Review: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon owns the trail
We spent a week in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and took it to some of the same trails we’ve tried similar off-road beasts on. While other vehicles might have a bit more capability at this price point, in our experience few have the same kind of all-around readiness that the Gladiator does.
The Jeep Gladiator has been one of the most-anticipated vehicles of the past year. When it launched in November of 2018, it was one of the most-read stories of our LA Auto Show coverage. Our first drive, which followed in April of 2019, was also extremely popular. Now we’ve had the chance to spend a week in the Gladiator with its Rubicon package and found it to be everything one could wish for in a capable off-road truck that’s got some workaday options.
Before getting to spend our week in the Gladiator, we also spent a week in the new Chevrolet Colorado with its Bison package. Going on the same trails at the same time of year, we were able to compare these rigs almost back-to-back. That was enlightening in a few ways, but we’d be hard pressed to say that the Bison is a better truck. Our bias, based largely on persona, still swings towards the Jeep.
The rugged Jeep look, removable roof (among other things), and best-in-class towing and hauling are a big deal. We wish the diesel option had been available, though, for a more apples-to-apples tow-haul comparison. Jeep says that’s coming sometime in 2020. At any rate, the numbers comparison favors the Bison when off-road, but only by a sliver.
The 2020 Gladiator uses the same 3.6-liter V6 that’s been in the Jeep lineup for some time. It’s the core engine for the Wrangler series and in the Gladiator provides 285 hp (212.5 kW) and 260 lb-ft (352.5 Nm) of torque. This runs to the same Dana axles, front and rear, that are found on the Wrangler, including the Dana 4s for the Rubicon model.
The transmission in the Gladiator is an eight-speed automatic unique to the truck. It has two overdrive gears for highway driving, which reduces noise, and adds low-gear crawl ratios that couple with the transfer case for serious torque uptick. The Rubicon model has a total of 77.2:1 to its first-gear crawl ratio at the wheel.
The Jeep Gladiator also has advantages in other ways. Towing with it is stable, for example, and its 7,000-lb (3,175-kg) towing capacity is nothing to shake a stick at in midsized pickups. The fact that it’s comfortable pulling heavy weight like that is a big deal. More importantly, perhaps, the 2020 Gladiator has good cargo capacity, rated at 1,600 lb (726 kg). That means two motorcycles, a lot of gear, five passengers, and more are possible. All at once.
The Gladiator has a 5-ft (1.52-m) bed that is box-shaped and full of features. The dampened tailgate is nice, as are the retainer cables that can be looped around the latch receivers to keep the tailgate about halfway up. With this, flat items like plywood can be loaded in laying flat (there’s more than 4 ft (1.2 m) of space between walls) to go over the wheel wells, which are flat-topped and even with the tailgate top. A beveled edge on the tailgate and that smart setup mean a flat load stays flat. That’s beyond the molds in the sidewalls of the cargo space for fitting lumber as dividers and doesn’t even get started on all of the Mopar accessories available for the Gladiator otherwise.
Brilliant engineering touches like that are hallmarks of the Ram Truck brand, which was drawn from heavily by Jeep in the making of the new Gladiator pickup. Many of the underpinnings are shared with the half-ton Ram 1500 pickup truck, in fact. To the point that the Gladiator has as much in common with the Ram pickup as it does with the Jeep Wrangler it’s more often associated with.
As in our first-drive impression, we found the 2020 Jeep Gladiator to be better on the highway than one might expect. Especially if comparisons to the Jeep Wrangler, even in the new current-generation, are made. The longer wheelbase of the Gladiator plus the tailored coil spring suspension it has do a lot of smoothing on the road – even for the knobby-tired, heavy suspension-sporting Rubicon package.
The real fun, though, is in the Jeep persona that’s so deeply ingrained in the Gladiator’s design. Stripping the truck down, to remove the hardtop and doors, takes one person about 20 minutes. It could go faster with an extra set of hands to help lift off the hardtop roof, perhaps. One bummer about the deal, though, is that the hardtop of the Gladiator won’t fit in the bed and allow the tailgate to close. That’s an unfortunate oversight, as setting the top, the front roof panels and the doors into the bed under and around the hardtop seems like a no-brainer plan in a Jeep with a truck bed on it. That’s not an issue, of course, with the soft top version.
Off the road, especially stripped down, the 2020 Gladiator is a ton of fun. As much fun as any Wrangler and perhaps more, given that its interior is a bit roomier than the Wrangler Unlimited and its wheelbase is a little longer, absorbing washboard roads and trail hops with greater ease.
In all, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator offers a lot of greatness in a single package. It’s very Jeep, very capable as a truck, and unmistakable for what it is. In our highly biased opinion, the Gladiator is definitely one of the best midsized truck offerings on the market.
Pricing for the Jeep Gladiator starts at US$33,545 and the Rubicon package starts at $45,545.
Product Page: 2020 Jeep Gladiator