A deep look into the 2017 Ram Power Wagon’s mechanicals

This week we spent time behind the wheel of Ram’s slightly refreshed 2017 Power Wagon. The headlining changes include the Rebel-like front grille, black bumpers, new wheels and tires, side graphics, and the massive R-A-M logo on the tailgate. The interior also sports some new features, including tire tread patterns on the cloth seats and the Power Wagon logo along the side bolsters. But that’s about it. The mechanicals haven’t changed for 2017 – and that’s just fine.

The Power Wagon is based on Ram’s 2500 Heavy Duty pickup and uses most of the same underpinnings. Power comes from the 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 that makes 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. The venerable six-speed automatic manages the power, sending it to the rear wheels in normal driving conditions. When the road turns to dirt, the manually operated transfer case borrows power from the rear, sending it forward to the solid front axle. Yep, the Power Wagon is old school to the point of solid axles at both ends. But even the standard Ram 2500 can be had with those mechanical bits.

There’s long list of parts unique to this pickup. Some can’t even be had anywhere else in the industry, not counting the Jeep Wrangler, of course. So let’s dive in and see what the Power Wagon is all about.

Continue reading for more information.

Front Sway Bar Disconnect

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Found only on the Ram Power Wagon and Jeep Wrangler Rubicon, this system is found on the front sway bar, or anti-roll bar. In normal operation, the electromagnetic coupler keeps both halves of the sway bar connected, keeping the truck flatter as it goes around corners to improve on-road handling. Off-road, however, a simple push of the dash-mounted button releases the coupler, allowing the two halves of the thick sway bar to operate independently. This gives the Power Wagon much more suspension flex – necessary for climbing over obstacles like rocks or deep ruts.

The sway bar system only operates in 4WD High and Low range, and below speeds of roughly 20 mph. Forgetting to reengage the sway bars isn’t a big deal, as the computer simply takes care of the process for you. The best part is the sheer simplicity of the operation. Old timers can attest to manually unbolting the sway bar at one end with wrenches.

Locking Differentials

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The Ram Power Wagon is the only pickup on the market to offer both front and rear locking differentials. Sure, many trucks have locking rear differentials, but the Power Wagon stands alone with its front locker. Like the sway bar disconnect, locking the differentials is done from the driver’s seat by turning a dial. The knob has three positions: unlocked, rear diff lock, and front and rear diff lock. The transition takes less than a second, but sometimes requires driving five feet or so, allowing the gearing within the differentials to properly align for lock-up.

So what’s the point of a locked differential? Well, the differential is the device that allows for different wheel speeds on the same axle. This is crucial for turning. The outside wheel has a further distance to travel and requires more speed than the inside wheel. This difference in speed, or differential, requires the complex gears inside the differential housing. This difference in speed is great on dry pavement when traction isn’t a problem, but in the mud or on loose rock, the differential becomes a hindrance by allowing engine power to travel only to the wheel with the least resistance. In other words, the wheel with the least traction can freely spin.

Obviously, this is a problem. The locking mechanism thwarts this by locking together the two axle shafts via a mechanical pawl inside the differential gears. This makes both wheels turn at the same speed. So regardless of the level of traction under each wheel, they both turn together. When both front and rear lockers are engaged, all four of the Power Wagon’s wheels are turning simultaneously. It’s also worth noting the transfer case delivers a 50/50 torque split between both front and rear axles.

Locking both differentials should only be done on loose terrain that gives way. Turning does become more difficult when locked up. Binding and wheel chirp will occur on surfaces with more traction.

Unique Suspension Parts

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The Ram Power Wagon rides on a specific suspension tailored for heavy off-road use. The truck has an overall lift of two inches over the standard Ram 2500HD 4x4. It still uses solid axles at both held in place by a multi-link system, but those links are unique to the Power Wagon. Up front, the Power Wagon uses the “Articulink” connectors that add suspension flexibility between the control arms and the axle. Combined with the disconnecting sway bar, these links allow for a Ramp Travel Index, or RTI, of 510. That equates to 26 inches of travel. The Power Wagon also boasts an approach angle of 33.6 degree, a break-over angle of 23.5 degrees, and a departure angle of 26.2 degrees.

The Power Wagon also uses a similar five-link coil spring suspension as on the standard 2500HD trucks, but its spring rates and shock absorbers are unique. The shocks are Bilstein units designed for off-road abuse. Though the five-link suspension was originally adopted for a smoother ride in the 2500HD, it works great on the Power Wagon as it mostly eliminates axle hop in loose sand. Axle wrap indicative of leaf spring suspensions is completely gone. What’s more, the five link and coil springs weigh roughly 40 pounds less than a leaf spring setup. Not that 40 pounds means much on a pickup weighing roughly 7,000 pounds.

Despite the Power Wagon’s off-road-tuned suspension, the truck retains an impressive level of payload and towing. The 2017 Power Wagon can haul 1,510 pounds in the bed and pull a trailer weighing 10,030 pounds.

12,000-Pound Warn Winch

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Perhaps one of the coolest features found on the Power Wagon is its hidden recovery winch. Tucked behind the front bumper is an electronic Warn winch rated for a straight-line 12,000-pound pull. The Power Wagon is the only vehicle in America that comes standard with a winch, making it one of the most off-road-ready vehicles currently on sale.

The winch is fitted with 90 feet of steel cable and large hook. A wired remote plugs into the winch and is long enough to reach over the hood and into the cabin for the driver to operate from behind the wheel. A clutch lever allows for free spooling of the winch line, making it easy to walk the cable to a winching point or stranded vehicle.

And like any winch, the use of proper recovery equipment is absolutely recommended. Tree savers, soft shackles, D-rings, gloves, and kinetic recovery straps should be a part of anyone’s off-roading bag. Mopar offers many of these items through Ram’s dealer network.

Wheels and Tires

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The Power Wagon rides on unique 17-inch wheels with machine-faced fronts and painted pockets. The eight-spoke wheel mounts to the eight-lug axle hubs, the latter of which is a direct result of its heavy duty roots. The wheels are wrapped in aggressive, 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires. These tires were selected for many reasons, including their Load-E rating, amount of sidewall flex, tread pattern, and impressive performance in wet and snowy conditions.

Thanks to that Load-E rating, the tires are able to withstand the Power Wagon’s 1,510-pound payload capacity and its 10,030-pound trailer tow rating. Set to the proper air pressure around 65 psi, the tall tires give plenty of support for the truck. When it comes to off-roading, airing down to roughly 30 psi allows the tread spread out, maximizing traction in loose terrain and helps prevent puncture on sharp rocks.

Gearing

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The Power Wagon foregoes the Ram 2500HD’s standard 3.73 gear ratio in the differentials for 410 gears. This combines with a 3.23 ratio in the transmission’s first gear and a 2.64 ratio in the transfer case to give the Power Wagon a 35:1 crawl ratio when in 4WD Low range. This low gearing gives the Power Wagon its impressive ability to crawl over boulders, trudge through deep mud, and pull heavy loads over rough terrain.

The Look

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Of course, the most obvious attribute to the 2017 Power Wagon is its looks. New this year is the Rebel-like grille, powder-coated bumpers, wheels, and optional graphics package. These things set the Power Wagon apart from its competition, as well as every other Ram Heavy Duty truck.

The graphics package pays homage to the Macho Power Wagon from 1977 through 1981. Modernized for the 2017 Power Wagon, the vertical scrip certainly doesn’t leave bystanders wondering what the name of the truck. Ram even offers the lettering on Power Wagons fitted with the RamBox system. The lettering is cut and wrapped around the gab between the bed wall and RamBox lid.

Around back, the tailgate features incredibly large lettering to denote make and model. The blind can even read the large R-A-M lettering, which is made from 3D badges roughly a half-inch tall. Below that is the (slightly) more subtle POWER WAGON script in vinyl lettering. Matching the black and dark grey theme, the side badges on the door and front fender are blacked out with red accents.

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Inside, the Power Wagon is available in three configurations. The base model is the Tradesman. Technically, the Tradesman get the “Power Wagon Package,” which adds all the mechanical bits, but without any upgrades in cosmetics or interior enhancements. The mid-level grade is the regular Power Wagon. That’s the one most folks will see. It has unique cloth seats that have the Power Wagon script down the inside bolster and the tire tread pattern from the Goodyear tires imprinted into the center sections of the seats. Lastly, those wanting leather can opt for that package. The leather seats lose the tire tread pattern, but retain the Power Wagon logo along the bolster.

Conclusion

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The 2017 Ram Power Wagon might not be different underneath, but its new exterior and interior trimmings help keep it fresh in an increasingly competitive pickup truck market. While no other automaker offers such a comprehensive off-road package for a three-quarter ton pickup, the off-road segment has plenty of new blood. Headlining these are the new 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor, Toyota Tacoma and Tundra TRD Pro, and the new Colorado ZR2. These trucks represent the market’s desire for capable, awesome-looking trucks that stand apart from the monotony of the everyday vehicle. The Ram Power Wagon definitely succeeds at that mission.

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