Americans aren’t big on compromise. If we find ourselves at a fork in the road and forced to make a hard choice, our instinct is to turn said fork into a spoon so we can scoop up all the options. How else do you explain the longstanding success of the pickup truck market? Pickups are the most popular American vehicle and, you could argue, the best: expensively developed, overbuilt, and packed with features. The new crop of Ram Trucks is a great example, ranging from well equipped 9-to-5 duty rigs to luxurious haulers with premium cabins that can put luxury car companies to shame.
And of the entire Ram truck lineup, the 2019 Power Wagon is the most compromise-averse—a highly capable three-quarter ton off-roader that offers a 17-speaker Harmon-Kardon audio system, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. This isn’t having your cake and eating it, too; it’s having your cake and eating it, then crawling over inhospitable desert terrain to steal everybody else’s cake, too.
The Good: This truck has incredible off-road capability, especially for a ¾-ton pickup. It’s also the only passenger vehicle in America to come with a winch from the factory, and thanks to a synthetic (instead of steel) cable, that winch is lighter for 2019, but still rated for 12,000 pounds. The available 360-degree surround view camera will no doubt be clutch in tricky off-road situations. The new eight-speed transmission is a huge improvement over the old six-speed.
Who It’s For: The truck guy who wants to be able to tow and haul as well as climb and crawl. A spacious crew cab is the only option, meaning there’s plenty of room for friends and family to enjoy the ride; people who look at a Jeep Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited and think “not enough room” might land in a Power Wagon, given its combination of size and off-road capability.
Watch Out For: This is a three-quarter ton pickup, so obviously, it’s big. Visibility over the hood and to the sides is good on the pavement, but off-road, you’ve really got to use your mirrors—or the camera system, if so equipped—when maneuvering. The truck has lost some weight compared with the previous generation, which is impressive, but it still runs on a 6.4-liter Hemi and drinks fuel accordingly. The dash-mounted rotary gear selector takes some getting used to versus the old column mounted lever.
Alternatives: There is no alternative: the Power Wagon is the only three-quarter-ton off-road specialist. Drop down to a half-ton and you have the Ford F-150 Raptor, the Chevy Silverado Trail Boss, and the Power Wagon’s kid brother, the Ram 1500 Rebel. In some ways, given the Power Wagon’s very special set of (off-road) skills, a Wrangler Rubicon Unlimited or the all-new Jeep Gladiator we reviewed in March seems a better comparison.
Review: My first taste of the 2019 Power Wagon came deep in the Nevada desert, so close to the Arizona border that my phone kept switching between time zones. Out here, going from accidental trespasser to intentional target can happen fast, so it was good the Ram folks had secured permission for the local trails where we could experience the redesigned Power Wagon’s off-road capabilities.
Going into the experience, I assumed the truck, while looking badass, was simply too big to be enjoyed anywhere but a wide-open space like a mud pit; it certainly couldn’t be the extra-capable trail machine it was advertised as. And though I was right about the size—my three-quarter ton Power Wagon had a six-foot-four-inch bed—my concerns about its capabilities were proven unfounded within minutes. Good visibility, great mirrors, and a surprisingly tight turning radius (even with the front and rear differentials locked) made maneuvering the Power Wagon up a steep, boulder-strewn hill a cinch. I didn’t even have to unlock the front sway bar for the first ascent, but I was glad to know I could; the ability to simply push a button and gain serious articulation capability might be expected in a Land Rover or Wrangler Rubicon, but having that feature in a full-size pickup was a welcome surprise.
Another welcome surprise: discovering you can cheat your way into a cheaper Power Wagon by adding the Power Wagon “package” to the entry-level “Tradesman” Ram 2500. As was the case with the previous generation truck, you can start with a Crew Cab 4×4 2500 Tradesman for $39,850, then tick the Power Wagon option box for $7,995. This can get you into a Power Wagon for less than $50,000, and leaves room to add a few choice options before hitting the $52,900 base price of the off-the-shelf Power Wagon. Personally, I’m a big fan of building it off the humble Tradesman trim level, since certain details on the factory’s regular Power Wagon—grille, giant “RAM” lettering on the tailgate, and graphics on the side of the truck bed—aren’t to my taste. Sure, these things can be removed from the truck, but the Tradesman Power Wagon’s under-the-radar look brings a cool “sleeper” factor all its own.
Having eaten up major miles in the Tradesman Power Wagon, I can say that while a 12.0-inch touchscreen infotainment system, heated and cooled seats, and adaptive cruise control are nice to have, the basic 4.0-inch unit (with Bluetooth!), cloth bench seats (with fold-up console!) and regular cruise control get the job done fine. Americans may hate making compromises, but once in a while, it’s good to take stock of what you really need just to get the job done.
Verdict: Whether you opt for the well-equipped Power Wagon from the factory or start with a 2500 Tradesman then add the Power Wagon package, you’re getting a lot of truck for your money. There simply isn’t another three-quarter ton pickup that can do all the things the Power Wagon does, let alone this well.
This is certainly not a truck for everyone—say, those living in urban areas seeking a capable weekend off-roader. But for those with the lifestyle to take advantage what this truck does, they’ll be glad they can round up four or five friends, tow a big boat to a lake, and then charge to the top of the nearest mountain, just for the hell of it.
Model Year/Brand/Model: 2019 RAM 2500 Power Wagon
Purchase URL: www.ramtrucks.com
Price: $52,450 (As tested)
Engine: 6.4-Liter V8
Transmission: Eight-Speed Automatic
Horsepower: 410 hp
Torque: 429 lb-ft
MPG: 18/23 City/Highway
Ram hosted us and provided this product for review.
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