Rugged off-road fun meets pickup truck practicality. Has Jeep successfully delivered on their long-sought after re-vamp of a Wrangler-style truck? Find out.
Jeep devotees have been clamoring for the return of a Jeep truck since the discontinuation of the Comanche all the way back in 1992. In the intervening decades, the truck market has shifted toward bigger, more capable, more luxurious, and, perhaps most notably, more expensive pickups. It would seem time is ripe for a new Jeep truck. Yet the 2020 Jeep Gladiator re-enters a fairly sparse mid-size segment only to find stiffer than expected competition from a relaunched Ford Ranger, a thoroughly capable Chevy Colorado, and a perennial best-selling Toyota Tacoma.
What then sets the Gladiator apart, aside from its iconic pedigree? Is it just a stretched Wrangler with a bed tacked on the back end? Whether the Gladiator is actually just a truck-a-fied Wrangler depends heavily on where you’re standing.
Aesthetically, yes, the new Gladiator takes it ques from the current generation of Wranglers. But adding the cargo bed and bolting Wrangler-level off-road competency to a mid-size truck package gives the Gladiator its own unique character.
But what really distinguishes the Gladiator is its demeanor. More than the roughly classcomparable payload and towing, or its pretty standard-size bed, or even its better than average off-roading, it’s the Gladiator’s attitude that sets it apart.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator currently has one engine available, a 3.6-liter V-6, though rumors abound that a 3.0-liter diesel engine is under consideration for a 2020 release along with the possibility of a hybrid option in the not too distant future. The V6 is good for a full 285hps and 260-pound feet of torque. Which, in the lowest and therefore lightest trim level, gives the Gladiator a class leading 7650 lbs. of towing capacity along with a payload of 1600 lbs.
With the Gladiator you can get either a 6-speed manual or an 8-speed automatic transmission. The manual option yields an mpg rating of 16/23 and the automatic 17/22 mpg. You’ll also have the option of running with either rear wheel or four-wheel drive.
And since you’re definitely taking the Gladiator off the beaten path it’s good to know the clearance is 10” in the Sport and Overland versions and a full 11” in the Rubicon. Additionally, the Sport and Overland provide an approach angle of 40.8° and a departure of 25° while the Rubicon gives you a 43.4° approach and a 26° departure.
|Trim Level||Clearance||Approach Angle||Departure Angle|
Off-roading with the Gladiator isn’t just enabled by its dimensions, it also gets dedicated off-road components as part of Jeep’s Command-Trac 4WD package. Here you’ll get a 2.71:1 gear ratio, 31-inch tires, and skid plates (which, trust us, you’ll be needing).
The bed on the Gladiator is only 5ft. but that’s with four doors and in line with the Ranger and Colorado crew cab options.
In case you’ve missed the memo, the real reason to buy in the Gladiator over the Ranger or Tacoma is for the Jeep’s off-road prowess. This isn’t to say that its competitors aren’t pretty close in this regard, because they are, sometimes surprisingly so. But the Gladiator is dedicated to the rough and tumble in ways those other trucks just aren’t.
The Jeep’s Command-Trac system grants the Sport and Overland versions a 2-speed transfer case. The Rubicon gets the Rock-Trac 4×4 system that upgrades to Fox shock absorbers, Tru-lock locking front and rear differentials, and an electronic disconnecting sway bar. All this adds up to some serious off-road credentials. There’s even an optional front-view self-cleaning camera so you can keep a close eye on whatever rock or boulder you’re trying to climb.
Though the Gladiator is running with two more cylinders than the Ford Ranger, it’s the Ranger’s turbo’d 4-cylinder engine providing the punchier acceleration. While you’re not getting into a Gladiator with the prospect of street racing, this sluggishness contrasts with its off-road toughness.
The Gladiator feels more solid on pavement than the Wrangler thanks to the extended wheelbase. Yet the Gladiator still feels squirrelly in comparison to either the Ranger or Colorado. This is due in equal parts to the vague steering and the dedicated the off-road tires of our test version. In fact, the salesperson said the stock tires from Jeep looked so ridiculously out of character they didn’t bother putting it in the showroom before swapping them out for something beefier.
While the Gladiator isn’t the smoothest of rides around town, but this changes on unpaved roads. The same extended wheel-base and the off-road tuned suspension smooth out rough, undulating roads. When the Wrangler might otherwise be tossing you into the air (remember to buckle-up!), the Gladiator provides a gentler ride.
Comfort?! In a Jeep?! Sure, Jeeps are marketed as semi-serious off-road capable vehicles, a rough ride would seem priced in. But the Gladiator is a modern machine and while it’s no luxury sedan there is an expectation that it won’t be jarring your fillings loose either. Indeed, the Gladiator’s highway ride is smooth enough, but, as noted above, its off-road where you get the most bang-for-your-buck. On unpaved roads the Gladiator smooths out bumps and dips well, even at relatively low speeds.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator borrows nearly all of its dash components from the Wrangler for its interior trim. And like the Wrangler, the Gladiator plants the dash and instrument panels up close. The high, upright driving position also feels distinctly Jeep-like. The quality of materials in the Gladiator are nice, a hair above those of the Ranger or Colorado.
While not as cushy as the Ranger’s front seats the Gladiator isn’t bad either and are available with heating and cooling options. The rear seats are actually roomier than the competition, thanks in part to the long wheelbase. You can put a six-foot passenger behind a six-foot driver without either having to compromise on leg room.
One thing you won’t be getting in your Gladiator are power seats. Since Jeep assumes, rightly, that you’ll want to be fording up to 30 inches of water, they made sure you won’t have to worry about soaking your gear in the process. The push button start is waterproofed, in case you were wondering.
I mention these considerations because they align with the Gladiator’s overall design philosophy: be ready to tackle (almost) anything and look good doing it. See exhibit one, the removable roof and doors and the fold down windshield. Just try driving the Gladiator topless without the wind plastering a huge grin across your face. It simply cannot be done. You also can’t do this in either the Colorado, Tacoma, or Ranger.
The Gladiator starts out with its Sport trim, which skips on nearly everything but cruise-control and a rear-view camera. The Sport S bumps you up to a minimum of power windows, options for either tow package, the Trailer-tow or Max-tow, and the Uconnect infotainment system with a 7-inch touch screen.
The Overland trim features 18” wheels, USB ports for passengers, LED footwell lighting, automatic headlights, and 110-volt outlet in the center console.
The Rubicon is the most off-road focused of all the trim levels. Here you’ll get 11” clearance and 33” tires along with a new transfer case, locking front and rear differentials, Fox shocks, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, and skid plates.
Soft and hard tops are available across the trim levels.
The FCA Uconnect system is arguably the current gold standard among infotainment systems. The layout is intuitive, the Bluetooth sync is easy, and the option of Apple Carplay or Android Auto makes for seamless connectivity. A nice added feature for the Gladiator is the off-road options including a display for your pitch and roll angles. Best for when you’re clambering for rocks or mounting steep grades.
While you won’t get all the options showcased at this year’s Easter Jeep Safari Concepts event there are over 200 Mopar parts already available for you to customize your Gladiator to your heart’s content.
Here’s where the competition gets fierce for the Gladiator. While the Ranger, Colorado and Tacoma can’t quite match the Jeep in terms of either off-road ability or cool factor, they are all considerably cheaper.
The average Gladiator is currently leaving the dealership at around $56,000. Now you can start out at the Gladiator Sport and skimp on the air conditioning (the roof does come off after all) for just over $33,000. While higher trim levels in competing vehicles can get close to the $43,000 MSRP of the Rubicon, they don’t quite encourage the kind of endless dealer upgrades that the Gladiator does (recall those off-road tires).
Jeep has given the masses what they’ve asked for, a proper pickup version of their beloved Wrangler. The Gladiator doesn’t quite blow the doors off the competition. Yes, its off-roading closely edges out the Ranger and Tacoma, and its towing is a notch above the rest of the segment. But these wins may not even out once you factor in the differences in price.
So what then are you getting when you pick the 2020 Jeep Gladiator over the Ford Ranger or Chevy Colorado? Attitude. Panache. Style in spades. With the top and doors off and the windshield folded down the Gladiator looks more rugged than Russel Crowe’s stubble. You will not look cooler or feel cooler in any mid-size pickup than rolling in a Gladiator.
Does Jeep have a new hit on its hands with the Gladiator? Let us know if you think Jeep delivered on expectations in the comments!