HIGHS Genuine trail-rated capabilities, undeniable Jeep character, significant towing capacity. LOWS Diesel engine not available yet, one-size-fits-all configuration, pricier than the already pricey Wrangler. VERDICT All the quintessential Jeep elements with an extra dose of pickup-truck utility.
Overview Jeep Gladiator Review
The new Jeep Gladiator might look like just a Wrangler with a pickup bed attached.
But it’s quite a bit more than that – it’s the beginning of your adventures.
It’s been over 27 years since the last right Jeep pickup featured in the range – the Jeep Cherokee-based trucklet called the Comanche – and 33 years since the stretched CJ-8-based half-cab Scrambler saw the light of day.
So the company hasn’t taken the launch of this truck lightly.
Jeep has given it all the take-the-doors-off, open-air, go-anywhere freedom and ruggedness of the Wrangler.
Then it’s added a platform to carry up to 1,600lb or tow up to 7,650lb of toys or cargo. Jeep reckons it is the very best in the midsize class – that includes the new Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado and Toyota Tacoma.
And, once you’ve had a walk around it, driven it on and off-road, it’s not hard to see why.
It’s very much a lifestyle truck, with a focus on facilitating adventures, rather than being purely functional. It’s not cheap, the base model costing a full $10k more than the base model of other midsize trucks, but then they don’t have half of the emotional draw.
The range is relatively simple to navigate. There are four variants to choose from: the base Sport, Sport S, mid-priced Overland and the full-house rock-crawling Rubicon.
All models are Trail Rated – the Sport and Overland models get Command-Trac 4×4 systems, the Rubicon getting the pro-level Rock-Trac set-up which includes heavy-duty axles, electronic sway bar disconnect and a crawl ratio – in the six-speed manual version – of a scarcely believable 84.2:1.
Why did the company go with the Gladiator name rather than the Scrambler moniker? Simple, says Jeep.
Because Gladiator has always been the name of the full-size Jeep trucks since they started making them in 1962. So, as much as everyone loves the Scrambler name, it wasn’t right for this application.
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Jeep could add a half-cab version at a later date and bring it back.
What caused the decades-long wait for a new Gladiator? The brand people say they have been so busy trying to keep up with an insatiable global appetite for Wranglers – annual demand has tripled for the model since 1997 – there hasn’t been time or space.
But then a couple of years ago they found $700m down the back of the corporate couch to retool the Toledo factory and make space for the new Jeep pickup. And here it is.
Driving: What is it like on the road?
Driving the Gladiator on the road is not as punishing as its off-road credentials might suggest.
The body on frame rig’s extra 19.4 inches of wheelbase allied to the new shocks front and rear – the Rubicon gets Fox units – give it a surprisingly compliant, comfortable and quiet ride.
More so even than the new Wrangler, which is already a dramatic improvement on the shake, rattle and roll fest that was the previous model.
The steering is quite low geared, to give it the required off-road precision, but other than that you are rarely reminded that its frame is 31 inches longer than the Wrangler.
The test route we took it on featured a long sequence of tight turns and significant changes in camber and surface quality. The Gladiator dealt with them all without causing any issues.
Off-road, on the suitably muddy and frankly impossible-looking rock crawling course, the truck surprised and then shocked us with its extraordinary ability to get into – and then out of – some locations.
One point of note, made on some of the most severe downhill rock sections, is that the longer wheelbase allows the Gladiator to drag its tail to stabilize and slow itself.
The truck comes as standard with a six-speed manual but, unless you want the extreme crawl ratio that delivers, the eight-speed auto is the right choice.
Apart from giving you two overdrive gears on the road, to keep revs and engine noise down and improve the economy, the manual’s action isn’t anything special.
Engine choice at launch is solely the 3.6-litre 285bhp/260lbft Pentastar V6 with stop/start.
It’s a tried and trusted unit we’ve seen and driven many times before. And it’s more than fine in this application, too.
It has a broad, linear spread of power and torque, doesn’t consume too much gas and generally keeps itself to itself during most drives.
There will be a 260bhp/442lbft 3.0-litre Ecodiesel engine added to the line up later.
On the inside : Layout, finish and space
If the Gladiator’s rugged exterior looks promise an adventure-ready vehicle, the interior cement that feeling, featuring the same satisfyingly chunky, colour-coded, high-function layout that debuted in the Wrangler, the Gladiator adds a couple of new features to the mix.
Such as all-new rear seats – available, like the fronts, in either cloth or leather – which can be folded in several different ways to carry more stuff or people. Plus conceal a huge lockable bin to stash all your gear.
This is especially valuable if you exercise your right to remove the Gladiator’s doors, roof and want to keep your valuables safe when you park up at the trailhead/beach/jetty/motocross track.
It’s worth noting that the Jeep designers and engineers have thought about where to put all the detachable panels – and the bolts, which live in an undersea storage bin – when you take them off.
So that hunt for an elusive pin as the rainstorm starts should be that much shorter.
Other than all the tech you’d expect to find, there are a couple of exciting tech easter eggs available.
Rubicon models can be specced with a forward-facing off-road trail camera, complete with a mini power washer.
And all models can be fitted with a portable wireless speaker who lives and is charged, in a docking station on the rear quarter panel.
All this and the windshield still folds flat onto the hood of the truck. There isn’t another pickup that can do that.
Owning: I am running costs and reliability.
It’s hard to imagine how owning a Gladiator – if you appreciate the way it looks – could be anything other than a daily pleasure.
Apart from its adventure-ready promise making you think about new places to explore it should be an enduring and relatively inexpensive truck to own and operate.
Using a majority of Wrangler parts – and some RAM truck suspension bits at the back – the Gladiator, is built out of readily available components so servicing, and repairs will not be an issue.
Likewise, customizing your Gladiator will not be hard. MOPAR already has more than 200 Jeep performance parts and accessories for the new pickup including lights, covers, rails and lift kits.
So you’ll be able to tune yours to your exact needs and tastes – and get them covered by the factory warranty.
The pickup bed’s max load of 1,600lb isn’t huge but is more than ample for carrying a couple of dirt bikes, a side by side or a stack of snowboards.
Similarly, the towing capacity isn’t huge. But you can still tow a right size boat or horse trailer with 7,650lb to play with.
So it’s got you covered for pretty much whichever outdoor pursuit you aim your imagination at.
Verdict : Final thoughts and pick of the range
The Jeep Gladiator is probably not the truck you need – it’s the truck you want.
The Jeep Gladiator is perhaps not the truck you need – it’s the truck you want.
In the same way that the Ford Raptor shuns its workaday F150 roots and sells you on its rarely-used but much-touted sand-flinging, Baja-rushing heritage instead, the Gladiator allows you to freely associate with the adventure and utility of Wrangler and RAM product, then delivers the slam dunk by giving you both brands’ best bits in one package.
Even though its starting price of over $35k is way above any of its mid-sized competition, that isn’t an issue.
The closest competitor is the Chevy Colorado ZR2 which starts at $41k and doesn’t get close to the Gladiator in terms of visual and brand appeal.
As competent as the ZR2 is, it also doesn’t feel anything like as unique and fun to drive. We’ll be doing a head-to-head test to dive deeper into that one.
So should you get a Wrangler or a Gladiator? If space is an issue and you do more public work, then the shorter Wrangler makes more sense.
But the added flexibility and carrying capacity of the Gladiator – especially with a bed cover – adds an entirely new dimension to the Jeep brand.
One that links Jeep to a whole new world of vehicles to be carried and towed. For that reason alone, that would make it our choice.
Which model to get is a bit more of a headscratcher. The Rubicon is the most accomplished and bristling with Jeepness, but an Overland in black with a lift kit and some bigger wheels would be a great daily driver for a good chunk less.
But it doesn’t matter. If you like the way it looks, you’ll be ecstatic with the way any of the Rubicons operate. It does exactly what it says on the tin.