Words by John Stewart, Photos by John Stewart, Mike Levine, Ian Merritt. Special thanks to Marlin Atlantis real estate for the use of their 1,800 acre property in Boerne, Texas.
Our comparison of the 2010 Ford F-150 SVT Raptor and 2010 Dodge Ram Power Wagon is so large that we've split it up into four parts to make it easier to find the information and material you want to read first.
OK, we know what you’re going to say: “This is not an apples-to-apples comparison.” For these two 4×4 pickups, wheelbases, cabs, beds and running gear are not directly comparable.
One’s a crew cab, the other is an extended cab. One is based on a half-ton, personal-use platform; the other is a 3/4-ton commercial-use platform. One is made to go fast; the other to go slow. These two pickups are different animals, right from the start. Anyone can see that, Einstein, so put down your pen and save your e-mails. We’re comparing them anyway, because there are also quite a few intriguing similarities:
- Both trucks are off-road ready from the factory.
- Both supply off-road equipment that would be hard to duplicate in the aftermarket without great cost.
- Both represent the “ultimate setup” in the eyes of their manufacturers.
- Both are remarkably free of compromises that trade off desirable qualities for the sake of off-road performance.
- Both are still everyday drivers, with comfort, convenience and safety features consistent with the best new pickups, not to mention factory warranties.
And yet, the trucks are very different. If they were shoes, the Raptor would be high-tech running shoes. The Power Wagon would be waterproof hiking boots. Here’s how we came to that conclusion:
Suspension: IFS vs. Straight Axle
Both trucks have specialized suspension packages, designed to allow the suspension to travel freely and still enhance control. These two trucks address the issue with different technology. Both have leaf-spring/live axle suspensions in the rear end. It’s at the front where they differ.
The Raptor’s front suspension is race-bred double-wishbone IFS with triple-bypass Fox Racing Shocks. IFS suspensions track well in corners but have a limited range of travel. SVT engineers have equipped the Raptor with unique, long A-arms. These are strong, expensive pieces — the lower A-arm is aluminum; the upper is forged steel. They move the wheel and tire combination outward, providing a wide stance and longer travel arc. Ford says the front end will cycle 11.2 inches in the front, and 12.1 inches in the rear, which is a lot for any pickup. It’s quality travel, in the sense that the damping is exceptional. The Fox Shox are specially matched, position-sensitive internal bypass shocks, so they change their rate of damping depending on travel. As long as the tires are more or less in the center of their arc of travel, the shocks allow the wheel to move relatively freely, damping small inputs for a smooth ride. When the tire is forced toward the extreme limits of travel, the shocks become significantly stiffer, so the suspension doesn’t bottom out and larger impacts are heavily damped. As a result, damping is always appropriate for what the truck is doing. The wider stance improves stability and the IFS allows superior cornering control. It’s the kind of suspension that lets the Raptor run full-tilt down a dusty powerline road in control and, then, when it hits a surprise washed-out section, launches and lands soft and straight with hardly any rebound. You’ll have your heart in your mouth, but chances are it happens with no damage done.
The Power Wagon’s straight front axle/coil spring front suspension is strong, simple, and moves well side-to-side. Getting airborne is not what it was built to do, and what it gives up in high-speed cornering precision, it gets back in travel. The front axle has five locating links, a version of the Quadra-Link suspension. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what Jeep uses. The Power Wagon’s front is akin to a hugely oversized version of a Jeep Cherokee XJ, but with 8-lug, 3/4-ton AAM Tru-Lock axles. It gets Bilstein gas shocks, located inside the coil springs, where they are protected from lateral loads regardless of suspension movement. Bilstein makes an expensive, high-quality gas shock that, like the Fox units, are practically impossible to bottom. They may not have the adjustability of the Fox triple-bypass units, but they are nicely matched to the job.
Then, because it has a straight front axle, Dodge was able to equip the Power Wagon with a trump card—a front sway bar disconnect. This allows for at least 32 inches of travel (and “sometimes greater” we’re told), allowing for a front wheel to extend downward almost the distance of an entire tire. On the opposite side, the tire stuffs up into the wheelwell until half has disappeared. It’s a traction enhancer that only works in the slowest, most difficult terrain, but makes a huge difference in those circumstances.
We’re told the Power Wagon can ramp better than 680 on a 30-degree RTI test before a tire lifts. The end result is that the Power Wagon suspension will routinely enable slow-but-steady speeds across the worst, nastiest, rockiest washed-out trails with fallen trees and stumps and long drops into holes. When you’re done, wash it and head out to dinner.
The Bottom Line:
In our back-to-back driving, both trucks seemed to ride and handle well –and about the same — in ordinary street driving. Both trucks have suspension gear you can’t get anywhere else. The Raptor’s go-fast engineering is impressive, certainly the best we’ve seen in a pickup. Yet, when it comes to truly punishing, real-world situations, the Power Wagon has no equal. We’d like to call it a tie, but it’s hard not to respect the innovations Ford has made with their SVT A-arms, tie rods and beefed up half shafts, not to mention triple bypass shocks. They’ve taken an IFS front end and really made it work.
Engine: OHV vs. OHC
In off-road environments, it’s probably true that power is less important than suspension quality. However, a truck is a truck, and it demands torque.
In the Dodge, we see a classic pushrod-actuated, overhead valve V-8 truck engine making more torque than horsepower. Peak torque, at 400 lbs.-ft., is available at 4.000 rpm, and peak horsepower (383) arrives at 5,600, just before the 5,800 rpm redline, all on regular unleaded. The engine has a deep skirted, cast iron block with cross-bolted main bearing caps, aluminum alloy heads, and hemispherical combustion chambers. We found the engine more than sufficient, revving well and cruising quietly.
Ford’s powerplant is the 5.4 liter, three-valve V-8. It’s an overhead cam engine, with three valves for better breathing. It makes 310 hp at 5,000 rpm, and 365 lbs.-ft. of torque early, at 3,500 rpm. It’s E85-capable, and interestingly enough, makes more power on E85, up to 390 lbs.-ft. of torque. It, too, felt plenty strong enough.
The Bottom Line:
Neither truck is underpowered by any means. Still, in a full-size truck, more is always better, and the HEMI delivers more horsepower and torque. Ford is developing a 6.2L V-8 for the raptor that will become available in mid-2010. At least until then, Dodge has the better engine.
Edge: Power Wagon
Transmission: 5-speed vs. 6-speed
Dodge’s 545 RFE 5-speed has been specifically recalibrated for the Power Wagon, with a shift schedule that takes into account the very low 4.56:1 axle gears, among other things. The 545RFE acts like a six-speed with two second gear ratios, upshifting using the lower 1.67:1 ratio, for faster acceleration. The transmission kicks down cleanly, makes smooth full-throttle shifts and allows for smooth highway cruising.
The Raptor’s 6R80E six-speed also has a tall overdrive gear, and downshifts readily at the touch of the throttle. Its principle advantage is a 4.17:1 first gear ratio, much lower than Dodge’s, which means faster off-the-line acceleration and more grunt in low range. That big a 1st gear could make for jumpy throttle in low range, but Ford has recalibrated the throttle map in 4-low, so the pedal can be better modulated even with the very low gearing.
SVT has also created a special transmission operating calibration, called Off-Road Mode, that’s entirely unique to the Raptor and works in two or four-wheel drive. Off-Road Mode, activated with the push of a button, changes the engine’s throttle map, leaving the butterfly valve full open when pushing the accelerator pedal down through its entire arc. That’s intended to give it linear throttle response, like a race truck, instead of high power at the beginning and tapered at the end, like a street truck. Off-Road Mode also changes the transmission’s shift points to hold its gear and not upshift after letting off the throttle at high speeds. It also locks out the sixth gear overdrive at the top of the transmission to keep the rpm high.
We also had a chance to roll both trucks down a steep hill in low range, first gear. We found that the Ford’s transmission held back the Raptor noticeably better than the Power Wagon’s, allowing for a slower, more controlled rate of speed. Both trucks have electronic downhill descent control, but just using the transmission alone, the Raptor’s 6R80E feels best.
The Bottom Line:
A six-speed has definite advantages, especially when it comes with a lower 1st gear. We can’t compare mileage ratings, because the Dodge hasn’t been rated, but we suspect the six-speed would save some gas on the highway, too.