We’ve had our share of exciting new vehicles lately.
Ones that drew crowds, from the Honda Civic Type R, to the Lexus LC500. Thing is, it’s usually of interest to a certain kind of buyer. The hi-po import guys for the Civic, the luxury buyers for the LC.
But with the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, we’ve had tons of interest – not just from Jeep loyalists – but folks from all different backgrounds and interests.
It’s the people’s vehicle! (Sorry VW)
The first thing that draws them in is the Gladiator’s exterior design. From the front, it’s pure Jeep – with the legendary seven-slot grille surrounded by familiar round headlights, flanked by driving lights perched atop squared-off fenders. It’s traditional, friendly, and rugged.
From the side, things get even more interesting. The four-door design is familiar, but what’s that behind it, a pickup bed? Yep. There hasn’t been a Jeep Pickup truck for nearly three decades, so if you’ve been waiting for one, here it is.
The roof line is pure Jeep, until it gets around the C-pillar which is a bit tall and rounded looking. Adding in the 5-foot bed makes for a much longer vehicle, with a wheelbase that’s over 19-inches longer (great for interior room) and overall 34 inches longer (not so great for parking and maneuvering). Being a Jeep, it also sits tall in the saddle with generous clearance for all sorts of off-roading that you might ask of it.
At the rear, squared off taillamps and a large, easily accessible bed make this a capable workhorse. Smart thinking includes under-rail bed lighting, an available covered external power source (400W 115-volt, three-prong) and strong integrated tie-downs. There’s also an available Trail Rail Cargo Management System that provides additional storage options to organize and secure cargo. You even get a little in-cab access with the power sliding rear window.
The Glad is more than a pickup, though. It’s the perfect warm-weather convertible!
Our tester featured a fully-removable hardtop, roof and doors. The front part above driver and passenger – Jeep calls them “Freedom Panels” are a simple T-top style affair – swing a few latches, and the tops pop out easily. The rest is not so easy, and requires special Torx bit tools, which are included in a nice little kit.
If you have the time and the patience, you can unbolt the rest of the top, remove the doors, and even fold the windshield forward. You can’t get a more open-air vehicle than that! One clever feature, under the rear seat, Jeep provides a holder for all the Torx bolts you’ll have to remove to go au naturel.
If you like open air, but don’t want to do a lot of Lego-like assembly, there’s also an available Sunrider soft top, which feature partial and full open top positions. Cool.
Luxury Cabin in the Woods
Inside, the Gladiator will be familiar to anyone who’s been a Wrangler lately. The driver is greeted by large round speedo and tach, with a driver assist display with digital temp and fuel displays, and the ability to call up other pertinent info. There’s a lot of thinking here too, the pushbutton ignition is waterproof – great if you’re going to do a lot of fjording streams or leaving you Jeep sans door and tops.
The heritage-design center stack puts everything at your fingertips. The optional 7-inch color touchscreen includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and while it’s not the largest screen we’ve seen, the graphics are crisp and clear. Housing the 4th generation of Jeep’s Uconnect system, it works beautifully.
Staying connected and charged is easy with two USB ports and a USB-C port up front and two in reach of occupants in the back seat. Need more juice? A 115-volt AC outlet is available to power select three-pronged home electronics.
Everything else seems logically laid out, with nice large knobs for info-tainment and climate control, and easy to decipher touch pads for other key features. At first, we wondered why the power window controls were there, but then we remembered the doors are removable.
Jeep loves to hide little “Easter Eggs” throughout the cabin to delight the owner. One example: the center employs real bolts on the shifter, grab handles and the infotainment screen’s frame to highlight genuine construction methods. Cool.
Storage is great with lots of cubbies throughout the cabin – except or the glove box which is surprisingly narrow.
Seating is a big win. You’ve got an upright seating position with a commanding view and supportive seats – great for those long overlanding trips or daily commute. The rear seats feature segment-leading rear legroom – thanks to that long wheelbase.
The rear seats are smart too. You can lock them in place to provide secure storage behind the seatbacks, fold them to provide a flat loading floor, or flip the seat bottoms up in “stadium” position, to give extra storage height, and access to the lockable storage bin with two different size doors, and removable dividers to provide up to five separate compartments. Another smart touch, the bins are lockable using the same key for the glove box and center console.
If you haven’t been in any Jeep in a while, you’ll be surprised by the performance. Under the familiar hood is a 3.6-liter V6 that puts out a strong 285 hp, and 260-lb.-ft of torque. Teamed up with an eight-speed automatic, the Gladiator pulls away strongly, and even loves to be revved to the redline. A 6-speed manual is also available or those who like to stir their own.
Considering it’s a big blocky body, tall, and carrying lots of 4×4 gear, the acceleration is impressive. If you’re looking for the ultimate in towing, you might want to opt for the new 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 with has 260 hp, and a massive 442 lb.-ft. of torque. With the oil-burner you’re looking at a best-in-class max towing capacity of 7,650 lbs.
That longer wheelbase really makes the Gladiator a cushy ride. Smooth, controlled, with none of the bounciness you might expect from a Wrangler-based vehicle. It also helps with handling, providing added stability that comes through as confidence. The steering is still a bit vague – there’s a lot of constant correcting at the wheel, but the longer wheelbase has tamed that as well.
One negative though – that same longer length that helps the ride makes this a big vehicle, and negotiating tight parking lots and the like takes a bit of care. That said, the tall height and excellent visibility, plus blind spot warning and rear cross traffic alert on our tester help you see where you’re going.
We didn’t get a chance to go off-road in our Gladiator, but based on the brand’s reputation, the Trail-Rated Badge on the side, and amazing equipment, including available Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4×4 systems, third-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, and segment-exclusive electronic sway-bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires, we’re confident that you can spec out a vehicle that will get you wherever you want to go –on the planet. Hey, it’s a Jeep.
Maximus Price? (Sorry, we had to get a least one Gladiator joke in there).
Pricing is really a matter of options – and how high you want to go. Our Gladiator 4×4 Sport started at an attractive $33,545. But loading it with options got it up to $50,480. Our Sport is the base model. You go up the ladder in gear to the Sport S at $36,745, Overland at $40,395 and top of the line Rubicon at $43,875. Loading up a Rubicon gets you close to an eye-watering $60,000.
Competitors would have to include Toyota’s Tacoma. Comparably equipped would come in at $43,000. The Tacoma is also seriously capable off-road, but the Gladiator is certainly more comfortable inside, with a nicer ride.
A loaded Honda Ridgeline would be about the same in price as the Tacoma, and it’s a plush ride, but you would lose out on the off-road capability. And to be honest, neither the Toy or the Honda have the Jeep’s Charisma – or its ability to be an open-air convertible.
Pickup truck, convertible, off-road weapon, and stylish icon – The Jeep Gladiator Sport does it all.
And does it all incredibly well.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.