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.
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.
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
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.