Wrangler style, pickup capabilities, Jeep cool. For a long time, midsize trucks weren't hip. Before the first factory-built Toyota Tacoma TRDs or Chevrolet Colorado ZR2s, this class of trucks were merely basic, unappreciated transportation their promises modest but earnest. There was no glamor to midsize trucks.
That isn't the case anymore, and the new star among midsize truck trends is the Jeep Gladiator. For years, fans had begged for Jeep to turn the Wrangler into a pickup, but other than a brief run of specially-made models in the 1980s, those calls went unanswered - until last year. That's when Jeep finally gave us the midsize pickup that had been the fantasy of so many.
The Gladiator isn't just a Wrangler with a bed instead of a back seat. Jeep did some thorough reengineering to ensure the Gladiator is up to the task of towing and hauling, including lengthening the wheelbase by nearly 20 inches compared to a four-door Wrangler. This explains the rather odd proportions: looking at one of these trucks, you get the impression that it's too long for how wide it is.
The rest of the styling more than makes up this minor shortcoming. Up front, the classic seven-slot grille is bookended by two equally-classic round headlights. The fenders and bumpers aren't flush with the body but rather abut the quarter-panels and fascia surrounds. Despite its awkward length, the Gladiator looks every bit as ready for adventure as a Wrangler, if not more so.
Gladiator goes diesel. For 2021, a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 has been made available for the first time. This engine features nearly as much horsepower as the gas 3.6-liter V-6 - 260 horses, to be precise - but delivers a full 442 lb-ft of torque. While moving up to 5,000 pounds of anything is never easy, that torque makes it look like easy work. From 1,400 rpm and on, all that torque is at the bidding of your right foot.
The diesel is limited to the eight-speed automatic that Jeep's parent company has been using in all its products for some years now. The shifts are smooth and crisp; it's clear Jeep has done a thorough job tuning this gearbox appropriately.
Oddly enough, the diesel doesn't tow as well as the gas motor: 6,500 pounds for the diesel versus 7,650 pounds with the gas engine. Payload also suffers, maxing out at 1,325 pounds. The gas V-6 has a 1.700-pound maximum payload rating. the figures for the gas engine are right at the top of the class.
The standard 3.6-liter V-6 doesn't need an introduction at this point. For the last 10 years it has been employed in various vehicles ranging from the Ram pickup to the Dodge Journey and everything in between. Part of why it was used so extensively is its inherent affability - this engine hasn't met a Chrysler product it hasn't liked. In the Gladiator, it makes 262 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque.
Smooth and unruffled, the V-6 quickly disappears as white noise behind the Gladiator's more noticeable attributes. Road noise permeates the cabin constantly at most speeds. The suspension is easily upset by abrupt bumps like expansion joints - a classic issue with Wranglers, though the Gladiator's longer wheelbase does make this less of an issue than it is on a two-door Wrangler. On-road handling is vague at best.
Off-road, though, the Gladiator shines. Its length keeps it from the expert-grade technical trails a Wrangler can travel, but otherwise, this is an off-roader through and through. In Rubicon form, it will crawl over all manner of boulders; in Mohave trim, it will run across the desert with a Ford Raptor. Special shocks, all-terrain tires, and mild but effective factory lifts make these two trims the best options for those seeking their thrills beyond the pavement.
Attractive, old-school cabin. Inside the truck, Jeep designers sourced all they needed from the Wrangler's parts bin. The bluff, old-school dash fills in the black spaces between the air vents with slabs of body-color trim; it makes for an appealing contrast to the black plastic on the top and bottom of the dashboard. Lots of buttons get demarcated by silver trim. Two traditional gearshifts - one for the transmission and the other for the four-wheel-drive system - poke out of a low console.
None of this is groundbreaking; Jeep has been careful not to alienate fans by subtly merging the traditional bits of the interior with modern touches. Behind the familiar look and layout lies technology like the Uconnect 4 infotainment system that comes with all but the base model and is housed in either a 7.0- or 8.4-inch touchscreen. The standard infotainment setup is a disappointing 5.0-inch screen with limited functions that we would avoid.
The Gladiator's long wheelbase affords much better rear legroom than a four-door Wrangler and trumps all of the competition as well. Its 38 inches beats out the crew cab versions of the Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Chevrolet Colorado. Even the Honda Ridgeline, which is more crossover than truck, can only must about 36.5 inches of rear legroom.
Expensive. Few creature comforts come standard on the Gladiator. Even power windows and locks aren't included in the base price. It's all part of the charade that this and the Wrangler are about austere capability. It's a good marketing tactic - and a great way to upsell buyers - but we're not fooled. The cheapest Gladiator runs for a steep $35,000 or so after destination charges.
If that price sounds high to you, well, you're right. $35,000 buys a well-equipped Toyota Tacoma, Ford Ranger, or Chevrolet Colorado, all of which begin at nearly $10,000 less than the Gladiator. These trucks - especially at a price point comparable to the Gladiator - also ride better, are more comfortable, and generally feel much more modern and refined. Unlike the Gladiator, these trucks aren't based on an anachronism, as delightful an anachronism the Wrangler might be.
Of course, those other trucks don't allow you to remove the roof and doors, fold down the windshield, or tackle boulder-strewn trails right out of the box (though we'd recommend the Rubicon model if that's your thing). While we can't really justify the Gladiator's pricing, which can cost as much as $65,000 with every option checked, we have massive appreciation for its capability. If that matters more than how livable it may be on a daily basis, this is the truck for you.
Final thoughts. The Gladiator is expensive and certainly isn't the most refined midsize truck, but it has an incomparable cool factor. Its styling, its capability, heritage, and unique ability to leave the doors and roof at home all lend this truck an aura that can't be matched by the mainstream competition.
It's been said that the heart has reasons that reason knows nothing of. That rings true with the Gladiator, a truck that, while sometimes difficult to live with, can spark far more joy of ownership than one of the more typical pickups. If that gets you excited, the Gladiator is the truck for you.
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