Opinion: I Don’t Like the Jeep Gladiator

There are people who want a rough and tumble Jeep Wrangler but also need a truck bed.

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Jeep

I promised to write this in the first person, lest my apostasy be attributed to others. I don’t like the Jeep Gladiator.

I come at this with solid Jeep cred. I drove a 1995 Wrangler YJ S with a manual in high school. I upgraded to a 2000 Wrangler Sahara, also a manual, in college. My parents still own two Wranglers. I left the Jeep fam when I moved to NYC. Owning one no longer made any sense, and I would need to buy my own gas.

I understand the Gladiator’s mid-size truck appeal. There are people who want a rough and tumble Jeep Wrangler but also need a truck bed to port their other active lifestyle accoutrements. Jeep should have a vehicle for them. I just don’t particularly like this one.

The “Gladiator” name made me skeptical from the outset. Jeeps that reference the Old West (Wrangler, Cherokee, Wagoneer etc.) in a quasi-specific fashion tend to work out well. Jeeps that evoke vague concepts (Compass, Liberty, Commander, Patriot) do not. Gladiator skews toward the latter. Yes, “Gladiator” references a name in Jeep’s heritage, but not a vital one. Jeep originally dumped it for “J-Series Truck.”

The Gladiator arrived. Everyone else raved. I wasn’t that taken with it. I presumed this was a “me problem.” Photographs can be wonky. It’s best to view a car in person. I made sure to budget some time into my NAIAS day for careful Gladiator study in the Jeep pavilion. I viewed it from multiple angles. I pondered it like fine art. I took my own pictures. I… still don’t like it.

It looks and feels like what it is: a blatant, cobbled together attempt by Jeep to enter a lucrative market segment.

Broadly, the truck feels disproportionate. It’s as though Jeep took the instruction to slap a truck bed in the back of a Wrangler too literally. The bed feels too short and narrow for the cabin. It was also too short to easily accommodate the dirt bikes elsewhere in Jeep’s display. Yet, somehow the truck feels too long overall, even more so after someone has put in the strenuous effort to remove all four doors.

The area around the C-pillar, in particular, irks me. The gap between the bed and the cabin feels too prominent, perhaps because it bends to accommodate the wheel arches. There are seams running horizontally and vertically. The rear door is too small, leaving multiple inches of dead space. I don’t care for the protruding tail lights.

While the cabin looks large compared to the bed, the interior feels cramped, uncomfortable and not very truck-like. I’m south of six feet (by a hair) and I had to man-spread to fit in the back row.

The distinguishing feature of Ford, Chrysler AG and Chevy pickups is how much effort goes into them. Every flaw has been pored over almost to a fault. Flaws no one would have ever considered have been pored over. That’s where those companies make money. They can’t afford to fail. Jobs are literally on the line. The Gladiator doesn’t feel like that effort went in at all. It looks and feels like what it is: a blatant, cobbled together attempt by Jeep to enter a lucrative market segment.

Fanboys have been waiting for the Gladiator for a long time. Reviews will doubtless be as breathless as initial impressions. For now, I will be that guy. I’ll take my vindication when Jeep has a proper go of it with the second generation in a few years and it eviscerates the first one. It took Jeep a second crack to get the four-door JK right too.

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