2020 RAM 2500 Test Drive Review

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2020 RAM 2500 Test Drive Review

(c) Clifford Atiyeh for CarGurus The new Ram 2500 is the most luxurious and innovative heavy-duty pickup truck in the world.

8.8 /10
Overall Score

Heavy-duty trucks are all about headroom. It's packing a half-ton of timber in the bed without feeling a thing in the cab, or pulling 8,000 pounds and knowing there's another 8,000 or more in reserve. While it's acceptable to max out a light-duty truck on occasion, doing so puts excessive stress on the powertrain, brakes, and tires. HD trucks like the 2020 Ram 2500 are flashier and monstrous in size, but their posture is serious. If your life requires a truck like this, then I’d recommend you indulge in the Ram’s top-grade luxury, technology, and capability.

Look and Feel

10/ 10

Compared to the chunky Chevrolet Silverado 2500 and the builder block Ford F-250 Super Duty, the Ram 2500 offers utter elegance. Yet this rig stands alone as an example of taste and upscale design. Peering over the Ram 2500’s grille—exclusively made for each of the truck’s six trim levels—is like being in a pool with your head just above water. There’s the indisputable fact that a truck this big would swallow you whole and spit you out back. But it looks mighty good. There’s a lot of chrome on the bumper, or you can opt for the painted body-color version, as I had on my truck. The LED headlights on upper trims are sleek and appropriately proportioned to the domed hood. You’ll recognize its family resemblance to the smaller Ram 1500, and everything just appears widened and stretched to accommodate the 2500’s plus-size stature. Optional clearance lights on the cab and extended side mirrors pull off the look of a semi truck (remember, only the Ram 3500 offers the option of dual rear wheels). Even along the side and rear, the Ram 2500 pulls off a more carlike demeanor than its main competitors with rounded edges and smoother body panels. My Limited test truck came with 20-inch chrome wheels (18s are standard) and LED taillights.

Prepare for ooohs and ahhhs every time someone new steps inside your Ram. Materials and fit and finish are very good, and on upper trims like the Laramie Longhorn and Limited, they’re astounding. Consider that heavy-duty pickups have become multipurpose vehicles, and you’ll understand why this interior is crafted like a Mercedes. Soft-grained, perforated leather with elaborate stitch patterns adorns the seats, doors, and center console and covers the whole dash. Light wood trim with inlaid white lines, contrast piping, aluminum speaker covers, and a stunning beige-and-navy-blue color combo had me hook, line, and sinker every time I hopped in. The grab handles and the shifter knob have the same attention to detail and craftsmanship. Paired with large switches (you can order another row of toggle switches to activate accessories you install) and an optional 12-inch vertical touchscreen, the Ram 2500 truly exists in a class of one. No other HD pickup comes close.

Performance

9/ 10

The Ram 2500 offers two pairs of engines and transmissions in either rear-wheel drive (RWD) or 4-wheel drive (4WD) with an electronic low-range transfer case. The 6.4-liter Hemi V8 is a sweet-sounding brute, with 410 horsepower and 429 pound-feet of torque. It’s hooked up to a smooth-shifting 8-speed automatic. That’s the combo we last tested on the previous-generation Ram 2500 Power Wagon, and it’s still a perfect combo. These gasoline V8 trims carry the highest payloads—up to 4,380 pounds on RWD Regular cab models. Every 2500 with the V8, except the Power Wagon, can also tow a minimum of 16,110 pounds. Maximum towing capacity is 17,350 pounds for a RWD 2500 with the Regular cab.

I tested the diesel, which packs a 6.7-liter Cummins inline-six with a turbocharger the size of my head and a radiator fan the size of a home ceiling fan. It also packs 370 hp and 850 lb-ft of torque. In this configuration, the Ram 2500 can tow up to 19,780 pounds and haul up to 3,060 pounds of payload. Choosing the ultra-lux Mega Cab nets significantly reduced capacity, but you’ll be sitting in a diesel-powered 5-star hotel room.

Acceleration is lazy, as expected, yet when the hammer’s down, the Ram 2500 is unexpectedly quick to merge on the highway—the engine's redline is just over 3,000 rpm. It sounds like a school bus under load and will shake the cab—and your head like a bobble doll—at every ignition start and stop. The steering is loose and slow, the ride decent but absolutely brittle compared to that of the Ram 1500, which handles like a genuine large car. There’s no such precision with the Ram 2500’s controls—this is a truck with cold tire pressures set to 65 psi. It’s meant to haul every single day and won’t ever get tired. That’s why you shouldn’t put up with a heavy-duty truck’s stiffness and lack of agility unless you’re regularly saddling it with weight.

But man, can you stop this train. The diesel’s exhaust brake acts as effectively as electric brake regeneration does in an EV. Flip a switch on the console and use the gear limiter switch on the steering wheel to downshift, and hang on. I slowed the truck from 70 mph to 25 down a steep hill without touching the brakes. This is a critical feature for hauling large trailers safely, and for maintenance, it extends your brake life. In ordinary situations, the Ram 2500 is quiet and comfy—I had no problem wanting to sit here for hundreds of miles.

The EPA doesn’t rate heavy-duty trucks for fuel economy, but I averaged close to 19 mpg over 515 mostly highway miles. That's pretty great if you ask me.

Form and Function

8/ 10

The Ram 2500 offers a choice of three cabs and two beds. Single cabs provide the most payload and seat three across with the fold-down center console, or two if you order it fixed. They pair with an 8-foot or 6-foot-4-inch bed on the base Tradesman and the second-tier Big Horn (aka Lone Star for trucks sold in Texas). All other trims come as a four-door Crew Cab with either bed. This is a significant upgrade, as the Ram 1500 doesn’t let you pair the long bed with the bigger cab. Opt for the Mega Cab, and rear passengers can recline and hide their heads behind a thick C-pillar, entirely shielding them from view. It’s an ultimate luxury that no other vehicle aside from a Rolls-Royce Phantom can match. The off-road Power Wagon comes one way, with a Crew Cab and the short bed.

I’d recommend springing for the power running boards and retractable tailgate step. This is a massive vehicle requiring a steep climb up, so make it easy on your precious joints. Even without the Mega Cab, the Crew Cab offers plenty of space in every direction. The driver can retract the power tailgate from the console and adjust the outer convex mirrors with a separate switch. My vehicle deleted the RamBox, which installs lockable storage bins on the outer flanks of the bed, to leave more room on the inside. That’s important if you plan to install a fifth-wheel hitch, where the holes come pre-drilled in the floor along with power and brake connections on the side. Be sure to order the spray-in bed liner and LED lighting. Models with the rear air suspension can drop the trailer hitch height a couple of inches with the flick of a switch and readjust at speed.

A 220-amp alternator comes standard, with the choice for dual alternators running at a combined 380 or 440 amps to support power-hungry equipment. What’s especially helpful on diesel models is a countdown timer on cold starts that shows the estimated wait for the glow plugs to reach optimum temperature. Parked overnight on 35-degree mornings, my truck took as long as 10 seconds to start. If it’s regularly chilly where you live, order the engine block heater and leave it plugged in overnight. Also helpful is an analog gauge for the Diesel Emissions Fluid (DEF) level, which on many diesel vehicles isn’t measured at all.

Tech Level

10/ 10

A 5-inch touchscreen comes standard, but you’ll at least want the 8.4-inch Uconnect upgrade that mercifully doesn’t require thousands in options. This is quick, logical, and high-res infotainment—it’s been like this on every Fiat Chrysler vehicle with this system for years, and it’s still superb. My only gripe is that the climate controls for the seats and steering wheel are hidden in the settings menu instead of using physical buttons, but otherwise, it’s a cinch to use. You can choose which shortcuts to display on the main menu (so technically, you can always show the heated seats) and install a few select apps.

But it’s the 12-inch display that feels like the future. Flanked by switches and knobs for the climate and stereo, what’s left on the screen makes everything so much easier in a vehicle this large. Maps are huge. You can have two tiles of information on the home screen. Adjusting settings for trailers and other features is a snap. The 360-degree cameras can show everything. You can use two rear-view cameras—one near the hitch and one mounted high on the cab—to see what you’re hooking up and if anything’s fallen out the back (luckily, the queen mattress I helped my friend move didn’t budge). You can shift the display to show more of the left or right side of the truck, so there’s no excuse for hopping curbs. The 12-inch screen is not overkill. It’s utterly useful, and no other truck offers such a well-executed infotainment system scaled to this size. Another large display in the instrument cluster duplicates many features from the main display.

Safety

9/ 10

The Ram 2500 will not be rated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, the 2020 Ram 1500 scored the uncommon Top Safety Pick+, the only large pickup to be awarded the honor because it aced all six crash tests along with tests for forward emergency braking and headlights. The 2020 Ram 1500 also scored 5 out of 5 stars overall from the NHTSA, with only 4 stars for the front passenger in a frontal collision. Most driver assists are optional, including blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist, adaptive cruise, and forward emergency braking (Ram says this emergency braking will function with a trailer attached). I think these features should be standard, but because the Ram 1500 performs so well in physical crash tests, I’m inclined to keep a high rating for this section.

Cost-Effectiveness

7/ 10

The 2020 Ram 2500 starts at $33,745 for a base-model Tradesman on steel wheels. Pricing quickly escalates from there. While most of these trucks sticker between 50 and 60 grand, my Limited 4WD Crew Cab ran $82,650 with destination. That includes extra options in the Level 1 Equipment Group (including an amazing 17-speaker stereo), sunroof, rear air suspension, and the Cummins diesel—a $9,100 option. This may sound insane, but even at this price, the Ram 2500 is competitive against Ford, Chevrolet, and GMC pickups. But the Ram 2500 feels more refined, luxurious, and innovative than all those other trucks. This is the HD pickup to buy.

Updated

Clifford Atiyeh is a reporter and photographer who has spent a good portion of his life driving cars he doesn't own. He is vice president of the New England Motor Press Association and committed to saving both manuals and old Volvos.

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