2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland
Photo: FCA US LLC
Photo: FCA US LLC

Gladiator: Party in the front, truck in the back

Jeep’s new truck will resonate with many, holds true to Jeep heritage, too

Not to exaggerate too much, but my tester this week is one of the most anticipated and most talked-about vehicles in recent years. It was a star at the Detroit auto show when it was launched.

It was rumor that proved to be true for several years prior to its debut and it’s a vehicle that was resurrected from this brand’s storied past.

Savvy readers will have it figured out already that I’m talking about the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. This Jeep pickup truck had a lot of buzz. Heck, it still has a lot of buzz. Amongst the Jeeper community the opinion is split, with little gray area.

Some love it and some hate it. Those who hate it feel Jeep didn’t need a Wrangler-based pickup. Those who love it are adventurous Jeep shoppers who see the value of Wrangler mixed with a compact pickup, with all the capability of a Wrangler, but the towing ability of a truck.

To call the Gladiator a Wrangler with a truck bed is oversimplifying this vehicle. It’s more than that, although on looks it’s a fairly accurate portrayal. It’s almost like a glorious mullet. It’s (Jeep) business in the front and a party in the back.

Jeep enthusiasts will see small hints of the old Willy’s Overland truck the company used to produce, post-World War II.

Certainly part of the charm of the Gladiator is that throwback feel. But other than that, the Gladiator is a modern truck with prototypical Jeep looks. The grille looks the part of a Wrangler, and that’s a good thing.

The addition of the five-foot bed is where the Gladiator breaks away from the Wrangler to form its own personality. This smallish-truck bed is the only option for the Gladiator currently. That helps keep the Gladiator dimensions down, so that it can maintain its Wrangler feel. Mission accomplished as far as that goes.

You can still take the doors and the top off the Gladiator, just like you can with the Wrangler. However, it’s quite a process and made me feel like I needed an engineering degree at times. And it’s a two-person task to truly get that open-road Jeep vibe.

It was all worth it though, as driving the Gladiator with the wind in my hair (no chuckling at my male pattern baldness that’s happening) really got the full Jeep experience going.

I did not take the Gladiator off road, and for that I missed out on a major asset of the Gladiator’s performance and appeal. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator is capable going off pavement. I’ve heard from other Jeep owners who have taken the Gladiator mudding and it was quite capable, according to them.

The 3.6-liter V6 engine makes 285 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard and is popular with the Jeep purists, but my tester had the optional eight-speed automatic transmission. It’s a good transmission with no disappointing gear shifts.

What I liked better than the Wrangler was the Gladiator drove a little more SUV-like. It felt slightly more refined than a Wrangler and didn’t quite drive like a big truck, either. It was an ideal balance between refinement and off-road ruggedness. Again, this might be a love/hate in the Jeep community; if you’re expecting to drive like a Wrangler, it doesn’t. And that’s either a good thing or a bad thing, based upon your preference.

When properly equipped the Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 pounds and has a payload of 1,600 pounds. Four-wheel drive is standard.

Inside, the Gladiator is exactly what you’d expect from a Wrangler with no surprises. Were it not for that five-foot bed on the back, you’d think you were inside a Wrangler. The rear seating capacity is bigger than a Wrangler, and this is where being a truck works in its favor. The Gladiator seats five passengers comfortably with ample legroom and headroom. The Uconnect infotainment system continues to be one of my favorites in the automotive industry. It’s simple but full of technology.

There are three trims for the Gladiator including Sport, Overland and Rubicon. My tester was the Overland that also came with optional features like LED lighting; a Cold Weather package (heated seats and steering wheel); and an advanced safety system. The automatic transmission with Select-Speed control was an additional $2,000. My tester had a base price of $40,395 and a final MSRP of $53,045.

The Gladiator has an EPA rating of 17 mpg/city and 22 mpg/highway. In a week’s worth of driving, I averaged almost 20 mpg.

For me, as someone who has always liked the Wrangler, but is not a Jeep enthusiast, the Gladiator is my favorite Jeep that’s been produced. It seems to be the best combination of Wrangler and small pickup. How can you go wrong?

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