What’s Best: Authentic utility and off road performance.
What’s Worst: The diesel engine isn’t available until 2020.
SACRAMENTO, CA – Following the success of the all-new Wrangler, Jeep’s brought to market their first pickup in nearly thirty years. While the name Gladiator comes from Jeep’s iconic truck from the sixties, much of this new Jeep is based on the Wrangler, but yet it’s a completely different animal.
It’s unmistakably a Jeep, with the company’s trademark seven-slot grille and a Trail Rated badge that hints at its off-road chops. Gladiator adds mid-sized pickup versatility to the Jeep lineup, also making it a compelling alternative in the segment.
Gladiator is significantly larger than any Wrangler Unlimited four-door. It retains its traditional body-on-frame architecture, but rides on a 29-inch longer wheelbase, and is 31 inches longer overall than its cousin. The Wrangler’s suspension design carries over, but the frame is new from the B-pillar rearward, and the driveshaft, exhaust, brake lines, and fuel lines had to be lengthened to accommodate the longer wheelbase.
Unlike Wrangler, the spare tire rides underneath the five-foot bed, with enough clearance for a 35-inch tire, which is the tire size of choice for many Jeep buyers.
The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 also carries over from Wrangler, producing a respectable 285 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque, with your choice of a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. The automatic is a $1,595 option.
While the excellent turbocharged four-cylinder of the Wrangler is not available in the Gladiator, there is an interesting engine option coming next year: a three-litre, turbocharged, diesel V6. Jeep says that when it becomes available in 2020, it will produce 260 horsepower and a scene-stealing 442 pounds-feet of torque. The diesel will be available with the automatic only, as that transmission is rated to handle all of that torque.
Gladiator retains most of the looks of the Wrangler, but there’s one subtle difference up front and you’ll notice it if you care about such things. The grille openings are wider on the Gladiator’s face to accommodate the cooling demands of towing.
Also carrying over from Wrangler are the innovative elements that Jeep drivers appreciate. The doors are removable, you can still fold down the windscreen, and there are three interesting roof options, which makes the Gladiator the only open-air mid-size pickup truck available today.
You can order your Gladiator with the Rubicon trim, which provides for legendary off-road performance. Rubicon includes Fox dampers, cab and bed rock rails, a forward view camera, uConnect with Off Road Pages data displays, a sway bar disconnect which allows more suspension travel, better crawl ratio, skid plates, tow hooks, a unique hood, and standard 33-inch Falken off-road tires.
Only slightly less capable than Wrangler, the Gladiator met all of Jeep’s engineering-based standards for the Trail Rated badge and has already traversed the Rubicon Trail in development testing.
In Canada, the Gladiator will be available in Sport S, Overland, and Rubicon trim levels, with pricing starting at $45,495, $49,495, and $52,495 respectively. Effectively, a Gladiator Rubicon will cost you $2,500 more than a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.
Of course, the Gladiator is all about the functionality of that five-foot bed and Jeep didn’t skimp on its development. The tailgate has three positions and is damped for controlled lowering, the bed has a host of tie downs, as well as lighting, and an optional 3-prong 115-volt power port.
Naturally, Jeep offers tonneau cover and bedliner options, plus, the cargo carrying options are near endless, as well. From Mopar, you can order carriers for every kind of sporting equipment imaginable, from bicycles to kayaks, as well as secure in-bed storage systems.
Gladiator has a maximum 725 kilogram (1,600 pounds) payload capacity and a maximum tow rating of 3,400 kilograms (7,650 pounds). If you’re planning to tow near maximum capacity with your Gladiator, you may wish to hold out for the diesel where you may find the additional 180 lb-ft of torque helpful.
While the Gladiator easily pulled a modern, 22-foot wakeboard boat, the Pentastar V6 had to work a little overtime. Unlike other trucks, there’s no need to hit a switch for tow mode because the Gladiator recognizes that it’s towing and holds gears for better acceleration while pulling the additional weight of the trailer.
Inside, the Gladiator’s front row is effectively identical to Wrangler with its trademark Jeep styling and two choices for the company’s excellent, fourth generation, uConnect infotainment system. The second row is where the magic happens, as they say. The seats fold up and out of the way, creating a load floor. As well, there is optional, secure under seat storage (which uses the same key as the glove box) for those occasions where you’ve left the doors or roof at home. One of the more interesting options is a wireless speaker for the Gladiator’s sound system.
With anything Jeep, many owners customize their vehicles and Mopar has their bases covered with a range of enhancements. Most of Mopar’s parts offerings are available immediately, so you can tweak your Jeep as soon as you take delivery of your Gladiator. Plus, they’re engineered and developed by the company, so they’re OEM quality and haven’t cut any corners, like some aftermarket parts.
There are too many Mopar parts and packages to list, but if you plan to do some off-road driving, consider the two-inch lift kit, off-road LED lights (5-inch and 7-inch sizes are available), and the 35-inch tires on beadlock wheels.
Wrangler makes a strong case for being the ultimate urban assault vehicle for its ability to nullify the obstacles that cities present, such as potholes, curbs, and speed bumps, but this is where the Gladiator excels. On the road, the comfort of the longer wheelbase is immediately apparent and its on-road manners are significantly more composed.
It’s no Chrysler 300, but the ride is more controlled and uneven road surfaces don’t translate into passenger disturbances, as they occasionally do in a Wrangler. Otherwise, the Gladiator behaves much like a Wrangler with its tall center of gravity and its slower, off-road oriented steering ratio.
Speaking of which, Gladiator shines with its off-road prowess, with the ability to conquer rocks, mud, fording of water, and ascents and descents of any kind. In Rubicon trim, this kind of hardcore off-roading is a piece of cake for the Gladiator.
While Jeep loyalists have been asking for a pickup for a long time, the Gladiator seems to fill a niche in the mid-sized truck segment. The addition of the bed and its many options gives the Gladiator significantly more real-world usability and versatility compared to the Wrangler. On the other hand, mid-sized truck buyers who choose the Gladiator over the more traditional competition will enjoy that unique, authentic Jeep character, as well as legitimate off-road capabilities.
Given that there hasn’t been a Jeep pickup available in almost three decades, there must be years of suppressed demand for the Gladiator and this new pickup looks poised to carve out a significant market share in the mid-sized truck market.