After much anticipation from true Jeep loyalists and casual observers alike, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator’s public debut is nearly here. Later this Spring, the first Jeep pick-up truck in over 25 years will roll of the assembly line in Toledo, Ohio and begin its journey to Jeep dealers across the country. Top management at Jeep and parent FCA are betting that the reprise of the iconic Jeep nameplate will help carry the momentum the brand saw last year through 2019 and into 2020 with this launch, and so far they appear to be on track. For many readers, the Gladiator name will ring a bell, and it should. Between 1963 and 1972, Jeep sold a Gladiator that was more in line with the old Wagoneer model. This new Gladiator will look more like the Wrangler, with quite a few tricks up its sleeve. You can read more about the old Gladiator JS here.
As a natural progression of the brand, the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator mid-sized truck combines the best of the best of Jeep: style, utility, functionality and fun. It also competes directly with a group of mid-sized trucks that include the Toyota Tacoma, the Chevy Colorado, the GMC Canyon, the Ford Ranger, the Nissan Frontier and the Honda Ridgeline. After spending some time test driving all four trims, it is clear that the re-launch of the Gladiator after 20 plus years is not just a nod of nostalgia to the past, but a bet on the brand’s future. It is bold and ambitious, and the truck is loaded with extras that Jeep fan will love. The fierce loyalty of the Jeep faithful is no secret, but after winning SUV of the year honors from Motor Trend for the Wrangler, the pressure for an encore is on. Whether Jeep delivers on that remains to be seen, but after driving this truck there is no reason to think it won’t be a success. Just to recap 2018, the Jeep brand sold 1.5 million new units worldwide, a 17% percent jump from 2017, and almost 1 million units in the US alone. By any measurement, 2018 was a monster year for Jeep.
We drove all versions of the new Gladiator in late March on a cold, wet day in Northern California. We covered highways, backroads and a challenging off-road course, so we have a very good idea about this truck and what it can do. There are Four Gladiator trims, the Sport (starting at $33,545), The Sport S (starting at $36,745), The Overland ($40,395) and the Rubicon ($43,545). They are all classic Jeep drives, with the simple but intuitive Jeep interior and dashboard. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto come standard, and screen sizes are 7.0 inches or 8.4 inches, depending on trim. They all have the old school easy to turn large rubber knobs for the radio volume and channel selector, which we really like, though we will never get used to automatic window controls that are still in the center of the dash. There is updated technology, utility and functionality, with a particular attention paid to creature comforts and modern features for the loyal Jeep customer. Safety features include Blind-spot monitoring and Rear Cross Path detection, forward-facing camera (Overland & Rubicon), Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Collision Warning. The MOPAR options are impressive, and Jeep expects a large percentage of Gladiator buyers to shell out an additional $1,000 to $1,500 for personalize, customize and accessorize their new Jeep. There thing we expected, things we loved, and things that we though could be improved. The interior storage capacity is improved with secure, lockable bins that live under the rear seat. The rear seat can also fold up or fold down for additional storage, and the crew cab offers extra legroom for rear passengers. The soft top cover for the rear bed is very clever, with a ‘Weekend Warrior position that allows for easy access to cargo with the gate up, and an easy roll-up design when you’ve arrived at your destination and are ready to unload your gear and set-up camp. The 5-foot long gate can be easily extended by flipping down the gate and utilizing straps to secure your load, and outdoor types who are hauling recreational gear will appreciate this. Hauling a kayak, canoe, dirt bike or other outdoor gear won’t be a problem, and with your choice of the open top, you’ll be going in style. The three top options are a hard top, a modular hard top, and the Sunrider soft top.
Under the Hood
The 2020 Gladiator comes with one of three powertrain options: a 3.6-liter V-6 with six-speed manual transmission, a 3.6-liter V-6 with eight-speed automatic, and a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V-6 with the 8-speed automatic transmission that is coming in 2020. The Pentastar V-6 produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb.- ft. of torque, which compares favorably to other in the class. Thanks to a more open grill design that allows for more air intake to cool the engine, the Gladiator can haul a 1,600 pound payload and tow 7,650 pounds in a trailer, which also compares favorably to its competitors. The automatic transmission Gladiators are rated 17 mpg in the city and 22 highway, while the manual transmission gets a 16/22 rating.
Exceptional 4 X 4 Capability
As with the Wrangler, what sets the Gladiator apart from the pack is the legendary off-road capabilities. The Command Trac 4X4 system comes standard on the Sport and Overland models are equipped with next-generation heavy duty solid Dana 44 front and rear axles. The Rubicon model comes standard with Rock-Trac 4X4 system, which includes the Dana 44 axles and electronic locking differentials and electronic sway bar disconnect features for the true off roaders. With an 11.1-inch ground clearance and 30-inch water clearance, this is what sets the Gladiator apart. Even with the extended bed and larger wheel base, this Jeep can handle the most challenging terrain. Inside the cab, the control panel has a cool readout called ‘Off Road Pages’, which shows the driver the current status of the truck’s 4X4 settings. You can see which axle lockers are enabled, whether or not the sway bar is connected, and the pitch and roll angles. There is an optional front camera that real off roaders will love, and mud and dirt can be easily washed off with a flip of a switch. The Gladiator also has an ‘Off Road +’ mode, which has two settings. In 4-High (4H), the car goes into what Jeep called ‘Sand Mode’, which relaxes the traction control and stability systems to give the truck a bit more wheel spin to pull the truck through loose and softer terrain. When switched into 4-Low (4L), Off Road + feature switches the truck in ‘Rock Mode’, which adjusted the transmission settings and the traction control systems which is designed for slower speeds. The off-road course we drove on was wet with fresh rain, and this was very helpful climbing over slippery rocks at a very steep incline. Finally, a small ‘Selectable Speed’ button (essentially a crawl control setting) on the dashboard allows the driver to use the shifter to keep the truck a constant speed between 1 and 5 miles per hour with, and it works while the truck is in 4-Low. Front and rear tow hooks come standard, and MOPAR will have over 200 add on parts for the Gladiator for those who want to accessorize, customize and personalize their new Jeep.
As is the case with all Jeeps (and most mid-sized truck for that matter), the Gladiator is not the quietest or smoothest ride, but we thought the Overland model drove very smooth and quiet compared to the Wrangler. The higher price tag might be a sticking point for some, but you can’t put a price on the kind of happiness owning a truck like the Gladiator will bring you. Overall, this is a great looking truck with loads of functionality and style, and people will look twice when they see them on the roads this summer.
Despite the comparatively elevated price, we think these trucks will sell well. And, to jump start sales for the true loyalists, Jeep is offering a special edition Launch Model for $60,815 and will begin taking orders online here on Thursday April 4, 2019 (4X4 Day). This model will be a ‘Rubicon Plus’ model with special badges, wheels and interior. Jeep will make 4,190 units in a nod to the Toledo, Ohio area code (419) where the Gladiator will be manufactured. And to sweeten the deal, a ‘Find Your Freedom’ contest will be run where one lucky winner will win a year’s salary (up to $100,000) to blow off work and take their new Gladiator out on the road and trails. Whether or not your job will be waiting for you when you return is another matter. Click here for more information.