After a wait of nearly 30 years, Jeep is back in the pickup-truck business with the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. Over the years, Jeep pickups wore a number of badges including Willy’s CJ, Jeepster Commando and Jeep Comanche. For most of the decade of the 1960s, it was even called Gladiator. Well, the Jeep pickup and the Gladiator name returned for 2020. It’s about time.
Despite its resemblance to Wrangler, the Gladiator is not a Wrangler with a five-foot steel cargo box tacked on the back. Nope. It’s an honest-to-gosh functioning midsize pickup with a maximum towing capability of 7,650 pounds to prove it. Its four-door crew cab layout provides plenty of passenger and storage space, while its cargo box offers integrated tie-downs and an external power source. The sides of the box are low enough for an average-size adult to reach over them, easily accessing whatever cargo is needed.
What Gladiator does carry over from Wrangler is its superior off-road prowess. Four-wheel drive is standard on every trim. For the lower grades, it’s the Command-Trac 4×4 system, and the top-of-the-line Rubicon trim uses the Rock-Trac 4×4 system. Both are part-time, shift-on-the-fly systems with a 4-Lo gear for more extreme situations. Rubicon’s Rock-Trac is the more potent system with heavy-duty Dana axles and front/rear locking differentials. There is also an electronic sway-bar disconnect providing additional articulation and suspension travel. All Gladiators feature 30-inches of water fording, skid plates, more than 11 inches of ground clearance, and impressive approach and departure angles.
Yes, the round headlights flanking, and somewhat integrated into, the Wrangler’s seven-slot grille scream “Wrangler!” However, the slots are wider, promoting improved airflow for Gladiator’s added towing capacity. As with Wrangler, removing four bolts allows the windshield to fold down. Likewise, the top can be dropped and the doors removed. Compared to the four-door Wrangler, the Gladiator’s frame is stretched an additional 31 inches and rides on a wheelbase that’s 19 inches longer.
Although a V6 EcoDiesel is scheduled to arrive sometime this year, currently the only available engine is a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V6. It generates 260 lb-ft of peak torque. The standard gearbox is a 6-speed manual transmission. For an extra $2,000, you can swap that out for an 8-speed automatic. Government-estimated mileage with the manual tranny is 16 miles per gallon city, 23 mpg highway and 19 mpg combined. Opting for the 8-speed automatic doesn’t really affect fuel economy: 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined.
Ruggedness translates into the cabin with metal-plated accents and real bolts on the shifter, grab handles and the infotainment touchscreen frame. Actual hard controls operate the audio and climate systems. Just about every switch, button and knob is within easy reach on the center stack. Push-button start is standard on every Gladiator.
Covered in either cloth or leather, the seats are firm and supportive. There is plenty of rear-seat legroom. The rear seats fold either flat, allowing for easy access to the behind-the-seat storage that includes storage nets on the cab-back wall or create a bigger cargo floor, or they fold into a stadium configuration, revealing open, under-seat bins.
Jeep is always creating special editions of its products and the same is true of Gladiator. So, determining the difference between an actual trim level and an option package on its consumer website can be tricky at times. Including the mid-year addition of the Desert Rated Mojave, Jeep provides four Gladiator grades: Sport, Overland, Mojave and Rubicon. As a result of disruptions in the market, many carmakers are running special pricing on their vehicles. Any price references here don’t reflect those deals.
Anchoring the lineup, Sport is the most accessible of the trims. Before the $1,495 factory destination fee, Sport’s base price is $33,545. Although it doesn’t provide power windows, door locks or outboard mirrors, it does include 4WD, 17-in steel wheels, air conditioning, tilt-telescopic steering wheel, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, rearview camera, hill-start assist, trailer-sway control, and an 8-speaker audio system with Uconnect 3, a 7-in touchscreen and USB port. Jeep offers a number of stand-alone options and packages that provide many of the popular features Sport is missing.
At $40,395, Overland serves as the luxury grade, adding leather seating, full power accessories, auto on/off headlights, heated outboard mirrors, 18-in alloy wheels, dual-zone automatic climate control, leather-wrapped steering wheel, 115V power outlet, and an upgraded audio system with satellite-radio capability and additional USB ports.
Sharing a price point ($43,875), Mojave and Rubicon stand as the most off-road capable of Gladiators. Rubicon is engineered as a slower-moving rock crawler, while Mojave is built for dashing across sand. Mojave sticks to the Command-Trac 4×4 system found in Sport and Overland. Rubicon uses the more advanced Rock-Trac system. There are all manner of suspension enhancements too numerous to mention in both Mojave and Rubicon. Having done some rock crawling in Rubicon, I can tell you it is nothing short of awesome.
I can’t get enough of this truck. I’m a big fan of midsize trucks, anyway. Here’s a midsize truck with a convertible top and removable doors! It’s a truck built more for fun than for work, despite its solid towing capabilities. For weekend, job-jar tasks, a midsize truck is ideal. Beyond that, it is basically used as a car or crossover. So, I’m all about the fun factor built right into Gladiator. You can get it muddy and feel good about it. Or, just drop the top and have some fun. But….
I don’t apologize for considering Gladiator the perfect midsize truck with, but a single caveat. It’s the perfect midsize truck for someone who wants or needs 4WD. Jeep made a decision to eliminate any buyer not willing to pony up an extra two or three grand for 4WD. It was a marketing decision that I’m fine with, even if I don’t fully understand it. Still, the bottom line for me is, I love this truck.
Russ has covered the automotive industry for more than 30 years. He is also a long-time bourbon and craft-beer drinker who also produces the BEER2WHISKEY channel on YouTube.