MOAB, Utah -- First, understand that the new vehicle from Dodge tagged as the Ram Power Wagon is not some muscle-bound SUV or a whiz-bang hybrid crossover.Rather, it's a big and strong work truck designed for four-wheel-drive (4WD) forays over rugged terrain.
Actually, the Power Wagon is based on a heavy-duty Ram 2500 (three-quarter-ton) pickup and configured with a two-door or four-door cab plus a truck box in back that's long (with the two-door Regular Cab) or short (for the four-door Quad Cab).
It carries a muscular 5.7-liter HEMI Magnum V8 stuffed below that stair-step hood and running lights mounted on the roof of the cab, along with an arsenal of 4WD armaments designed to enable the Power Wagon to crawl across rocks and dip through ravines of harsh off-camber terrain with the sure-footed stance of a mechanized mountain goat.
The HEMI V8 delivers 345 hp at 5400 rpm and massive torque pumped up to 375 lb-ft at 4200 rpm.
All of that muscle is translated through either a heavy-duty five-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual to turn all four of the 17-inch forged aluminum wheels, which are capped by 33-inch BFG all-terrain tires -- tallest stock tires on any production truck.
The 4WD hardware includes a new suspension structured to produce awesome wheel articulations for bumping over rocks and logs. In front is a solid axle with coil springs, and the rear has a mono-stage leaf with softer spring settings.
Bilstein monotube high-pressure gas shocks stud the wheels.
Also, Power Wagon stocks electric-locking front and rear differentials and a front sway bar that can disconnect by electronic means -- call it the Smart Bar.
The truck has a running height of 14.5 inches, which is several inches higher than a conventional Ram 2500.
The chassis design forges a front approach angle of 35 degrees, a tail departure angle to 26.5 degrees with a break-over angle of 25 degrees and a ground clearance at the rear axle of 8.3 inches.
And the undercarriage gets steel skid plates to shield the steering damper, transfer case and fuel tank from off-road bumps and bangs.
Officials from Dodge describe the new Power Wagon as "the most capable off-road pickup on the planet."
It's a clear-cut case of one-upmanship as Dodge raises the capability bar for big-truck 4WD performance.
To prove its 4WD capability, Dodge engineers drive the Power Wagon up a daunting sandstone slope on Poison Spider Mesa near Utah's off-road mecca of Moab.
Shifting to bottom gear in lowest range of the full-time 4WD system, Dodge's driver nudges the truck forward to confront a seemingly sheer grade.
The nose tilts upward at a severe angle with front wheels articulating vertically for more than two feet (and the Smart Bar disconnecting up front) to get a grip on the red-rock slope.
Then those deep-tread tires smother the rock as the HEMI V8 musters overwhelming low-gear engine torque and the strength of a stampede of horses to move three tons of Detroit metal in cat-claw increments up the bald side of Poison Spider.
As it parks on top of the rock, Ram Power Wagon presents the face of a big-rig Peterbilt flashing a flat-rimmed horse-collar grille thrust forward and marked in shiny cross-hair chrome.
But why call a big and tough truck the Power Wagon?
It's because that name tracks back in the history of Dodge to the first mass-produced civilian 4WD truck -- the WDX-WM300 Power Wagon that emerged in 1946 as successor to military trucks developed during World War II.
Dodge built 95,145 Power Wagons from 1945-1968 and continued to export the vehicle as late as 1978.
With such heritage, the special Ram 2500 4WD truck of 2005 deserves to carry the Power Wagon badge forward.
You may recognize this truck not only from its high-hiking stance but the inclusion of massive tow hooks up front and a custom-built Warn winch housed in a slot immediately below the cross-hair grille.
The winch, rated for a 12000-pound tug, contains 90 feet of galvanized aircraft wire cable and a remote-control pod. It's fully capable of pulling this behemoth vehicle out of a sticky off-road rut.
On top of the high cab, five amber running lamps bring a menacing touch but also work for safe motoring to improve the truck's visibility at night.
Passive safety equipment on the Power Wagon reaches beyond two frontal air bags to three-point safety belts for all seats, including three sets in the Regular Cab and six in the Quad Cab, plus sets of tether anchors in the rear of the four-door for installing a child's safety seat.
Also, side curtain-style air bags are offered for both cabin sizes.
Brakes use huge discs at all wheel posts, with linkage to a computerized anti-lock brake system (ABS).
The two-door Regular Cab provides a split bench seat while a four-door Quad Cab stocks two rows of seats for as many as six riders.
On the Quad Cab, all four doors have hinges mounted on forward edges with door handles in place inside and out. The back doors swing open to 85 degrees and windows drop down below the sills.
For the back seat, there's an optional 60/40 split to the seatback. Seat cushions fold up to create a floor-to-ceiling storage area. Then an optional steel-plate floor beneath the seat conceals stow bins in footwells.
And there are comforts aboard -- including such standard gear as cruise control, air conditioning, the UConnect hands-free communications system, a DVD-based navigation system and Sirius subscription-based satellite radio service.
What's the price for such off-road prowess?
Dodge puts the MSRP for Power Wagon at $36,660 for the Regular Cab with a manual shifter. Specify the automatic transmission and $1,170 more goes to the bottom line.
Power Wagon Quad Cab begins at $39,125 with manual transmission, or $40,295 for the automatic.