Payne: The mighty Ram 2500 Power Wagon is a beast, on-road and off

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

You want a monster Hemi V-8-powered, stump-pulling Ram 1500 pickup truck? You wimp.

Real men and women drive Ram 2500 Power Wagons.

The heavy-duty version of Ram’s light-duty truck that arrived in my driveway could pull my house off its foundation — assuming I can get in it. I walked out into my driveway and looked up.

Dressed entirely in black and an alleged 6-foot-7 tall (it seemed taller than that next to my mere 6-foot-5 frame), the Power Wagon loomed over me with a face that would make Thanos flinch. It’s a beast. I think the designers took their inspiration from a humpback whale swallowing an ocean of krill.

I stepped up on the rocker rail, then hoisted myself into the passenger seat with the A-pillar handle. On the passenger side, the 5-foot-5 Mrs. Payne needed our roof ladder to get in.  

The 2500 reminded me of an older off-road Ram pickup — mega-modified with five-inch suspension lift and 38-inch tires — that dragged our Jeep Wrangler out of a ditch at the Mounds off-road park a few years back. But this beast doesn’t need after-market mods.

The Power Wagon comes from the manufacturer fully equipped to take on the outback. That’s the badge’s calling card, having carved out a new heavy-duty segment above and beyond famed light-duty performance trucks like the Ford Raptor, Chevy Silverado Z71 and sibling Ram Rebel. When a hammer isn’t enough, the Power Wagon offers a sledgehammer.

Ram’s crosstown rivals have followed suit with their own truncheons, the GMC Sierra AT4 and the Ford Super Duty Tremor.

Big 33-inch tires help take the 7,000-pound 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon off asphalt.

The Power Wagon stands tall with massive 33-inch Goodyear Wrangler DuraTrac tires inside swollen fender wells. They add additional ground clearance over the usual 30-inchers for a total of 14.2 inches. Armed with armadillo-like skid plates, the Power Wagon has a ridiculous front approach angle of 29 degrees (the iconic Jeep Wrangler Rubicon is 33) and is rated for wading through 30 inches of water.

The 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon is full of goodies like 12-inch screen, rotary shifter, and adaptive cruise control on the steering wheel.

Power Wagon is a truck nerd’s dream. Behold the twin locking-differentials, like a Jeep Rubicon's. There's a separate floor-mounted four-wheel-drive transfer case for low-speed rock crawling. And for when the going really gets tough, the 2500 adds an extra link to its upper axle mount — call it Articulink — which combines with electronically disconnecting front anti-roll bars to give the monster 26 inches of front-wheel articulation for crawling over rocks. Dude!

But all my wife and I needed to do was get some mulch, a basic pickup task.

That’s the quandary of the auto enthusiast. How much is enough? A sportscar-holic myself, I find a $30,000 Mazda MX-5 Miata plenty of enjoyment for a two-seat sports car. But if I had the coin to buy an $80,000, 495-horse Corvette C8? I’d buy even if I never took the thing to a track. I’d buy it because it exists.

When I drove up to English Gardens in the Power Wagon, a staffer’s jaw dropped.

“That’s a killer truck,” he said.

The side boxes on the 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon bed are great for storing tools.

We motorheads live or an invitation to talk power, which we did while loading 10 bags of mulch into the 6-foot-4 box. That’s right, this beast is taller than its bed is long.

Power Wagon shrugged off the added weight as we hustled back home. It can shoulder a payload of 1,510 pounds and tow 10,580 pounds. That tow number, however, isn’t anywhere close to the 2500 Heavy Duty’s 19,780-pound capability since Power Wagon has softer springs for playing off-road.

If you want mega-towing, get the Ram diesel. The Power Wagon’s more playful character means a 6.4-liter Hemi V-8 under the hood and a tailpipe the size of Alaskan pipeline. The big V-8 loves to run, and I was more than happy to give it the gas — WAUUUUUGHHH! — through Oakland County while drinking half the oil reserves of Texas. There’s a glut of crude during the coronavirus crisis so I did my part to draw it down.

Back at the ranch — well, cul-de-sac — we unloaded the mulch into a wheelbarrow that exposed one of the Power Wagon’s rare flaws: How to climb into the bed easily?

Chevy and GMC offer the best solution — a corner bumper-step. But this being the truck wars, it would be sacrilege to follow GM’s lead. Nossir. Ford has invented a sort of Noah’s staff that sprouts from the bumper to help owners into the bed. Cool, but wouldn’t a bumper step be easier? The Tesla Cybertruck will allegedly kneel in back to allow access.

Ram just ignores the idea altogether. Which means you’ll have to clamber up into this thing like your childhood bunk bed. The good news is the side-bed toolboxes remind you how clever Ram can be. They provide a place for tools so they don’t bounce around.

The posh interior of the 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon is the best in the business.

But the real show is inside, where Ram sports the best interior in truckdom. Like Tesla, the cabin is oriented around a huge 12-inch vertical screen that communicated the cabin’s larger refinement. Gears are accessed not by a steering-mounted stalk, but by a space-saving rotary dial. Back seats are massive — Lew Alcindor and Walt Chamberlain could play a comfortable game of cards back there — and there is more storage beneath the floor if needed.

The Ram is festooned with the latest electronics, from adaptive cruise-control to blind-spot assist to 360-degree surround camera.

The latter two are helpful since the Power Wagon is to urban areas what Moby Dick is to a pond. Too big.

I wandered over to Auto Europe to drop off wheels from one of my sports cars and treaded carefully lest I accidentally crush the odd Lotus Esprit or Mercedes Coupe in the parking lot. I picked up fast food from the Clarkston Culver’s and the person at the window looked up at me.

But Clarkston felt more comfortable than Birmingham: No gridded streets. No tight parking lots. Just miles of country road for opening up the big V-8, and farms and woods that need stuff loaded into the back.

When the urge hits and you want to go exploring, off-road parks like the Mounds aren’t too far away. Because you never know when some city slicker in a Jeep Wrangler might need a tow out of the mud with the Power Wagon’s 12,000-pound winch.

Positioned above light duty variants like the Ram Rebel and Ford Raptor, the 2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon is a heavy-duty beast.

2020 Ram 2500 Power Wagon

Vehicle type: Front-engine, four-wheel drive, 5-passenger, crew-cab pickup

Price: $55,045, including $1,695 destination charge ($69,890 as tested)

Powerplant: 6.4-liter Hemi V-8

Power: 410 horsepower, 429 pound-feet of torque

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Performance: 0-60 mph, 8.4 seconds (Car and Driver); towing, 10,580 pounds

Weight: 6,996 pounds 

Fuel economy: NA 

Report card

Highs: Rules the road; best interior in truckdom

Lows: Too big for urban America; drinks petrol

Overall: 3 stars

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at hpayne@detroitnews.com or Twitter @HenryEPayne.