First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator, the new pickup truck from Jeep
When Jeep announced a pickup truck, most assumed it would be a Wrangler with a cargo bed. That isn't far off, but the Gladiator is a lot more than that. Now that we've had our hands on it, we can unequivocally say that this is a very Jeep pickup in every way.
If American vehicle brands, especially truck makers, have a trope, it's spouting numbers about their wares. Jeep isn't any different there, focusing its push for the new Gladiator pickup on phrases like "most capable" and "best-in-class." It's hard to blame the firm though, given the extreme capability the 2020 Gladiator claims. The Gladiator might look like a Wrangler, but comparing the puny towing and hauling capabilities of that SUV, the Gladiator is far more truck than it is SUV.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is a mid-sized pickup truck, competing against vehicles like the best-selling Toyota Tacoma and the Chevrolet Colorado. The Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 pounds (3,470 kg) and haul up to 1,600 pounds (726 kg) in its bed. Those numbers change some, depending on the trim point chosen, but even the Gladiator Rubicon, which has the lowest towing, can pull 7,000 lb (3,175 kg). That beats even the best-possible towing of the Tacoma by 200 lb (91 kg) and the more comparable Tacoma TRD Pro by 600 lb (272 kg). Hauling capacity for the Gladiator is similarly superior in comparison.
Because the Gladiator is a Jeep, however, even its base model is more all-terrain-capable than are most mid-sized trucks from any make. There are four grades of Jeep Gladiator, starting with the Sport and moving through the Sport S, the Overland, and then the Rubicon model. The Gladiator Sport S model, which we drove both on and off the road, has the same clearances, angles, and basic four-wheel drive capability as the more robust-and-ready Rubicon model.
All Gladiator models come standard with four-wheel drive and large tires. The Sport and Overland use more road-ready tires with a harder-tread, all-season set whereas the Rubicon has more aggressive all-terrain tires with knobbier tread. The Rubicon also includes a more aggressive off-road suite of goodies like a disconnecting sway bar, protective gear all around, and a steel front bumper that is tow- and winch-ready. The Gladiator has third-generation Dana axles, Tru-Lock electric axle lockers, and can ford water up to 30 inches in depth.
We put a lot of that to the test at an extreme off-road course created by Jeep to showcase the new Gladiator. On that course, we piloted Rubicon and Overland models through mud, dirt, deep puddles, over rocks, and into extremes of articulation and bump-slide control. The Gladiator kept its Jeep name intact despite being bottomed out, scraped, bruised, and smacked against the countryside. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator is exceedingly astute off the pavement.
Powering the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is a 3.6-liter V6, the same one that's been in the Jeep lineup for some time. This Pentastar engine is attached to either a six-speed manual transmission or an eight-speed automatic. This V6 outputs 285 horsepower (212.5 kW) and 260 pound-feet (352.5 Nm) of torque. Available later in the model year, Jeep promises, will be a 3.0-liter turbo-diesel engine that outputs 260 hp (194 kW) and 442 lb-ft (599 Nm). No talk of a hybrid option for the Gladiator, but we suspect that with a plug-in coming to the Wrangler soon, it's probably just a matter of time before the pickup gets one too.
What's also unique to the 2020 Gladiator is the eight-speed automatic's setup. That transmission has two overdrive gears for highway driving, reducing noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) on the highway. We noted this while driving both the Sport and Overland models on the road. Also nice are the crawl ratios, which become 77.2:1 (Rubicon) with the total gearing combined (transmission+transfer case+differential) in low gears. Towing is also well-equipped with the transmission's first gear being at 4.7:1 coupled to the 4.1:1 on the rear axle (Rubicon) or 3.73:1 (Sport, Overland).
All of the equipment on the Gladiator is to enhance its off-road capability. This centers around the aggressive approach and departure angles on the truck. Skid plates and front and rear tow hooks are standard on all models. The approach angle is at 43.6 degrees, breakover is 20.3 degrees, and departure angle is 26 degrees. Ground clearance starts at 11.1 inches (281.9 mm) and gets slightly higher with the Rubicon model's somewhat larger tires and wheels. The Gladiator's wheel wells are large enough to accommodate tires sized up to 35-inch, with standard tires on the Rubicon being 33s.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator's most obvious change from the Wrangler is its truck bed. Although the chassis is unique and not related to the Wrangler, the bed is visually where the Gladiator differentiates itself. That steel bed is a five-foot box with smart design qualities. The bed walls are short enough that a man of average height can reach over from the outside and nearly touch the bottom of the bed without going onto tip-toes. The bed includes standard tie-downs at each corner with options for more customization via Mopar accessories.
Also standard is a dual-stage tailgate, which lowers the tailgate in the normal way or allows it to be stopped halfway (still capable of carrying its full weight). When in the halfway position, the top of the tailgate is even with the top of the wheel wells inside the bed. Because those wells are flat on top (trapezoidal shape), full sheets of plywood or gypsum board can be slid in and rested on them and the tailgate, sitting flat.
Storage inside the Gladiator is also very well thought out. Behind the rear seats is a slight amount of storage for some items while underneath the seat bottoms is a large box running across the width of the cabin. That box has removable and adjustable segments and can accommodate anything from full-length fishing poles to sodas, hiking gear, and electronics. The seats are split-fold at bottom and top, as is the cargo bin cover so it can be opened with one or both seats up. The bin and seats lock into position when the door locks are engaged, even if the doors are not attached to the Jeep Gladiator.
The Gladiator also comes with a toolkit and storage box in the rear for bolts. All four doors and the roof (hard or soft top) can be fully removed from the rig. The windscreen can be lowered by removing just four bolts. Hard top Gladiator models include removable front roof panels that can be taken off without using tools. The lightweight panels can be stored in the back seat or bed.
The interior is very similar to that of the Wrangler four-door model. The latest in Uconnect infotainment, good seating comfort, and signature Jeep "grab handles" are found throughout. Shifters and controls will be familiar to any Jeep Wrangler fan.
On the exterior, the Gladiator is clearly different from the Wrangler in several ways. The front grille, while the same at first glance, is actually larger and a bit wider with larger slots than those found on the SUV. The truck requires more airflow, Jeep engineer Pete Milosavlevski explained to us. This is to cool the engine under loads, such as towing or hauling, that the Wrangler would not be subjected to. Underneath the bodywork, the Gladiator also has a more robust suspension and stronger linkages for the same reason. That includes a five-link coil suspension design unique to this new pickup.
When the Jeep Gladiator enters showrooms in April-May of 2019, said Kim Mathers of Mopar, there will be over 200 accessories ready for it as both factory order options and dealer add-on options. These will include everything from toy racks to lighting upgrades, plus wheels, badging, and more.
Jeep is anticipating that the Gladiator will become its most-accessorized vehicle, outpacing even the market-leading Wrangler in that regard. According to Mathers, many of the items offered for the Gladiator are derived from popular choices for the Wrangler and the Ram 1500 pickup truck.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is being manufactured in Jeep's Toledo, Ohio, plant. Supply partners include Kuka and Hyundai Mobis for body and chassis parts, respectively. Pricing starts at US$33,545 plus delivery for the base Sport model and runs up to $43,454 plus options and delivery for the top-end Rubicon model. A special Launch Edition of the truck will be available for 24 hours on "4x4" Day (April 4, 2019), priced at $60,815 as a specially-outfitted Rubicon model to be made in limited quantities.
Product Page: 2020 Jeep Gladiator