A few months ago we finally got to get behind the wheel – at least for a day – the highly anticipated new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, a pickup from a company that for many years had been producing exclusively SUVs. Now we finally got the chance to drive the Gladiator for a longer period and really put the thing through its paces.
From the outside, The Jeep Gladiator is a mid-size pickup truck that nominally goes head-to-head with vehicles like the Ford Ranger, the Toyota Tacoma, the Chevrolet Colorado / GMC Canyon, the Nissan Frontier and to a lesser extent the Honda Ridgeline.
Now, yes, there are four doors and a box. But there the commonalities with the others pretty much end. The Jeep's doors are removable, the windshield folds down and the standard roof is made up of three panels that can be removed in no time. The playful and fun factor is light years distant from other models in this category.
Our tester, a Rubicon model, is also the most capable off-road mid-size truck around. It offers features that are similar to its sibling the Wrangler. The Rubicon is equipped with the Rock-Trac 4x4 system, which features third-generation Dana 44 front and rear heavy-duty axles with a 4-to-1 ratio ratio.
The 4.10-inch front and rear axle ratio is standard, as are the lockable Tru-Lok differentials. It offers improved articulation and full suspension travel with the help of an exclusive electronic disconnect anti-roll bar. No challenge will scare off a Rubicon.
The very square styling, the lights that literally protrude from the bodywork at the back and the fasteners for the hood, the long and narrow box – all of it gives you the impression of having bought a big, functional Lego toy. Naturally, being a true Jeep, the whole vehicle can be dismantled and you can ride it as a convertible without doors or windshield.
This is not runaway madness, however: its practical side has not been left behind. A powder-coated liner, box separator and optional soft top cover provide even more cargo options and improve durability.
Rubicon models have protective stone guards for the cab and body, and you can tow up to 7,650 lb. The full-size spare tire and its support are located under the body, behind the rear axle. The stand holds up to a 35-inch tire.
If you’ve driven a Wrangler recently, you’ll feel right at home in a Gladiator, which is heavily inspired by its SUV sibling. The presentation is a mix of streamlined purity and a vaguely retro vibe.
Functional features, including volume and climate-control knobs, device charging, connectivity ports, and engine stop/start controls are quickly recognizable and within reach.
The centre console houses the gear shifter, transfer case and parking brake (a good old hand-brake, just the way we like them). The exposed bolts on the dashboard add to the authenticity of this Jeep pickup.
The 7-inch Uconnect touchscreen is standard, with the Rubicon edition we drove getting an 8.4-inch screen. This 4th generation of this system improves user interface and system performance with faster boot times and better screen resolution.
All of the 2020 Gladiator's interior features smart storage solutions, including durable mesh pockets along the entire length of the doors and plenty of storage space for phones. An optional lockable bin provides secure storage space when the roof and doors are removed. The rear seats, which provide generous legroom, can be folded flat to access storage space at the rear of the cab and create a flat load floor for larger items.
The Gladiator comes with the company’s 3.6L Pentastar V6, which delivers 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. A 6-speed manual transmission is standard on all models, though for $1,595 more, you get an 8-speed automatic unit, which was what our tester had.
Next year, a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder diesel engine will be joining the family; it will deliver It will offer 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. Don’t look now or then for a 4-cylinder turbo in the Gladiator.
For those who intend to pull stuff, know that the Gladiator can tow 3,470 kg (3,175 with the Rubicon) and has a load capacity of 726 kg. FCA has indicated that the towing capacity of the diesel version will be around 11,000 pounds.
I’d be lying if I told you that the driving experience delivered by the Gladiator is anything exceptional. In fact, it handles comparably with a Jeep Wrangler, although there are some notable differences. The Gladiator is 78.7 cm longer than a Wrangler Unlimited with a wheelbase longer by 49.2 cm. These two factors alone contribute to a better stance on the road.
But not everything is perfect. For one, the steering isn’t very precise, and it’s necessary to correct the wheel at the slightest hole in the road. Taking a curve at a high speed could very conceivably make you feel nauseated, it feels so risky. The very aggressive off-road Falken tires on our Rubicon model are pretty loud on the road and the minimal soundproofing makes for a fairly noisy cabin. Then add the wind noise that comes with the non-aerodynamic profile of this mobile box with its vertical profile, not to mention the spaces between the removable roof panels.
In short, the Gladiator is a real Jeep, with everything that comes with it. Of course, most enthusiasts aren’t concerned about those driving details and consider them a part of the Jeep experience. They pay much more attention to off-road equipment and skills such as skid plates and the very fluid axle ratios, or the ability to move forward in 30 inches of water. Generous ground clearance and additional approach/departure angles help the Gladiator conquer unknown areas and further add to its charm.
Two things were clear at the end of our one-week test drive. Jeep will probably sell all the Gladiators in dealerships. This vehicle is fun, different, and offers a unique eye-catching style. But I would not own one, perhaps because I don’t fit the profile of a Jeep owner. I have the same relationship with the Gladiator like I have with Las Vegas - amazing place to visit, but I wouldn’t live there.
Off-road capabilities worthy of a Jeep
We like less
Typically Jeep driving dynamics
The straightness of the windshield makes it prone to chipping from flying stones