Jeep Truck is Back

By Derek Price

Jeep fans — some of the most rabid enthusiasts in the car world — have been waiting on this moment since the early 1990s.
The Jeep pickup has returned.
Called the Gladiator, this truck mixes the go-anywhere, mountain-goat capability of a Jeep Wrangler with the utility of a pickup bed, a combination that hasn’t existed since the Comanche disappeared in 1992.
Pickups have long been a part of the Jeep portfolio, starting with the Willys 4×4 truck that dates back to World War II. The nearly three-decade-long drought of Jeep trucks is unusual, and it’s resulted in pent-up demand and high transaction prices that averaged more than $56,000 when the Gladiator first went on sale this spring.
The base version starts at a more palatable $33,545, but that’s still more than $5,000 higher than a base Wrangler and even a bit more than the big, comfy Grand Cherokee. It gives the Gladiator the highest starting price in today’s Jeep lineup.
That seems fair enough when you consider it has the most all-around capability and occupies a truly unique spot in the market.

The Jeep Gladiator is a classic example of form-follows-function design. It’s built for off-road adventures and is the first Jeep pickup truck in nearly three decades.

It’s a convertible, for starters, as the only pickup for sale today with a removable top. And like all Jeep classics, you can also take the doors off for a truly one-with-nature driving experience.
The Gladiator comes from the factory with a high level of off-road equipment, including the standard Command-Trac 4×4 system with a two-speed transfer case and heavy-duty axles.
Rubicon models take things even further by adding electronic sway-bar disconnect, rugged steel bumpers, locking differentials and an ultra-low crawl ratio for carefully maneuvering over obstacles.
You can do the same off-road things with a Wrangler. What sets the Gladiator apart is the truck stuff: towing and hauling.
When properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow a best-in-class 7,650 pounds and has 1,600 pounds of payload capacity. That means it’s not only competitive with off-road trucks, but all midsize trucks, including the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma and Nissan Frontier.
I don’t think this truck is about numbers, though. It’s about swagger.
No other pickup has a look or feel anything like this one. Everything about it is stout, from its solid-feeling frame and stiff suspension to its flat-sided, militaristic body. While the pickup market keeps getting more car-like, the Gladiator seems to be going in the opposite direction.

Like its body, the Gladiator’s cabin bears striking resemblance to the new Wrangler. It has a single-minded focus on off-roading, right down to the 4×4 control placements and washable rubber floor mats.

It’s blatantly, proudly a form-follows-function design. It’s something a truck purist would love.
That gives it a couple of obvious drawbacks.
One, because it’s designed for traveling through wilderness, its ride isn’t as supple and silent as other midsize competitors. Two, because of its strong frame, heavy body and all that off-road gear, its fuel economy is rated for just 17 mpg in city driving and 22 on the highway.
Those are simple facts of life for people who do serious off-roading, though. If you buy it because it looks cool, the drawbacks may get tiring after a while.
If you use it as a tool to do a job — crawling on trails and hauling heavy loads — it’s actually surprisingly comfortable and practical as a daily driver.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland 4×4 ($40,395). Options: Leather bucket seats ($1,495), trailer tow package ($250), cold weather group ($995), premium LED lighting ($995), 8.4-inch radio and premium audio group ($1,595), dual top group ($2,295), active safety group ($895), adaptive cruise ($795), auxiliary switches ($295), cargo management system ($895), all weather slush mats ($150), automatic transmission ($2,000), Trac-Lok anti-spin differential ($595), keyless entry ($495), 3-piece hard top ($1,100), spray-in bedliner ($495). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $57,230
Wheelbase: 137.3 in.
Length: 218 in.
Width: 73.8 in.
Height: 75 in.
Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (285 hp, 260 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 17 city, 22 highway

Style: 10
Performance: 10
Price: 4
Handling: 4
Ride: 5
Comfort: 6
Quality: 8
Overall: 9

Why buy it? 
It’s equally good at truck stuff and Jeep stuff — towing and off-roading. It’s got spectacular capability on the trails with the added utility of a pickup bed.

Posted in Jeep

Off-Roading With Taste

By Derek Price

Years ago, one person might buy a rugged off-road pickup for getting to the job site and beating up on remote, challenging, rocky trails.
Another buyer might pick a luxury truck with leather seats and lots of add-ons to pamper them in comfort when they pull up to the symphony-hall valet.
These days, strangely enough, you can get both those trucks at the same time.
I just finished a week behind the wheel of GMC’s Sierra 1500 AT4, a truck that tries to straddle the wide gap between off-road capability and on-road luxury.
In my mind, it’s a weird thing to try, but it’s surprisingly popular with new truck buyers who apparently don’t want to compromise on anything — nor should they, with the prices of pickups ratcheting higher every year.
Unlike the Ram 1500 Rebel and Ford F-150 Raptor, two trucks that look almost comically macho, the off-roading Sierra seems restrained with its body color trim and no-bigger-than-usual “GMC” logo on the grille.

After being redesigned this year, the GMC Sierra adds the AT4 trim level with two inches of suspension lift, lots of off-road features and some of the Denali’s luxury amenities.

In today’s world of over-the-top truck design, it takes some serious self restraint to keep the letters in your logo smaller than dinner plates.
Still, the AT4 rides a whopping two inches higher than the regular Sierra, which is already no shrinking daisy in terms of size and intimidation factor. The lifted suspension not only helps with ground clearance when off-roading, but it makes driving the truck more of an adventure.
It’s a truck you have to hike and lift yourself up into, not merely plop into a seat.
It also dips deeply into the Sierra Denali’s well of luxury features. It comes standard with the origami-like MultiPro Tailgate, for example, and soon will be available with the Denali’s carbon fiber box. A black chrome finish gives it just a hint of the Denali’s bling.
It’s the off-road features that make it really stand out, though.
The AT4 comes standard with four-wheel drive, a locking rear differential, two-speed transfer case and skid plates to protect its sensitive bits from scraping on rocks.
Other standard goodies include your choice of all-terrain or mud rated tires, hill descent control, eye-catching red tow hooks, and a sophisticated traction system that changes transmission shift points, throttle mapping and electronic traction control depending on the driving conditions.
The Sierra AT4 is available with one of the most unique and customizable heads-up display systems in the world. You can change the information it displays on the windshield, including an inclinometer to show how extremely the truck is tilting left and right, or forward and back, which is a useful way to help keep the driver’s eyes outside the cabin during intense off-road maneuvers.

A customizable heads-up display is one of several innovative features on the new Sierra. The GMC Surround Vision system is as useful out on trails as it is in tight parking garages.

Similarly, Surround Vision gives a bird’s eye view of the truck when moving slowly. On cars, this is most useful when parking in small spots or maneuvering in a garage, something even more helpful when parking huge trucks like this. But it has an added benefit when driving slowly on trails, letting you get a cursory idea about rocks and ruts that could be challenging.
While the Sierra is highly competitive in terms of capability, it’s less so in refinement and luxury compared to the new Ram and Ford half-ton trucks. Even after an all-new design this year, the Sierra doesn’t feel like it made the same leap into the future that its soft-riding, quiet competitors did, something that might matter more to cross shoppers than to the legions of General Motors faithful.
As a do-anything, go-anywhere truck, though, the AT4 is a fascinating attempt at straddling the luxury and off-road sides of the market. And it does so in a way that seems more tasteful than its oversized-logo competitors.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 GMC Sierra AT4 ($50,800). Options: Off-road performance package ($4,940), AT4 Premium Package ($2,600), technology package ($1,875), driver alert package II ($745). Price as tested (including $1,595 destination charge): $63,055
Wheelbase: 147.4 in.
Length: 231.7 in.
Width: 81.2 in.
Height: 78.4 in.
Engine: 6.2-liter V8 (420 hp, 460 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 15 city, 19 highway

Style: 9
Performance: 9
Price: 6
Handling: 6
Ride: 5
Comfort: 6
Quality: 6
Overall: 7

Why buy it? 
Designed for off-roading but equipped more like a luxury truck, the Sierra AT4 occupies a unique spot in the marketplace.

Posted in GMC

Half SUV, Half Muscle Car

By Derek Price

The Dodge Durango continues to answer an oddball question: Can you mix a muscle car with an SUV?
Combining car-like attributes with SUV-like capability has resulted in the most popular vehicles for sale today, crossovers. But the Durango puts a unique twist on that formula by prioritizing performance and handing at a level that’s rare to see outside of a few hyper-expensive German vehicles.
While that’s certainly true of the version I tested — the high-performance SRT, priced around $63,000 and powered by a 6.4-liter, 475-horsepower HEMI V8 — it also holds true for the more affordable flavors. Even the base version priced at less than half of the SRT, for example, gets reasonably snappy handling and a 295-horsepower V6 that can tow 6,200 pounds with the right equipment.
The SRT, though, takes performance to a different level. Dodge calls it the fastest three-row SUV in the world, something easy to believe every time I step on the gas pedal.
Aside from the monster engine that helps it rocket from a standstill to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, it also gets gigantic Brembo brakes with vented rotors, a suspension with active damping, stiffer front springs, a rear sway bar and a unique exhaust with a deep, growling exhaust note.

The Dodge Durango mixes muscular styling and performance with the towing and off-roading ability of an SUV. Its high-speed SRT version is the fastest three-row SUV in the world, Dodge claims.

It’s a thrilling machine, and it comes at a price that undercuts its luxurious German competitors. Even smaller, two-row performance SUVs from BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Porsche all cost many thousands more for the same heart-rate-raising sensations.
Granted, the quick SRT is just one in a wide range of flavors for this capable family hauler.
The base version, called the SXT, starts at $30,445 and is aimed at value shoppers who want a roomy three-row cabin and serious out-of-the-box capability without paying for extras.
The sporty GT offers some of the muscular look and feel of pricier trims — including the same front fascia as the SRT this year — for $34,895.
If you want the smooth-riding, sumptuous version, you can get the upscale Citadel that competes with luxury brands in features and refinement. It adds standard captain’s chairs on the second row as standard equipment this year and is priced from $43,245.

The Durango’s cabin is spacious and comfortable. Depending on the trim level, it also can feel sporty, luxurious or a combination of both.

The R/T version offers a lot of bang-for-the-buck performance with a 5.7-liter HEMI V8 that’s slightly smaller than the SRT’s engine. Priced around $44,000, it offers many of the SRT’s fantastic visceral feelings while saving nearly $20,000.
The downside of the Durango’s power and capability is fuel economy. The V6 is rated at 19 mpg in city driving and 26 on the highway, which isn’t bad for the horsepower it produces but will cost more at the pump than the turbocharged four-cylinder engines in many of its competitors.
My SRT tester is rated for 13 mpg in city driving and 19 on the highway.
A common denominator across all the Durango models, though, is serious SUV capability. It can do more than most crossovers for sale today thanks to its powerful engines and stout frame that are designed to tow heavy loads, not just haul kids to baseball practice.
It also is based on the same platform as the spectacular Jeep Grand Cherokee. That means it’s capable of doing some meaningful off-roading with all-wheel drive and 8.1-inch ground clearance, even if it lacks some of the off-road goodies from its Jeep cousins.

At A Glance

What was tested? 2019 Dodge Durango SRT ($62,995). Options: Technology group ($2,395), rear DVD entertainment center ($1,995), trailer tow group IV ($1,195), premium interior group ($2,495), high performance brakes ($1,295), red seat belts ($95), second-row console with armrests and storage ($595), power sunroof ($1,295), dual silver stripes ($1,195), Harman Kardon sound system ($995), three-season tires ($595), 20-inch wheels ($995). Price as tested (including $1,395 destination charge): $79,530
Wheelbase: 119.8 in.
Length: 201.2 in.
Width: 85.5 in.
Height: 70.9 in.
Engine: 6.4-liter HEMI V8 (475 hp, 470 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 13 city, 19 highway

Style: 8
Performance: 9
Price: 6
Handling: 9
Ride: 8
Comfort: 7
Quality: 7
Overall: 8

Why buy it? 
It has the off-road and towing capability of an SUV mixed with the attitude and growling performance of a muscle car.

Posted in Dodge