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Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck Review: First Drive Impressions

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck
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I was among the first lucky few to get behind the wheel of the full new lineup of 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickups. From highways to curvy back roads, and some muddy and rocky off-road terrain, I experienced it all.

Let’s get right to the meat of it. The much-anticipated new Jeep Gladiator is the only midsize U.S. pickup that offers a solid front axle and 33-inch tires from the factory. This truck is very much Trail Rated — and good-looking to boot!

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

With some time behind the wheel and miles under the tread, I discovered some standout features on this truck. I also uncovered a few things this Jeep left to be desired. Let’s dive into some of the details — including the long-awaited pricing and fuel economy.

In short: In the Gladiator’s plus column are truly impressive off-road capabilities, lots of payload and towing capacity, surprisingly competitive pricing, and great brakes. Drivers will also love that it’s the only pickup truck on the market to offer open-air driving, courtesy Jeep’s beloved removable hard and soft tops.

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In the negative column, the Gladiator has an extremely long wheelbase, pathetically small rearview mirrors, pretty loud road noise within the cabin, and a very snug rear seat. After driving the line around, I’d appreciate a smoother ride, more power, and a better manual transmission.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon: Off-Road Pickup Truck

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

If you’re looking for the most capable midsize truck in North America, the Gladiator is it. There is no other midsize truck that offers a solid front axle, up to 33-inch tires from the factory, and an impressive 11 inches of ground clearance.

Plan to take this truck off road? The Gladiator Rubicon is the trim level you want. It comes with stronger 17-inch wheels wrapped in 33-inch tires. Plus, it has front and rear differential locks, a remote front sway bar disconnect, and 4.10 gears. It also comes with a winch-compatible front steel bumper, sliders, bed corner protectors, and an aluminum vented hood. Add all that up and you have an impressively capable off-road truck!

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Off-Road Test

I drove the Gladiator Rubicon through some deep mud up hillsides and over steep, wet, off-camber rocks. The truck performs exactly as you’d expect off road — exceptionally well and just like a super-long wheelbase Jeep Wrangler.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

But do note that that long wheelbase will take some getting used to and will hang up on some obstacles. So expect to put the sliders and rear bed corner protectors to good use off road. Like everything on this truck, the rear bed corner protectors are built right. They can hold up to one-third of the vehicle’s weight before they start to deform.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

As with any modern vehicle, there is also plenty of computer wizardry built in. There’s an “Offroad+” button that tunes the vehicle based on conditions. In low-range 4×4, the button engages Rock Mode. In high-range 4×4, the button engages Sand Mode. And the Selectable Speed Control setting is basically cruise control for trail driving below 5 mph.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck dash controls

Jeep confirmed there will be huge accessory support, both from Mopar and the aftermarket. In fact, Mopar will offer more than 200 parts for the Gladiator at launch. In general, upgrading the truck’s off-road capabilities will be easy to upgrade. Likewise, expect the ability to tailor the Gladiator to your exact tastes and needs.

Jeep Gladiator: On-Road Handling, Comfort

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck fox shocks

While its off-road prowess is as you’d expect, the Gladiator’s ride on pavement isn’t all that plush. You feel every small bump in the road. The 2-inch Fox monotube shocks on the Rubicon didn’t seem to help smooth it out any, either.

That said, it corners far flatter than you’d expect from a truck this size and weight. The rear end is also a bit light and twitchy when the truck is unloaded, but this is to be expected.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

The seats are pretty nice but do have a few faults. The adjustable lumbar support and soft lower cushions mark the seats’ highlights. However, the angle on the lower cushions isn’t adjustable. And the upper seat backs aren’t bolstered very aggressively, which allows you to slide around a bit.

Overall, my biggest pet peeve about the driving position inside the Gladiator is that there is no dead pedal to rest your left foot on. This means your foot is flat on the floor, putting your ankle at a weird angle. Also, the limiter strap for the driver-side door intrudes on the footwell and rubs against your shin. Both of these items are tiny — but annoying.

Jeep Gladiator: Bed Space, Hauling

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

The Gladiator takes some cues (and parts) from its big brothers in the RAM truck lineup. The rear suspension on the Gladiator is actually nearly the same five-link coil setup found in the RAM 1500.

At only 5 feet long, the truckbed is tiny. It’s also quite shallow. The bed offers four D-ring tie-down points for securing gear, which swivel out of the way to maximize space. Still, Jeep claims that 95 percent of all motorcycles will fit in the bed, with the tailgate down.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

As for the tailgate itself, it’s both dampened and able to be fixed in a midway position. This allows you to carry sheets of drywall or plywood in the truckbed on top of the wheel wells. It also allows you to carry bigger kayaks, SUPs, and other long gear in the truckbed without having them stick up abruptly.

For a midsize truck, the Gladiator has the capability to carry quite a bit of gear. It offers a max payload of between 1,105 and 1,600 pounds depending on trim level and transmission.

Gladiator Towing, Interior Space

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck towing airstream

From the back of the rear doors forward, the Gladiator is nearly exactly the same as a Jeep Wrangler JLU. The big difference is the redesigned front grille. It’s specifically designed to allow more airflow and cooling, which is necessary for trailering. An 800W cooling fan also helps with engine cooling.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck grille

Jeep rates the Gladiator’s max towing at 4,000-7,650 pounds depending on trim, options, and transmission. In my test, I towed a 25-foot, 5,837-pound Airstream trailer behind a Gladiator Sport S with the maximum tow package.

It towed the trailer pretty well, but the engine did seem to be working very hard on the relatively flat route I drove. The eight-speed automatic transmission felt as though it shifted appropriately and smoothly, even without any tow/haul button present in the truck.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck sideview mirror

Two big towing issues popped up with the Gladiator: the axle-to-hitch distance and the tiny mirrors. The hitch sits way behind the rear axle, which can make trailer sway more prevalent. And while I can handle that small nuisance, I can’t get past how tiny and inadequate the Gladiator’s mirrors are. You can’t see anything past the trailer at all. Plus, there is no tow mirror option, and Mopar has no current plans to offer any tow mirror solutions.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck removable roof

Finally, a four-door Wrangler provides a ton of open space behind the rear seats. But in the Gladiator, that’s where the truckbed sits. So Jeep offers lockable storage space behind and under the 60/40 split rear seats. These useful storage areas can be accessed by folding the rear seatbacks forward or folding the seat cushions up.

Jeep Gladiator: Buy the Automatic Transmission!

This might be the first time I’ve ever told someone to buy an automatic transmission over the available manual. But the truth is that the six-speed manual in the Gladiator just doesn’t work well with the V6 under the hood. While it has an easy clutch, the gear changes are a bit clunky and entail a long throw of the shifter.

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The big fail with the manual is that there’s very little room to the left of the clutch pedal to rest your foot. With my size 12 shoes (U.S. men’s), I needed to pull my foot back off the clutch and then position it up under the pedal when not shifting. This made for a lot of work to quickly position my foot back on the clutch to change gears.

Also, the eight-speed automatic transmission offers much higher max towing capabilities than the manual. The auto trans is a well-designed unit that works flawlessly with the Pentastar V6. It offers smooth shifts and always seems to keep you in the power band. This is especially noticeable (and appreciated) when trying to pass at speed on the highway.

Gladiator Drive Line

jeep gladiator pickup truck engine

In 2019, the Gladiator will just be offered with the 3.6L Pentastar V6. It’s rated at 285 hp and 260 pound-feet of torque. But in 2020, the Gladiator will also get a 3.0L EcoDiesel V6. The diesel will be rated at 260 hp and 442 pound-feet.

As for EPA fuel economy numbers, the gas V6 will offer the following:

  • Eight-speed automatic transmission: 17 city, 22 highway, 19 combined
  • Six-speed manual transmission: 16 city, 23 highway, 19 combined

If you opt for the automatic Gladiator, as you should, then expect a range of 400-plus miles thanks to the standard 22-gallon fuel tank.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

I will admit that the engine start-stop feature on the Gladiator is a bit aggressive. You very much notice when the system turns back on, but the shutoff is quiet and seamless. There’s a button to turn this off, but you need to activate it every time you start the vehicle.

Overall, I was most impressed by the throttle, brake, and steering response during testing. There’s very little play in the pedals and only a tiny bit in the steering wheel. There was a bit of lag from the computer when mashing the throttle, but the brakes are super direct and linear. And the brakes are also the largest of any midsize pickup — so they work quite well.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Pricing

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

Jeep just announced the 2020 Gladiator pricing, and I’m happily impressed! Sure, you’ll spend north of $60,000 for a top-of-the-line Gladiator with all the bells and whistles. But the flip side of that coin is that you can drive off the lot with a Jeep truck for about $35,000, including the $1,495 freight charge.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

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The 2020 Jeep Gladiator will come in four trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Overland, and Rubicon. Sport is your base, no-frills trim level. Above that, the Sport S offers a few more features. Overland is the luxury, more street-oriented version. And the Rubicon is ready for serious off-road adventures.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Base Prices

  • Sport $33,545
  • Sport S $36,745
  • Overland $40,395
  • Rubicon $43,545
  • $1,495 destination fee

Those prices are impressively low for the amount of truck and go-anywhere capability. It’s only about a $2,000 premium over a comparably equipped Jeep four-door Wrangler.

While most of the other midsize trucks on the market have the Gladiator beat on the super-low end, nearly all are extremely comparable on price when appointed similarly.

Jeep Gladiator Pickup Truck

Gladiator Launch Edition

On April 4, better known as 4×4 Day, Jeep will sell up to 4,190 Launch Edition Gladiators through its website. The Launch Edition will be a full-spec Gladiator Rubicon with special badging. It will carry a $60,815 sticker price, but we expect many dealers to mark them up a bit when completing the sale. Expect these trucks to ship in May.

Launch Edition customers are also entered into the Find Your Freedom Contest. One lucky customer will get a year’s salary paid for by Jeep. The idea is to offer the chance to get out and explore with the new Gladiator.

Jeep Gladiator Driving Impressions

There’s no other vehicle that gives you the utility of a truck, the open-air driving experience of a roadster, and the off-road capability of a Jeep. The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is really in a class of its own.

While the Gladiator isn’t an inexpensive vehicle, you do get a lot for the money. If you want next-level off-road capability, truck utility, modern vehicle amenities and safety features, a proven chassis and drivetrain, and the ability to enjoy open-air motoring, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is really your only choice.

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