The Jeep Gladiator was one of the most notable new vehicles to go on sale, and with damn good reason: it combined two of America’s most beloved types of vehicles into a single package. Americans love pickup trucks; that much is made clear by the millions of new ones that roll out of factories and into driveways every year. Americans also love Jeeps — not just the proper noun brand that racked up record sales in America last year, but the descendants of their namesake, the jeep — sport-utility vehicles.
The Gladiator channels the best of both of those categories; it has the towing and hauling capabilities usually associated with a truck, the style and livability of a Jeep SUV, and the off-road prowess associated with both. Yet impressive as all of these features are, they’re not my favorite thing about the Gladiator. No, the best part of Jeep’s new pickup truck is one of the many traits it shares with the Wrangler:
You can drive it with the doors off.
Now, granted, you can drive practically any car with the doors off if you’re desperate enough. The difference with the Gladiator and Wrangler, however, is that they’re designed to be used sans portals. Doffing the doors is easy; grab the wrenches Jeep handily throws in the glove box, unscrew four bolts per door and yank the wires free via their quick-release connection to the interior electronics, then just lift each one straight up off its hinges. (It’s a far easier process than removing the back part of the hard top, which requires undoing quite a few more bolts and lifting the entire piece free, a task that requires both adequate strength and very long arms.)
Doing so transforms the Gladiator from just another member of the hermetically sealed transportation pods of today into a wild, free experience. Remember how, seemingly not that long ago, you used to be able to actually feel the wind tousle your hair when you drove around with the windows down? The Gladiator / Wrangler twins give you that and more, letting you bask in the glory of the moving wind the way you did when you first learned to run as a child. Drop the windshield as well, and you might as well be riding a horse-drawn carriage to glory across the Old West.
Like many of today’s high-performance machines, extracting maximum potential from this Jeep is hard to do in the real world. Back in August, I spent a weekend with the Gladiator in full-bore Rubicon trim gallivanting around the Vermont countryside. Try as I might, finding off-road trails that could truly challenge it proved impossible; I barely needed to even shift out of two-wheel-drive, let alone disconnect the anti-roll bars or lock the diffs.
Yet the experience was more fun than most off-road excursions I’ve been on — even ones that were far more technical or in more exotic locations than the state where I grew up — by the simple virtue of the fact that I could, at a whim, free my limbs (or even my person) from the vehicle. I wasn’t just an observer, distant and safe inside my armored shell; the real world was something I could touch, for better and for worse. Mostly better.
And if the Wrangler and Gladiator opened my eyes to the joys of ultimate open-air motoring, you can bet your sweet bippy I’m excited to try the new Ford Bronco. Because not only will it also offer door-free driving...but because the side mirrors are mounted to the body, not the front doors, you can see behind you without glancing over your shoulders.
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