He Said/She Said: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
It’s been a long time coming, but Jeep has made good on its promise of a proper Wrangler pickup.
Lacey Elliott: If you haven’t heard of the Gladiator, you most likely are not into trucks and, certainly, aren’t into Jeeps. But trucks are the bestselling vehicles in Canada and Jeep is one of the most recognizable brands in the country. So, if the Jeep Gladiator isn’t on your radar, you’re in the minority.
The Gladiator is a Jeep that is part pickup, but after spending a week behind the wheel I think the correct descriptor might just be a pickup that is part Jeep. With the features that make trucks so popular mixed with Jeep off-road DNA, the result caught me completely off guard.
Dan Heyman: Oh, it was on my radar, all right. Even though I’m not your typical “Jeep guy” in that I don’t emerge from every drive with mud caked on my dungarees and a door removal tool in my hand, I’ve been very much looking forward to the Gladiator. There is just so much to get excited for when a cultural icon like this gets such a drastic modification. Not to mention one that people have been pining for, for so long that it seems there are more aftermarket companies that build pickup beds for Wranglers than there are that build lift kits and winch kits. This is a red-letter time in the world of Wrangler, and I’m glad to be on the ground floor of it all.
LE: Take a look at this Jeep Gladiator head-on and you will mistake it for a 2020 Jeep Wrangler. The iconic 7-slat front grille and hood clamps are undeniably Jeep. The Gladiator I drove has a slightly wider mesh air intake for better cooling to supplement the increase in towing capacity. In fact, it has best-in-class towing and payload. We’ll dig deeper into that when I get this bad boy on the road.
The Rubicon name is emblazoned on the hood and the Wrangler styling is imitated all the way to the back edge of the front doors. But, from the rear doors to the tailgate it’s all-new.
It has a five-foot bed and the wheelbase is 31-inches longer than the four-door Wrangler.
Comparing this Gladiator to other trucks in its class stops when you climb inside. If you are looking for something to take to a job site, this Gladiator is missing a lot of storage for papers, a wallet, laptops, etc. In fact, it has no storage at all in the centre console for a small wallet or purse. There are only a couple of average-sized cup holders. Unfortunately, the glove box is also very tiny and won’t be much help for storage either.
Though it might be missing out on storage for your office supplies, the Gladiator makes up for that with lots of other clever storage features inside the cabin. For example, under the rear seats are small storage compartments for some basic tools.
DH: I concur; there’s a lot of storage missing from inside the Gladiator but make no mistake: far as I’m concerned, this is no work truck and isn’t trying to be. Yes; the payload and tow figures, which we’ll get to in a minute are impressive, but they’re there to show the folks Jeep thinks will be buying a Gladiator that it will have no problem towing their Ski-Doos or hauling their dirt bikes. Heck, there are even some imprints that look like dirt bike tire treads embedded in the front wall of the bed, because that’s where you’re supposed to place your bike’s tire.
This is a lifestyle vehicle, and that’s why our tester’s bright red paint and black wheels shod with big, bulky tires is oh-so-perfect, and had my two-year-old daughter affectionately referring to it as “the monster truck”. The big overhang over the rear wheels is a little much, however, and it becomes hard not to glare at it when viewing the Gladiator in profile.
Indeed, I’m fairly certain that Gladiator buyers wouldn’t have the interior any other way; keep the window controls mounted to the centre stack (like the Wrangler, the Gladiator has removable doors), keep it all upright, keep the vents round and the controls blocky. Am I nervous at the lack of pretty much any dash surface between the windshield and my face? Nah, and at least the wheel telescopes. Do I wish there was maybe a little more legroom up front? Sure. I guess. Rear seats are good, though – surprisingly roomy, in fact, but minus a flat load floor – and headroom will never be an issue. No cause for concern when it comes to interior roominess, that’s for sure.
ON THE ROAD
LE: Gladiator Chief Engineer Peter Milosavlevski came to the project after working on Ram pickups, bringing a wealth of knowledge and direction to the design team. To be considered a real contender in this category, the team had to strike a balance between a comfortable ride that people now expect from today’s pickups and a class-leading towing capacity of 3,470kg (7,650lbs).
Though the Gladiator looks almost identical to its Wrangler sibling, believe it or not, the truck has some similarities to its cousin, the Ram 1500. Both have a five-link rear suspension, which delivers a very comfortable ride for all passengers on board.
Though some Jeep Wranglers are able to tow a light load, this is the first one that people will actually WANT to pull a trailer with. Choose the Gladiator Sport with the automatic transmission and $500 tow package that will deliver an impressive towing capacity.
Of course, Jeep owners will want to get this thing dirty. The Rubicon comes with a 4:1 low-range transfer case, raised suspension and front- and rear electronic-locking differentials.
Keep in mind that this truck is a lot longer than the two-door Wrangler so it has more overhang behind the rear axle. To combat that, Jeep has included rock rails under the trailing edge of the bed.
Because of the slightly longer wheelbase when compared to the Wrangler, the Gladiator delivers a smoother ride. I can confidently say that it is the smoothest-riding solid axle Jeep on the road today. And because of the heavy-duty rear suspension, the body roll is minimal.
I don’t think anyone has ever bought a Jeep for its comfortable ride, but this one is all right. If comfort is more what you are after, then you might want to consider more of an SUV like the Grand Cherokee. It’s built with more insulation and a better suspension to improve the overall ride quality.
The brakes feel heavy when stopping quickly, but they are smoother than what I felt in the Wrangler.
Acceleration is nothing to get excited about, as most other trucks in this segment are faster. The 3.6L V6 moves the Gladiator from 0 to 100km/h in 7.2 seconds. Honestly though, when driving a truck, who needs it to be faster? For normal day-to-day driving, the engine is powerful enough. Yes, you can find more power elsewhere, but when you’re driving this Jeep, you’ll think: who cares?
The eight-speed automatic is adequate and does a good job of finding the right gear when you need it. True Jeep lovers will be elated to know that a real 6-speed manual is also available.
DH: Gonna have to fight you on that one, Lacey. In Rubicon form – especially on the highway – the Gladiator may feel a slight bit better thanks to the longer wheelbase (which is longer not only than the two-door, but the four-door Unlimited model as well), but that feeling is minimal. Five-link rear-end or no, I wouldn’t say that this is a vehicle that makes highway driving easy. It’s bouncy, the big tires are loud and while they tried to streamline things when they released the latest Wrangler, this is still a boxy shape that’s gonna sledgehammer the air ahead as opposed to slice through it.
You are right, however, Lacey: Wranglers and their variants aren’t ever going to be highway stars, but I may have expected a little more from the Gladiator thanks to its pickup connection. Body roll minimal? Not so sure I’d go that far, nor would I say a similar thing for the dive it displays under hard braking.
Having said that: I’ve also sampled the Overland version, which is much less hardcore. It’s the one I’d go with if I were to be doing more highway hauling thanks to its much more relaxed chassis settings and wheel and tire choices.
In the right conditions, though, that Rubicon feels absolutely unstoppable.
As you can see from the pictures I was driving in some pretty snowy climes and this baby just trampled over any snow drift I threw at it and crunched the compact stuff with ease. I found myself looking for evermore challenging terrain in which to get the Gladiator stuck and it would have none of it. Sure; I had to occasionally lock it into four-low in order to get going from stop on an incline, but otherwise it was all Jeep, all the time. Best part is that after doing some even more hardcore off-roading during the launch of the Gladiator last year, I know that the snow drifts I was putting it through don’t even scratch the surface of what the Rubicon is capable of.
A quick note on capability: while the Gladiator’s five-foot bed is your only option, I do like – and did make use of – the way the tailgate can act as a bit of a bed extender. By locking its flexible arms against posts either side of the bed, its stays locked at a 45-degree angle, allowing larger items – remember those dirt bikes? – to be loaded in.
I like the engine, too. The 3.6L Pentastar V6 under the Gladiator’s exterior-latched hood serves duty in many FCA products, and it’s well-suited for the Gladiator. Unlike the ride, the power delivery is pretty smooth and there’s enough grunt to ensure that all that traction the Gladiator is capable of is put to good use. While the Wrangler is available with the V6 and two other engine choices, Jeep knows that in order for the Gladiator to tow and haul like it does, it comes only with the V6. A two-door Gladiator with the turbo four, however, would be an interesting proposition aside from the fact that the weight saved by lopping off two doors, the rear seats and a bunch of the cockpit could be translated to even more towing and hauling prowess, meaning the V6 would probably still be the first choice for many.
SAFETY & TECHNOLOGY
LE: Exclusive to the Gladiator Rubicon model is a forward-facing camera designed for off-roading, so you can easily see obstructions in front of you. Crawling through lots of mud? Not an issue. Simply mist the lens from inside the truck to clean it.
One option that would be a definite yes for me at $695 is the upgraded stereo system. This price includes a better subwoofer as well as a portable Bluetooth speaker docked behind the rear seat. It can even be removed and used anywhere that this Jeep will take you.
All models come with a touchscreen. You will have to upgrade to the larger 7.0-inch screen if you want Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. A must for Canadians is the cold weather package that adds heated front seats and a heated steering wheel.
The Gladiator has an available blind spot monitor, rear cross traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
Since this is a new vehicle, at the time of writing the Gladiator had not yet received crash ratings by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.
How about the big elephant in the room? This IS a Jeep after all. And isn’t one of the best things about driving a Jeep the ability to go topless?
For $2,395 on the Sport, you can have the Dual Top Group that gives you the Freedom Top hardtop and few other features like a panel storage bag and Sunrider Soft Top.
Prices put this Jeep truck in the premium range; starting at $47,245 for the base Sport S model and 6-speed manual or $49,040 with the 8-speed automatic transmission. You can even spend well above the $54,245 for the top Rubicon if you start to add on options. With all the options I mentioned above, as well as a spray in bed-liner and a forward-facing TrailCam off-road camera, the Gladiator I drove had an MSRP of $69,040.
DH: Having done a bunch of off-roading, I can say that the forward-facing camera is a real gem to have at your disposal. Its tilted so that you’re never just staring at blue sky as you crest a steep berm. Looking at the centre screen instead of ahead of you does take some getting used to, however.
The backup cam, however, is a bit of a different story. It juts out from the rear tailgate like a pimple on a prom date and there’s very little to protect it from the elements. Almost every time I selected reverse during my test, it was clouded over and unusable and there’s no spray for it like there is the front camera.
I do agree with Lacey on the sound system; the upgrade is worth it and it compliments the Uconnect infotainment system, which remains one of the absolute best in the biz. It’s big, clear, intuitive and customizable and there’s really little else you could ask for, especially now that it gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Holy moly is it expensive, though. I can’t tell you how many times I had someone go “really? 70 grand for a Jeep?” I would then tell then that “things are priced at what people are willing to pay”, but that is a lot of coin for a Wrangler pickup, to be sure; a Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon starts at about six grand under what the Gladiator Rubicon starts at, which is some food for thought to be sure.
LE: The Gladiator has off-road capability forged from generations of Jeep development. When properly equipped, it delivers best-in-class towing and it’s the only ‘truck’ that has a removable roof and doors. How awesome is that?
DH: I’m not so bent out of shape about the handling, though. I do like how Jeep has taken the pickup game into the lifestyle sphere, precisely around the time the rest of the competition is really shoring up their line-ups in this regard. More and more folks are buying fewer cars, meaning vehicles like this – vehicles like the Ford Ranger, the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado — have to BE more than the sum of their parts. For all intents and purposes, while the Gladiator’s “parts” are a great mix – especially at the Rubicon level – it maintains a certain je ne sais quoi that keeps you coming back for more. It’s been a long time coming, but Jeep has made good on its promise of a proper Wrangler pickup.