This story is part of the GP100, our annual roundup of the best products of the year. To see the full list of winners, grab the latest issue of Gear Patrol Magazine.
Americans love pickup trucks. They buy one every 12 seconds. And Americans love Jeeps. In 2018, the company just had its best sales year ever, moving almost a million vehicles in the U.S. alone. So clearly, the nation hungers for big vehicles with a commanding road presence and four-wheel-drive grip.
Yet in spite of a blatantly obvious opportunity to merge those two trends, Jeep went almost three decades without producing a vehicle with a metal bed hung behind the passenger seat — which explains why the company’s fans howled with delight when they glimpsed of the all-new Gladiator at the Los Angeles Auto Show at the end of last year, all but preemptively thrusting cash in Jeep’s direction. But it was only this spring that the truck finally launched, finally giving them the chance to do so.
Rather than attempt to build a new truck from the ground up, Jeep’s product planners and engineers chose to keep it simple, taking the four-door Wrangler — specifically, the all-new, more-refined JL generation — stretching out the wheelbase and affixing a metal box to the end of it.
The Wrangler-based design means all the parts and features that have elevated that model into an icon over the last few decades come along for the ride. Removable top? Present, in both soft and three-piece hard-top forms. Removable doors? Also in attendance, and every bit as easy to doff as they are on the Wrangler. A waterproof interior, designed to be easy to clean and boasting one of the most intuitive, convenient layouts in the industry? Standard on every one.
Jeep even offers the choice between manual and automatic gearboxes, making the Gladiator one of the last trucks sold in America to give drivers the option of rowing their own gears.
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But being a pickup truck means the Gladiator also can accomplish things its SUV sibling can’t — like towing up to 7,650 pounds (the Wrangler maxes out at 3,500). The five-foot-long bed boasts more cargo space than the trunk of its two-box brethren; plus, even with two or three adults aboard, it can still take on half a ton of gear. And options like an integrated 110-volt plug in the bed and an integrated Bluetooth speaker that charges from the car makes the Gladiator among the best tailgating rigs out there.
The added space between the axles does dock the Jeep’s off-road capability a tad. It’s easier to wind up high-centered on unfortunately placed hillocks and the breakover and departure angles of 20.3 and 26 degrees respectively mean it won’t be able to keep up with the Wrangler when the going gets really rough.
Still, that’s not enough to keep it from being every bit one of the most capable trucks on sale — especially in trail-conquering Rubicon form, which builds on the model’s inherent prowess by adding features like locking differentials, an electronic sway bar disconnect and a lower low range better suited for rock crawling.
On the road — where, let’s face it, Jeeps spend most of their time — the Gladiator drives even better than the latest-generation Wrangler, which redefined on-road comfort for the model. Its long wheelbase gives the Gladiator delightful stability on the highway, making it a superior choice for long slogs behind the wheel. Added convenience features like radar-based active cruise control, blind-spot warning and parking sensors bring the sort of comfort not traditionally associated with trucks or Jeeps in particular. Hell, you can even pick one up with leather seats.
Granted, it’s easy to price this truck up to a total near $60,000 if you go buck wild on the options sheet or spend extra on official aftermarket accessories like lift kits and off-road lights. But play it smart, and you can snag a well-equipped one for around $45K — only a few thousand dollars more than the average new-car price nowadays. Considering you’re scoring an off-roader, a five-seat family car, a convertible and a pickup truck in one for that price, it’s hard to see that as anything but the deal of the year.
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 or 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6; six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel-drive
Horsepower: 285 (gasoline); 260 (diesel)
Torque: 260 lb-ft (gasoline), 440 lb-ft (diesel)
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