Another crucial electronic assist for off-roaders is the locking differential on each axle. Drivers control a 3-position rotary switch on the dash: unlock, rear lock and front/rear lock. The axles can be locked only in 4LO.
So much for the walk around, let’s go wheelin’! Our first chance to drive the Power Wagon came over the Poison Spider trail near Moab, Utah. It’s a rocky ride through hills with plenty of large stair steps, some deep sand washes and large crevices to traverse. Our ride was an automatic-equipped Quad Cab Laramie, complete with heated leather seats, moonroof and nav system.
We didn’t air down the tires but engaged the rear axle right away. The front axle wasn’t locked until just before we thought it would be needed. The Power Wagon already has 49-foot turning diameter, and locking up the front axles increases that distance a bunch. The key, however, is not to engage the front axle after you’re in trouble. We had excellent spotters throughout the ride, but common sense should tell you when to engage. It takes a few seconds for the axles to lock after turning the switch. A blinking light lets you know the mechanicals are working and a solid light lets you know the axles are locked.
With a wide track (69.5 inches front, 68.5 inches rear), the Power Wagon is ensures confidence on off-camber maneuvers. We challenged some of the steepest slick rock trails that this magnificent country offers with no problem, up or down. The automatic transmission doesn’t interfere with engine braking too much, but light application of the truck’s impressive 13.9-inch 4-wheel-disc brakes is needed at times. Luckily, Dodge engineers recalibrated the ABS for 4LO operation so that the pedal isn’t taken away from the driver in extreme situations when some lockup is preferred.
The trail went over a few wide crevices that clearly demonstrated the axle articulation, excellent sidewall grip of the BFG tires and steady crawling momentum despite the Hemi’s torque curve that peaks at non-crawling 4200 rpm.
Everyone makes mistakes off road but the Power Wagon is very forgiving. The skid plates are tied together with fore-aft bars, and Dodge also offers a beefy set of 3-inch rock rails to reduce the risk of additional body damage. We saw some trucks attempt a stair step that had be at least 22 inches tall. The sound of metal scraping against rock is painful when Mother Nature high-centers a $40,000 vehicle. But a quick inspection underneath revealed only a few light scars. For the ultimate blunder of getting stuck, the 12,000-pound winch is easily operated with a 12-foot remote control. Ninety feet of galvanized aircraft wire cable can be stretched out to pull the Power Wagon out of most any predicament.
The Power Wagon isn’t meant to go where only mountain goats can walk. It’s not a fully modified Jeep Wrangler. And the truly ultimate off-road package would have an on-board air compressor or even better, central tire inflation. But the Power Wagon is more capable off road than other pickup. It will fit the needs of hunters, forest officials, ranchers and other professions who require cargo capacity, decent towing and livable cab in addition to superior off-road capability. No other truck meets all of these demands with such authority.
Dodge had an original 1946 Power Wagon on hand during the demonstration for journalists at Moab. Many of us old-timers would like to have taken this classic truck on the trail for a nostalgic comparison, but it was too valuable as a historic monument to the men who drove similar vehicles in WWII, then used them as civilians to build an American dream for themselves. The new Power Wagon won’t have such romantic history to recount 50 years from now, but it like the original, it can boast that it’s the best for its time.