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Dodge Power Wagon is a beast suited for off-road

January 13, 2006|by TIM SPELL / Motor Matters

King Kong thrived on Skull Island, but he was terribly out of place when unleashed in New York City. That's the thought consumers need to keep in mind when thinking about buying a 4WD Dodge Ram Power Wagon.

Dodge is skilled at building macho machines, and the Power Wagon rates high on its list of bad-boy creations. This beast among pickups, available in Regular Cab/long-box and Quad Cab/short-box body styles, can be a smart, practical buy or an outrageous one - it depends on the needs of the buyer.

If the need is for a large pickup to handle the rigors of extreme off-road conditions, then bingo - Dodge's brute is tailor-made for you. If on the other hand, it's purchased as a full-time street truck, then the buyer needs counseling. While the Power Wagon does serve the purpose of looking kick-butt cool, it's a waste for this formidable pickup to live most of its life stomping pavement.

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Someone, for instance, using the feature-loaded, Hemi-powered 2005 Quad Cab test-truck for city driving is sacrificing ride quality, fuel economy and money. Just looking cool in the tester comes at a $47,140 drive-out price. Power Wagons begin life as Ram 2500 SLTs, base priced at $32,635, and are muscled up with a $6,335 Customer Preferred Package 26P.

As a pickup fan I really like this truck, much in the same way I like King Kong. It's awesome and fascinating to look at, and you know it has the right stuff - big muscles and heavy frame - to take care of the business for which it was created.

The Power Wagon stands 80.6 inches tall. For comparison, a Hummer H2 spans the tape at 79.2 inches high. Dodge's monster treks on 33-inch-diameter all-terrain Goodyear tires - the tallest standard tires offered on a pickup. Centered in these giant donuts are 17-by-8-inch polished forged-aluminum spoked wheels - beautiful but a bit shiny for wheels designed to roll in gritty terrain.

Pushing the macho meter even higher is a tower of air above the tires, especially up front, to the point that the yellow-and-blue Bilstein high-pressure gas shocks are visible.

From the ground to the upper part of the front wheel opening (with matte-finished wheel flares) is 3.5 feet, and that height grows 2 inches in the rear. Obviously, this makes for a healthy step-up height. The foot must rise to 2 feet 4 inches to set atop the doorsill. And despite the long list of extras piled on the tester, it doesn't have side steps.

The wonderful side of the Power Wagon's height comes in severe off-road conditions when a high clearance is critical. Running height is 14.5 inches, compared to a mere-mortal 2500's 12 inches; the approach angle is 35 degrees; the ramp break-over angle is 25.5 degrees; and the departure angle is 26.5 degrees.

Skid plates, shrouding the transfer case, fuel tank and steering damper, offer vital underside protection. The manual transfer case's floor-mounted shifter generally doesn't have to leave 4-High when off-road, but if the going gets rough there's 4-Low and other weapons at the driver's disposal. Adding to low-end grunt are electronically activated front and rear locking differentials.

Enhancing off-road wheel travel or flex is the convenience of a Smart Bar - a front electric-disconnecting stabilizer bar. If the worse happens and the truck bogs down, the 12,000-pound custom Warn electric winch hiding behind the bumper can be put into service.

Of course, a torquey V-8 engine is a big asset when roaming through the rough stuff. The Power Wagon is propelled by a 5.7-liter Hemi Magnum V-8, delivering 375 lbs.-ft. of torque and 345 horsepower.

A fitting transmission mate for the Power Wagon's raw character is the standard five-speed automatic. The test-truck's Hemi was partnered with a five-speed automatic, adding $1,170 to the price tag. An advantage with the automatic is tow/haul mode, which keeps the transmission in the optimal gear in hilly conditions. Towing capacity for the Quad Cab is about 10,750 pounds.

Despite being such a tough guy, the Power Wagon tester is dressed up inside. A $2,460 optional equipment package provides a leather-trimmed (complete with embossed Ram logos) 40/20/40 front bench that's power-adjustable and heated; a leather-wrapped steering wheel; and dual-zone temperature control.

If buying the 2006 Ram Power Wagon, plan on pairing up with a beast that won't be happy until you turn it loose in the wilds.

(Tim Spell is the automotive writer for the Houston Chronicle Cars & Trucks section.)

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2006

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