Americans love pickup trucks. Americans love Jeeps. Yet, for the last 27 years, the latter’s parent company Chrysler has abstained from capitalizing on what seemed like an obvious layup: slapping a cargo bed on the back of one of its off-roaders. Until 2019, at least, when at long last, Jeep created a pickup truck and dusted off the Gladiator nameplate for its made-in-Ohio tailgate.
In a stroke of genius (okay, maybe just common sense), Fiat-Chrysler chose to base its new truck not on the petite Renegade, compact Compass or soccer mom-issue Grand Cherokee, but on the exceedingly popular Wrangler — an SUV that, not coincidentally, happened to be all-new and better than ever for 2018. Not surprisingly, the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup-simple formula — You got pickup truck in my Wrangler! You got Wrangler in my pickup truck! — has proven exceedingly popular in theory; Gladiator stories have proven a bottomless well of traffic for automotive websites, while Jeep is so confident in the model’s success, it’s offering hyper-low lease rates on the assumption the truck will hold value better than government bonds.
The Good: Take everything you like about the Wrangler — the timeless styling, the off-road prowess, the confident height, even the ability to peel off the doors and roof — and add the utility of a five-foot-long cargo bay. It’s an off-roader, a five-seat family car, a convertible and a pickup truck all in one. It’s all good.
Who It’s For: More the pickup lifestyle set than farmers or contractors. (Then again, the former tends to make up a significant chunk of the multi-million-annual-sales pickup truck market, while the latter are more apt to choose full-size pickups like the Ram 1500 or Ford F-150, if not the mightier heavy-duty rigs.)
Watch Out For: The long wheelbase needed to squeeze two rows of seats in front of a usable pickup bed gives the Gladiator added stability on the highway when compared to its stubbier Wrangler relatives, but it bites you in the ass off-road. While tackling the trails at Monticello Motor Club’s off-road course, I wound up high-centered on a dirt mound that most Jeeps could have bounced over with little more than a scuff on their skid plates.
Also, be wary of the options sheet. Chrysler apparently learned well from its brief marriage to Daimler, because it’s possible to tack on pricey items as though the Gladiator were made by Mercedes. The Overland trim starts at $40,395, but my tester’s bottom line came in at $55,485 with destination. (And with cloth seats, no less.) Fully loaded, a Gladiator Rubicon will run you more than $63,000 — just about the entry point for an E-Class station wagon.
Also also: Mopar sells a product with the serial number 82215717, designed to secure the windshield when it’s folded down so it doesn’t bounce up and crack against the A-pillar. It costs $39 on Amazon. You should absolutely buy this if you plan on folding your Gladiator’s windshield down. Don’t ask me how I know.
Alternatives: Honda Ridgeline ($29,990+), Toyota Tacoma ($25,850+), Chevrolet Colorado ($21,300+), Ford Ranger ($24,300+)
Review: Believe me, it was hard to find a way to shoehorn a Gladiator reference into the headline of this story that wasn’t as eye-rollingly obvious as “Are You Not Entertained,” but I managed: “I don’t pretend to be a man of the people,” Senator Graccus says in the 2000 film, “but I do try to be a man for the people.”
The Jeep Gladiator, as it turns out, is very much a truck for the people.
I happened to have the Gladiator the same week I was driving the Jaguar XE SV Project 8 super-sedan in all its bewinged, brilliant blue glory; despite those eye-catching traits, the crimson Jeep received at least eight times as many questions and comments as the Jag. People of all ages, races and creeds offered up unsolicited remarks, usually involving some degree of surprise: “Is that a Jeep truck?” In an America torn asunder by pretty much everything these days, the Jeep Gladiator managed to provide a little common ground.
Of course, some of the tens of thousands of Americans parking it in their driveways this year will find it a better fit than others. And those without driveways to park it in will find using one of the trademark Jeep features — the ability to drive al fresco without roof or doors — tricker than others. Removing the four portals and the hard top is fairly easy; I managed to do it solo in about 45 minutes using just the provided tools. But the aft section of the three-part Freedom Top would be almost impossible to grip and move for anyone with arms shorter than my Lincolnesque limbs — which is to say, roughly 99% of men in America. And once you’ve removed those doors and roof, those without driveways or personal garages will be left struggling with the dilemma of where to stash them.
Still, much like the Wrangler, you’d be remiss to buy this rig and not indulge in some open-air activity. Indeed, “much like the Wrangler” is basically the catchphrase for the truck’s interior; it’s basically identical, much like the exterior forward of the B-pillars, and offers up the same levels of weatherproofing and usability; FCA doesn’t get enough respect for its easy-to-use infotainment systems, and the GladiAngler version is as intuitive as scratching your ass. I can vouch firsthand for the fact that there’s enough room for four adults and a large dog to squeeze inside with ease, though as with any pickup, using all the seats leaves little space for any cargo you don’t want to chance in the bed.
Aside from the aforementioned issues involving the long wheelbase, the Gladiator behaves as well as you’d expect off-road, clomping through mud, water and dirt like a champ. (The Rubicon model, which adds on gnarly 33-inch off-road tires, Fox shocks, locking front and rear differentials, an electronic sway bar disconnect and a four-wheel-drive system with a lower 84:1 crawl ratio, would no doubt prove even more capable off-road.)
On the streets, the added length’s added mass means the 3.6-liter V6 has to work hard to keep up with a heavy foot, but the eight-speed automatic transmission does a good job clicking into the needed gear at the right moment. There is, blessedly, a six-speed manual gearbox available with this engine, but don’t expect to find many Gladiators with it on dealer lots. The steering is typical Jeep: extremely light, with just the right amount of turns lock-to-lock for off-road use but too many for high-speed driving; piloting it down a winding two-lane at state highway speeds leaves you feeling like the pilot in a Miami Vice speedboat chase scene.
Verdict: By combining the looks, practicality and fun of a Wrangler with the utility and convenience of a pickup truck, Jeep may just have created the perfect four-wheel-drive vehicle for most of us. Plenty of vehicles can do some of what the Gladiator does, but none can do all of it. And if you can find one available for that $192-a-month lease deal, there’s basically no reason not to pick one up. At least, that’s what we keep telling our accountant.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Key Specs (As Tested)
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6, eight-speed automatic, full-time four-wheel-drive
Torque: 265 pound-feet
0-60 MPH: You really don’t get the point of this thing
EPA Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Jeep provided this product for review.
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