By Shari Prymak
The subject of Jeeps usually conjures up images of rugged off-road 4x4s fording through rivers or scaling some kind of treacherous terrain. It may seem unusual then to picture a Jeep as a pickup truck, let alone one based on the iconic Jeep Wrangler. And yet, that is exactly what the Jeep Gladiator is. Thinking of the Gladiator as a Wrangler with a truck bed might be selling it a bit short. In many ways, the Gladiator combines the best of what the Wrangler and the traditional mid-sized pickup have to offer into one well-rounded package.
The foundation for the Gladiator is the Wrangler JL platform, complete with its solid axle suspension and body-on-frame construction. It has been substantially stretched and beefed up, however, to handle pickup truck duty. The exterior design from the rear cab forward is pure Wrangler, complete with the removable doors, soft top, and folding windshield. A removable hardtop is an available extra as well. The five-foot bed is comparable in size to competing mid-sized pickups and has a class-leading payload capacity of 726 kg. The towing capacity is a very respectable 3,470 kg, which, again, is right in line with the competition. In terms of capability, there’s no question that the Gladiator is a proper truck.
All Gladiator models come in the same four-door, five-foot bed configuration complete with a naturally-aspirated 3.6L V6 engine. With 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, the Pentastar V6 has enough power to get the job done, but it certainly never feels quick. Transmissions consist of a standard 6-speed manual or an available 8-speed automatic matched to the same 4×4 setup found on the Wrangler. Naturally, the Rubicon model gets the most off-road capable setup with a Rock-Trac transfer case, Dana 44 wide-track axles with locking differentials, 4.10-to-one gearing, an electronically disconnecting sway bar, Fox shocks, and 33-inch all-terrain tires.
The driving experience is very Wrangler-like, complete with plenty of road and wind noise at highway speeds and body motions through corners. That being said, it does feels fairly smooth and stable at cruising speed. If you are into the whole Jeep thing, chances are you’ll enjoy driving the Gladiator. It’s a characterful driving experience complete with the same open air enjoyment as the Wrangler thanks to the removable roof and doors. Other than a slightly worse break over angle caused by the longer wheelbase, the off-road capability is very similar to the Wrangler as well.
The interior is a well-designed space with a rugged look and straightforward controls. The available 8.4 inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system is clear, easy to use, and compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. The driving position is high and comfortable complete with good outward visibility. Interior space is generous with enough room for a pair of adults to sit comfortably in the back. Feature-wise, the Gladiator offers the latest safety tech including forward collision warning with active braking, adaptive cruise control, and blind-spot monitoring with cross path detection.
Jeeps are well-known for their ambitious pricing, and the Gladiator is no different in this regard. Pricing starts at $46,995 for the Sport S model and climbs to $53,995 for the Rubicon before options and extras. As pricey as it is, the Gladiator doesn’t seem quite as exorbitantly-priced as the Wrangler due to the simple fact that it is a pickup truck. The price spread is in the ballpark of competing mid-sized pickups like the Toyota Tacoma and Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. When you factor in things like the Gladiator’s additional off-road/towing capability, ability to remove the roof and doors, and the predictably strong resale value similar to the Wrangler, the pricing suddenly starts to seem somewhat reasonable.
The fact that the Gladiator is likely the most off-road capable pickup may not be a surprise to anyone given its Wrangler roots. What is a bit surprising is that it is also a class leader when it comes to truck qualities like payload and towing capability. It manages to be a proper truck while maintaining the Wrangler’s character and uniqueness. It is even well designed with loads of desirable features and decent value given its wide-range of talents and strong resale value. If the blend of a practical pickup truck, capable off-roader, Wrangler looks, and open air freedom speaks to you, the Gladiator is the perfect fit.