When it comes to being the ultimate dream machine, few can top the Jeep Wrangler. While the bedroom walls of teenagers everywhere might be adorned with pictures of McLaren, Ferrari, and even Bugatti models. These track focused weapons can only dream of going half the places a Jeep can go. From climbing every mountain to fording every stream, few can beat the insane capability that is wielded by a Jeep Wrangler. Can the bigger Jeep Gladiator still be a rugged billy goat on and off the road while still inspiring dreamers everywhere?
The Ultimate Erector Set:
The Gladiator is a return to form for Jeep, with the model being the first pickup that the brand has sold since the 1990s when the Cherokee based Comanche was axed. The Gladiator has a purposeful look, with the wide body and the upright styling all doing there part to make the truck handsome from a variety of angles. The front fascia cements its place as a Wrangler based creation, and is largely unchanged from what’s seen on its SUV cousin. However, move towards the rear of the truck, and you are greeted with a pickup bed that can actually haul a decent amount of cargo. Our Rubicon grade tester featured a folding tonneau cover to keep things secure, and it actually contrasted nicely with the sharp grey paint that Jeep calls StinGray (a clever play on words.)
Nothing else is like the Gladiator, and that even extends to the removable roof panels that are a Wrangler/Gladiator trademark. The Gladiator is the only convertible pickup on the market today, with the truck having three distinct pieces for buyers to remove. Our tester arrived with the optional three piece body color hardtop ($2,295) which matches the panels to the rest of the truck. The two front panels are light, and can be removed or installed with minimal effort. The big rear panel however is the heaviest of the three, and requires much more time to dislodge. Occupants have to first use the accompanying tool kit to remove several screws that help secure it to the body, before disconnecting a wire harness to make it ready for lifting. After those two items are done, you will need a strong friend to help carefully lift it off the truck, which is easier said than done. Do all that, and the reward will certainly be worth the effort, with the Gladiator offering one of the best open air experiences money can buy.
The doors can also be removed too, and it’s certainly an experience that you simply cannot find in other mid-size pickups when you go for a brief drive with them off. But with Emily requesting that the presence of doors was needed for her ride home from work, we got a chance to see just how long it would take to put all four of them back on with a stopwatch helping to track our progress. All told, it took about 25 minutes to put them all back on, with our progress only slowed by occasional encounters with stripped screw heads. This assembly operation also highlighted the importance of having a dedicated space in your garage for the panels especially the large rear one which did require a sizable amount of real estate in our wide garage.
Wrangler DNA Helps Create Stylish Interior:
Just like how the front of the Gladiator proudly flaunts it’s Wrangler roots, the interior too will be very familiar to those that have spent time behind the wheel of a Wrangler. Material quality is very impressive, with our Rubicon grade model featuring a leather wrapped steering wheel, heated leather seats, and splashes of soft touch materials. Metallic accents also spruce things up, and the vivid red contrast panel on the dashboard really makes the whole presentation pop. Our tester also featured FCA’s familiar Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system which has a crisp display, and is a smooth operator with minimal amounts of load time between various menus. It also comes with baked in navigation and emergency calling capability. The front seats are comfortable enough for long trips, but the cabin itself can be a bit tight for larger folks, and the triangular shaped rear doors can make entry and exit a bit awkward at times. The Gladiator is a very specialized truck, and if you can live with some of these minor quirks, you’ll come to love it.
The interior also comes with plenty of Easter eggs that help remind you of the Gladiator’s heritage, while also occasionally serving as functional parts of the truck. The little jeep on the windshield for example is FCAs way of making sure owners use factory approved windshield replacements, and we’ll admit it looks rather adorable seeing the little jeep look like it’s ready to climb up along the edge of the glass. We found at least seven of these visual delights during our time with the Gladiator, but Jeep reps assured us that many more are waiting to be found.
With all the Easter eggs and the sheer amount of effort that went into creating the cabin, it was a shame that the optional Jeep wireless speaker ($395) seemed like it got left in the dust. The idea behind the speaker is that you can detach it from your Jeep, and then pair it to your phone so you can take it with you on various adventures, or even have it provide the perfect soundtrack at the evening campfire. The unit has a very rugged plastic shell, and it’s very clear that it can survive a good deal of punishment. However, the actual task of pairing the speaker to your phone is way more frustrating than it should be. Part of this is the lack of an external screen that could show you a menu to access the Bluetooth, or a decal with rudimentary steps on the bottom. At this point we would say go into the owners manual, but to our bemusement, we discovered that it too didn’t offer pairing instructions.
Instead, we had to go to the world of Google, where we eventually found the correct procedure needed to pair it after a brief search. We have since made a video of how to do this, and have included it for your viewing pleasure at the end of this review. The cabin also lets in alot of road and wind noise, but we have experienced the same thing in the Wrangler, and that’s mainly due to the Gladiator’s rough and tumble intent versus any engineering deficit. In short, if you want extra sound deadening, then the plusher Grand Cherokee will be your cup of tea.
Rugged Hardware For Any Occasion:
The Gladiator recently received the 3.0 liter EcoDiesel V6 as part of a suite of updates for the 2021 model year, but our tester arrived with the default 3.6 liter Pentastar V6 which is the volume seller in the Jeep lineup. All trim levels come standard with a six speed manual gearbox, but buyers willing to shell out $1,795 can get the optional eight speed automatic which came bundled with our tester. Shifts from the eight speed are smooth and composed, with very minimal amounts of gear hunting.
The Gladiator (and the Wrangler) are designed to excel in off-road driving, and come equipped with a number of features to make it into the perfect trail buster. A true 4×4 system is along for the ride, and that allows the Gladiator to be highly adaptable for off-road work. Unlike newer systems that use an electronic dial to select various modes, the Gladiator comes with an old school mechanical lever selector that requires a good tug to access each of the available drive setups. With Michigan’s COVID related lock downs keeping us from going to a formal off-road park, we embarked on some light off-roading on a few desolate trails instead to get a taste of the Gladiator’s capability. All flavors of Gladiator are designed for off-roading, but the Rubicon builds on this with a wider front track, Fox monotube shocks, from and rear locking differentials, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, and a 4.10:1 drive ratio.
This all translates into a very capable instrument out on the trail, with the suspension delivering decent amounts of articulation and feedback. The Fox shocks also allow the Gladiator to have a smoother ride than its Wrangler cousin, which helped make things less jittery than past encounters with its SUV sibling. The Gladiator’s longer wheelbase also proved to not be much of a detriment, with the high ground clearance playing a key role in making sure it wasn’t a problem.
However, having big off-road tires and live axles does require a trade off, and that’s noticeable in on-road commuting. The big tires and the axles caused our tester to regularly wander about on the freeway which required constant course corrections to help keep the truck pointing straight. The V6 also likes to do the bulk of its work in the higher reaches of the rev band. That results in a distinct lack of low end torque, which in turn also affects the Gladiator’s fuel economy. The addition of the 3.0 liter EcoDiesel will undoubtedly address this weakness, and allow the truck to match up better with the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 diesel especially when that model is in Bison configuration. Another key rival is the Toyota Tacoma in TRD PRO trim. While the Tacoma does not have the ability to take its roof off like the Jeep, it does have better road manners, and it also gets better fuel economy.
Pricing for the 2020 Jeep Gladiator covers a wide swath of customers, with the base Sport model starting at $33,545 with a more luxury focused Overland variant starting st $40,395. Meanwhile the Rubicon and the recently launched Mojave can be considered the two range toppers in the lineup, with both of them having a base price of $43,875. Our Rubicon arrived with $10,745 worth of extras and accessories which helped raise the final sticker to an eye watering $61,115. This includes the $1,495 destination fee, and makes the Gladiator the priciest mid-size pickup in the segment when it is fully loaded. The base price also puts a Rubicon model within striking distance of a full-size Ram Rebel which competes in a different slice of the pickup market. In contrast, the $43,960 Tacoma TRD Pro and the $44,195 Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 have base MSRPs that are higher than the Jeep, but don’t generate nearly as much sticker shock when loaded with options.
At the end of the day, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is clearly targeted towards those that prefer to embrace the lifestyle, heritage, and unique aura that only a Jeep can provide. The ability to tow up to 4,000 lbs means that some Gladiators will be tasked with towing boats or even small RVs, and that should please buyers that have a sense of adventure, and want to have a vehicle that can revel in the overall spirit of exploration. As for being a dream machine? It has that expectation covered, with my cousin’s 12 year old daughter already eager to join the Jeep fold when she eventually starts her driving career.
Carl Malek has been an automotive journalist for over 10 years. First starting out as a freelance photographer before making the transition to writing during college, his work has appeared on numerous automotive forums as well as websites such as Autoshopper.com.
Carl is also a big fan of British vehicles with the bulk of his devotion going to the Morgan Motor Company as well as offerings from Lotus, MG, and Caterham. When he is not writing about automobiles, Carl enjoys spending time with his family and friends in the Metro Detroit area, as well as spending time with his adorable pets.