Wrangler in the front, pickup truck in the back. We Americans love to have our cake and eat it too. In the spirit of offering it all, Jeep has smashed together two beloved American vehicles: the Wrangler and the mid-size pickup truck. The result is the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator.
Though it comes with serious compromises, there’s no doubt that the Gladiator is unlike any other truck on the road. The front is nearly identical to the four-door Wrangler, and it can drop the roof like one, too. The Gladiator picks up three extra inches of leg room in the second row, though the doors remain unhelpfully narrow.
Tacked onto the rear is a 5-foot steel bed with a traditional tailgate. This puts the Gladiator in competition with other popular mid-size trucks like the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, and Toyota Tacoma.
Limited options. Speaking of the bed, it’s the only one you get – the Gladiator offers just the one cab and bed configuration. If you’re in the market for a longer bed or a shorter cab, you’ll have to look elsewhere.
Although a turbodiesel engine is on the way sometime in the next year, for now, the Gladiator gets a single engine choice as well. Luckily, the 285-horsepower V6 is capable enough, especially paired with the eight-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is standard).
All Gladiators come with a part-time all-wheel-drive system controlled by a lever next to the transmission. The lever is charming, but some rivals do have automatic systems.
The Gladiator’s hardware pairs with a Ram-derived suspension to help it tow up to 7,560 pounds. That’s good for the class, but it’s only possible on the lowest trim with a trailering package and the automatic transmission. Other configurations can have drastically lower hauling abilities, so shop carefully if you need to tow.
Best away from pavement. Although the Gladiator’s approach and departure angles aren’t quite as spectacular as the Wrangler’s, the pickup remains a remarkable off-road machine. Even base Gladiators get solid axles and high clearance, and an optional limited-slip rear differential grants even more traction.
For the trail connoisseur, the Rubicon trim offers a beefed up transfer case with a lower crawl speed, large off-road tires, locking differentials, and automatically disconnecting sway bars. There’s even an optional grille-mounted camera to scope out the trail ahead.
The trade-off is that the Gladiator is mediocre on actual roads. The ride is unpredictable and easily unsettled, and handling lacks precision. Additionally, the steering is light and requires frequent adjustments at speed.
Efficiency isn’t stellar either. The Gladiator’s current engine is EPA rated at 19 miles per gallon combined (with both the manual and the automatic), which pales in comparison to the Ford Ranger and its up to 23 mpg combined.
Scarce features, scarcer value. Although the Gladiator technically starts at just over $35,000, you’ll rarely see one for less than $40,000. This is because the base Gladiator is shockingly sparse – even power locks and windows are optional. Add in the alloy wheels, smartphone compatibility, and the automatic transmission, and price inflates in a hurry.
Safety isn’t a priority either. The Gladiator gets just four airbags, which is low for modern cars. Active safety is bundled into more packages, and modern features like automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control require multiple selections. That’s another ding for the Jeep, as Ford and Toyota make most of their safety tech standard across the board.
The price doesn’t buy much luxury, either. The Gladiator Overland can be equipped with leather upholstery and heated seats, but it never feels plush. The driveline tunnel takes up a good deal of space in the cabin, making seating feel narrow despite the Gladiator’s size.
Even in similar cab and bed configurations, rivals start thousands cheaper, and they’re often more comfortable for the price. The Jeep trades largely on its classic styling (and its ability to lose the roof). These virtues may be enough for some buyers, but utilitarian shoppers will find better value elsewhere.
Final thoughts. In the quest to marry two worlds, Jeep kept the primary elements intact. The brand’s legendary off-road prowess is still on display, and the 2020 Jeep Gladiator makes a functional and charismatic pickup.
But the compromises are many. Configuration is limited, comfort is so-so, and the on-road driving experience isn’t great. It all gets wrapped in a hefty price premium, made harder to swallow by limited standard features.
Will the Gladiator have its devotees? Yes, and deservedly so. But we don’t think the established segment heavyweights should be too worried.