By: IOL Motoring Staff
Auburn Hills, Michigan - Ever since the introduction of the Dodge Power Wagon, America's first 4x4 pick-up truck, in 1945, Chrysler has always laid claim to the title of the most off-road capable bakkie on the US market.
And any automaker who wants to challenge that title had better take a deep breath before they step up to the plate.
The 2014 Ram Power Wagon is based on the 2500 Heavy Duty 4x4 Crew Cab, with a number of off-road-specific enhancements, including special suspension that adds more than 50mm of extra ground clearance, locking differentials and a 5450kg winch.
It's built on a new ladder-chassis frame, with a new 6.4-litre Hemi V8, specially tuned for this model to deliver 302kW at 5600rpm and a brawny 582Nm at 4000 - and that special mapping also softens the throttle response and increases idle speed from 650 to 750rpm in Low Range, for added control when crawling over really rough terrain.
All of which is laid down via a six-speed automatic transmission and part-time, manual-engagement Borg Warner transfer case.
The Power Wagon's 4.10:1 axles - 235mm in front and 292mm at the rear, with 38mm side-shafts - are bought in from American Axle Manufacturing. Each has an electro-magnetic locking differential and, new for 2014, an automatic disconnector unhooks the front axle from the transfer case when conditions permit to reduce parasitic losses.
The 2014 Ram Power Wagon's special three-link front suspension system is modulated by Bilstein monotube, with an electronic disconnecting ant-roll bar to allow more articulation off-road without making the occupants seasick at highway speeds.
The driver-actuated “Smart Bar” can be disengaged in either four-wheel drive “High” or four-wheel drive “Low” at speeds below 30km/h, but automatically locks up again above that speed.
At the rear, the Power Wagon has special five-link coil suspension that allows way more articulation than the usual leaf-spring set-up - 510mm of it to be precise - while preventing axle tramp and lateral sway, reducing unsprung weight by 18kg, allowing the U-joints to ruin more smoothly and reducing prop-shaft vibration.
New for 2014 are 33” Goodyear Wrangler Duratrac tyres on 17” forged and polished alloy rims, contributing to the Power Wagon's 370mm ground clearance, 34-degree approach angle, 23.5-degree departure angle and 25.5-degree breakover angle, as well as its 760mm wading capability.
And for when that's not enough, there are solid longitudinal bars between the transfer-case and fuel-tank bash plates to minimise underside damage and rock wedging.
Braking is entrusted to 373mm front and 356mm rear discs, each clamped by dual-piston callipers, while the hydraulic power steering has a recirculating ball system rather than a rack and pinion to reduce bump steer.
The new Power Wagon has a dual-alternator system that combines 220 and 160-amp units, while an 'intelligent' battery sensor continually measures the flow of current in and out of the battery and will automatically shut down non-essential electrical systems, such as the aircon and radio, if the battery is running low.
THREE TRIM LEVELS
Each Power Wagon is bookended by chromed front and rear bumpers, the front hiding a Warn 5450kg winch with nothing to show except a single steel cable and a heavy-duty hook that attaches to one of two front tow hooks.
Standard kit includes power folding mirrors, a power-operate sliding rear window with defrost and a central locking system that includes the tailgate lock.
The Tradesman trim has blacked out grille surround and inserts, headlight filler panels and wheel flares, with a Power Wagon decal splashed across the bottom of the tailgate.
The SLT trim gets seriously in your face with a crosshair grille dividing the front treatment into four quadrants. White, red, black, silver and metallic grey SLT's also get special red billets in the four quadrants.
Halogen projector headlights, underlined with LED arrays, are set into a dark background, with three-colour saw-blade graphics matched to the body colour, a big Power Wagon decal on the bottom of each side door.
The range-topping Laramie trim is more understated (by American standards anyway) with an all-chromed grille and headlight sourrounds, LED running lights at both ends, polished rims and a special, chromed Power Wagon tailgate badge.
The interior features leather upholstery, upmarket finishes and soft-touch surfaces.
Sadly the Ram Trucks are not available in right-hand drive so won't be coming to South Africa, but here are the American prices and their rand equivalents, just as an indication.
Tradesman - $45 690 (R475 650)
SLT - $50 340 (R524 000)
Laramie - $56 015 (R583 000)