Words, Photos and Video by John Stewart for PickupTrucks.com
If Mopar’s is the celebrity go-fast truck of the 2010 Mopar lineup at this year’s Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, Utah, the ‘Moparized’ PowerWagon is king of the crawlers.
Even in factory trim, the standard Ram Power Wagon can make mincemeat of rocky trails. It may not be fast, but it has crushing grip in the form of axle articulation, gearing and front and rear locking differentials. To make it better, an enthusiast might add a little lift and a little more tire, but at that point, he’s just about hit the ceiling.
With the PowerWagon concept you see here, Mopar engineers took that thought and ran amok.
They didn’t just go really big with 40-inch tires. The whole truck is shorter, much taller, has extra rear suspension flex, and it has ground clearance to burn.
The interplay of these changes make for an exponentially better, dare we say ridiculously better, ground pounder out of the standard Power Wagon.
For starters, the geometry between truck, tire and ground has been fundamentally altered. Because the PowerWagon concept is 29 inches shorter than a standard Power Wagon, its breakover angle (the point at which it will become hung up on a rock or the ground as you’re cresting the apex of an obstacle) is much better. The bed has also been shortened, with less rear overhang, improving the departure angle (the point at which the rear of the truck will hit an obstacle as you crawl up or over it). The angles of approach might stay the same, but the tendency to high-center or drag the rear bumper will be significantly reduced.
On top of that, there’s a 4-inch lift and a four-link coil-spring rear suspension lifted from the light-duty Ram 1500 that travels more freely than the rear leaf spring straight axle on the standard Power Wagon. With 40-inch tires plus the lift, there’s an estimated 8 inches more ground clearance, adding up to something in the neighborhood of 16 inches at its lowest point under the truck.
So now you have a truck that passes over obstacles you would normally have to put a tire on, and when you come to something really big, can keep the tires on the ground for traction. It’s not super light, like a rock buggy, and it doesn’t have 4-to-1 low range, but it’s also street legal and drivable around town, once you get used to the size of it.
Jumping into the PowerWagon concept will remind you that this is a very tall rig. Getting in and out is more of a challenge, and keeping track of tire placement at ground level is that much harder. Even for a driver used to full-size pickups, the distance from seat to ground makes for an uneasy disconnect between visual cues and what the tires are doing.
Our seat time involved a bit of trail driving with some rock running involved, but nothing that let us get completely used to the altitude of the truck in extreme situations. Based on what we did see, we think it would take quite a bit of exploring to find a ledge or stairstep this Ram would not walk right up. Gearing, though taller than stock, offers good throttle feel at low speed, with 4.56 gears in the axles and a 2.72 low-range ratio. Just in case a huge boulder should leap out, stout, tubular rock rails made by Rock Slide Engineering are there to protect the rocker panels.
Stability did not seem to be hugely compromised, as the truck was actually fun to power slide through sandy corners and spin doughnuts at the dunes. That’s likely because at 83.5 Inches, the PowerWagon concept is 4.4 inches wider than a standard Power Wagon. The width comes mostly from broad 40×14.50 tires on 17-inch wheels. The BFG K2 Mud Terrains with Kevlar sidewalls offer good traction, with excellent sidewall protection at low inflation pressures.
The PowerWagon concept keeps the same 5.7-liter Hemi V-8 and five-speed automatic in the standard Ram Heavy Duty Power Wagon, but with a bloodcurdling exhaust note that reminded us more of a Trophy Truck than a rock crawler. Also, like the standard Power Wagon, the axles retain 4.56 gears. Four-wheel antilock brakes are part of the package, but traction control is not available. According to the specifications supplied by Mopar engineers, the PowerWagon concept weighs 6,500 pounds, about 72 pounds less than a standard Power Wagon.
What are the tradeoffs? Finding a handy place for a 40-inch spare is always a magic trick; in this case, it’s taking up most of the now-very-short bed. And with the crew cab gone, the PowerWagon concept is strictly a two-seater. Still, this is a charismatic 4×4 with a huge visual presence, not to mention extreme capabilities. Most of the parts used are readily available in the marketplace, so it would be possible to duplicate the PowerWagon concept. And it would take a lot of cutting and wrenching. But to a guy who appreciates big trucks, it would be worth the work. Just be ready to modify the garage.