inches of additional ground clearance, for a total of 14.2 inches. It sits tall on its black 17-inch wheels, and Ram says it can drive through 30.0 inches of water. Although that’s 3.0 inches less than what Ford claims for its new F-series Super Duty with the Tremor off-road package, the Power Wagon can climb hills and articulate its wheels in ways its newer rival can’t.
Inside the Power Wagon’s front and rear live axles is an electronically locking differential and 4.10:1 gears. Lock its differentials, and there isn’t much terrain this pickup can’t handle. A two-speed, four-wheel-drive transfer case with a steep 2.64:1 low-range setting makes it an astute crawler that can claw its way up steep grades with little wheel spin. For greater durability, the Power Wagon’s rear axle is beefed up with a larger 11.5-inch ring gear and thicker axles. Ram also adds an extra joint to the front suspension at the upper axle mount, which it calls Articulink. In combination with the only electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bar in this class, the Power Wagon’s 26.0 inches of front wheel articulation rivals that of some competition rigs. There’s also a standard 12,000-pound Warn winch mounted behind the front bumper, in case you’re still thinking the Power Wagon isn’t a serious piece of equipment.
Not a Bucking Bronco
Live axles and a 7000-plus-pound curb weight may sound like a recipe for a crashing ride, but the Power Wagon doesn’t rattle its occupants senseless. Its standard Bilstein dampers and front and rear coil springs, which are a bit softer than a standard Ram 2500’s, give it an impressively smooth ride both on and off the pavement, at least for a heavy-duty truck.
Still, the Power Wagon isn’t a quasi-desert racer like the Ford F-150 Raptor, nor is it as powerful and quick as that half-ton truck. We’d like to drive a Power Wagon with the Ram HD’s optional 6.7-liter Cummins turbo-diesel, but that engine’s not offered here. Ram says that big inline-six would add about 1000 pounds to the front of the truck, which would severely compromise its off-road capability and radically drive up its $55,045 base price.
Instead, every Power Wagon comes with the Ram HD’s standard 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 making 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. It is no slouch. Although the V-8’s torque peaks at a high 4000 rpm, its response is strong just off idle, and its muscle-car rumble is accompanied by plenty of mid-range grunt. Pairing well with the standard eight-speed automatic transmission, the Hemi gets this burly Ram HD to 60 mph in about 8.4 seconds, which is painfully slow compared to the genuinely quick 450-hp Raptor. Yet, the larger, heavier-duty Ram never feels laborious around town. While the Ram’s softer, off-road suspension means it can only tow up to 10,580 pounds—considerably less than what both conventional Ram HDs and the least capable Ford Super Duty Tremor are rated to tug—that’s still quite a lot of weight. The downside to the Power Wagon’s capability is the Hemi’s thirst for refined crude.
Redesigned for 2019 with the rest of Ram’s heavy-duty lineup, the Power Wagon now shares much of its interior design with the light-duty Ram 1500, meaning its cabin is about as nice as you’ll find in a pickup. Our heavily optioned test truck may have cost a dear $69,890, but its interior was an embarrassment of riches that featured a massive 12.0-inch infotainment touchscreen, heated front and rear seats, a surround-view camera system, and a heated steering wheel. The Power Wagon is quiet, too. There’s little wind noise making its way inside and only a slight hum from its knobby all-terrain tires.
The Power Wagon’s exterior is more rounded than ever before, but there’s still plenty of attitude from the black-grilled treatment, muscular fender flares, and old-school retro graphics that date back to the W150 model sold in the late 1970s. Back in the day, the graphics were part of the optional Macho appearance package, and they’ve been a huge part of the Power Wagon’s cool factor since the scheme was reintroduced in 2017.
Several skidplates and powder-coated bumpers also are standard, but the body panel protection is light for a truck with this level of off-road capability. The Power Wagon’s 149.3-inch wheelbase might as well be a mile long, and its rocker panels are dangerously exposed despite the truck’s significant 22-degree breakover angle. Our truck’s optional side steps offered some protection, but they didn’t look very cool. As with most full-size rigs, this lifted, extra-large Ram is simply too hulking for technical trail work without sustaining some body damage.
Despite its newer competition from Ford’s Tremor, the Ram Power Wagon remains the world’s most capable off-road heavy-duty pickup. Just make sure you drive it deep into the dirt where it belongs before you start hootin’ like the Duke boys.