One of the most exciting concept vehicles at the 1999 Los Angeles Auto Show was the Dodge Power Wagon.

An angular homage to the 1946 Power Wagon derived from a World War II off-road pickup truck, the concept looked aggressively sporty and ready to rumble over harsh terrain.

But when the Power Wagon hit the showrooms in 2005, it was toned down to an optional off-road package on the standard Ram 2500 pickup. Talk about disappointment.

Still, the Power Wagon trundles into 2008 as the brawniest beast in the jungle, heavily equipped to do battle with looming boulders, steep ravines or sticky mud bogs. But the tradeoff is hardly worth it.

This jacked-up behemoth has a terrible ride, on or off road. Rough, buffeting, brutally stiff. The hard suspension may be just the thing for off-road challenges, but it's just too impractical for real-world driving. Even on solid pavement, the Power Wagon bounces and slams over small irregularities.

The upgraded Ram may have all the right stuff for tramping over rough terrain, but it's a miserably unpleasant experience. The Power Wagon aced an off-road trip over a hilly, rocky and partially washed-out desert trail, but the jarring rebounds buffeted the humans inside. My passenger, usually a pretty game off-roader, was shaken violently and ready to turn back after just a few miles.

The ride was rough enough that I checked the tires to make sure they weren't over-inflated. They actually turned out to be a bit soft, according to the door sticker.

Sure, I know that jacked-up monster trucks are popular among some macho members of the motoring public, although the pickups are often set up more for show than actual off-pavement capability. The Power Wagon certainly delivered the goods, but not in a good way.

Dodge Power Wagon

Vehicle type: Six-passenger, four-door pickup, four-wheel drive.

Engine: 5.7-liter V-8, 345 horsepower at 5,200 rpm,

375 pound-feet torque at 4,200 rpm.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Wheelbase: 140.5 inches.

Overall length: 227.7 inches.

Curb weight: 6,081 pounds.

Towing capacity: 10,750 pounds

Gas mileage (observed): 10.5 mpg combined.

HIGHS: Off-road prowess, engine performance, macho look.

LOWS: Brutal ride, giant step up, poor gas mileage.


Base price: $33,460.

Price as tested: $45,480.


* Preferred package, including Power Wagon off-road equipment and satellite radio, $5,530.

* Automatic-transmission upgrade, $1,170.

* Audio upgrade, with multidisc CD, MP3 player, seven speakers and steering-wheel

controls, $1,025.

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PERFORMANCE: The roaring Hemi V-8 delivers loads of torque for motivating this 3-ton gargantuan, which is rated to tow 10,000 pounds. The automatic transmission provided crisp shifts.

As expected, gas mileage was paltry. Driving conservatively, the best I managed was 10.5 mpg, according to the trip computer.

DRIVABILITY: I've driven quite a few Ram trucks, including a big 1-ton dually and a crazy-fast SRT-10. All rode pretty well.

Power Wagon does not. The springs feel like iron bars. Not good, no matter how tough you think you are.

The steering was vague and imprecise, especially at highway speeds. The whole package feels more like somebody's backyard project than a production vehicle.

STYLING: Super bad, though nowhere near as cool as the Power Wagon concept.

Getting into the cabin requires a mighty hoist because the lower door sill is lifted so high off the ground. And don't forget when exiting how high up you are: It's a long way to fall. This truck cries out for a step.

INTERIOR: Pretty standard pickup stuff, with nice trim upgrades in the test Ram.

The rear seat is fairly roomy, but don't even try to stick anybody in the middle front "seat." There's a console where the legs should go, which makes no sense.

BOTTOM LINE: Now, I suppose a serious off-road type might appreciate Power Wagon, and Four Wheeler magazine gave it "Pickup Truck of the Year" honors in 2005. But for most of us, the brutal ride and other compromises are not worth it.