Competes with: Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, Nissan Frontier, Toyota Tacoma
Looks like: Jeep Wrangler Unlimited
Drivetrains: 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 (260 pounds-feet of torque); 260-hp, 3.0-liter V-6 (442 pounds-feet of torque); six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission; four-wheel drive
Hits dealerships: Early spring 2019
The long-awaited return of an all-new Jeep pickup truck more than 10 years in the making is finally here. Revealed today at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, like the Ford Ranger, was a late comer to the slowly growing mid-size pickup class.
Related: More 2018 L.A. Auto Show Coverage
A clever and efficient pickup, the Jeep Gladiator is based almost entirely off the popular four-door Jeep Wrangler SUV. There is no mistaking that this is a Jeep pickup, which is exactly what designers had to do, but is the Gladiator meant to be more Jeep than pickup truck or more pickup than Jeep? The answer is in the details.
From the outside, the answer is simple: The Jeep Gladiator is a Wrangler pickup. The front grille, bumpers, headlight design, trapezoidal wheel openings and hood are all identical to the SUV, and from our point of view, that's a good thing, especially since these two vehicles are built on the same production line. The only significant change to the Gladiator foundation is that the wheelbase has been lengthened by 20 inches to close off the crew-cab cabin behind the rear passenger seats to mount a 5-foot all-steel pickup bed over the rear axle. For additional weight savings, the doors, hinges, hood and fenders are made from high-strength aluminum.
Jeep enthusiasts will feel right at home inside the Gladiator as the driver's position and access to vehicle information and controls are similar, if not identical, to the Wrangler Unlimited setup. There's large navigation screen at the top of the center console; climate and audio controls are below along with four-wheel-drive switches and levers. It finishes with cupholders and the transmission shifter falling easily to the driver's hand. Vehicle and entertainment information is delivered on most trim levels via a 3.5-inch screen or 7-inch LED display in the instrument cluster along with a 7-inch nav screen or 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen in the center console. A 5-inch touchscreen is standard on the base model.
Depending on which of the four — Sport, Sport S, Overland and Rubicon — trim levels you select, material choices will vary. We spent a good amount of time in the Overland and Rubicon models, and both are well-done with textured and soft-touch surfaces at the elbows and other touch points, and sturdy knobs and selector switches in the center console. The backseat of the crew cab has firm, functional seating with seatbacks that flip down to fold flat. The seat bottoms also flip up to take advantage of the flat-load floor, which, of course, can be optioned with modular, lockable storage.
Under the Hood and Body
As important as the interior and exterior look of the truck is, this new mid-size pickup player will be judged by what's underneath the body and hood. Engine choices are no surprise: The base Gladiator engine will be Jeep's all-aluminum 24-valve 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 (260 pounds-feet of torque) and the 260-hp, 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 (442 pounds-feet of torque) will be an option in 2020. The gas V-6 will, across the model lineup, use the D478 six-speed as the standard transmission with the 850RE eight-speed automatic the optional choice with 3.73:1 gears for Sport, Sport S and Overland trims, and 4.10:1 gears for Sport Max Tow and Rubicon. All EcoDiesels will get the eight-speed. Likewise, it will be offered with two transfer cases: the NV241 Command-Trac with a 2.72:1 low-range ratio or the NV241OR Rock-Trac with the rock-crawling 4.00:1 low-range ratio. All this impressive gearing on the Rubicon trim allows for an impressive 84.2:1 crawl ratio (meaning you can creep very slowly to navigate over extremely tough terrain) combined with more than 11 inches of ground clearance and 30 inches of fording depth for river crossings.
As you might expect, the front and rear axles are also the same live-axle setup used on the Wrangler, with third-generation five-lug Dana 44s and an open (Sport, Sport S and Overland) or limited-slip differential (Rubicon) for the front axle and a limited-slip (Sport or Overland) or electronic locking differential (Rubicon) for the rear axle. The suspension for the Gladiator is also familiar, with a coil/link and a Panhard rod setup for both front and rear live axles. Newly designed monotube shocks are used on all trims with special high-performance Fox aluminum shocks reserved for the Rubicon.
Although these are the same five-lug axles used on the lighter-duty Wrangler SUV, Jeep engineers have upgraded the shafts and splines to give them more strength for the extra payload and towing capabilities needed for a pickup. Gladiator braking has not been beefed up when compared to the Wrangler Rubicon, offering the same 12.9-inch rotor and twin-piston disc brakes for the front and 13.6-inch rotor and single-piston setup for the rear.
As to the business end of the vehicle, Jeep engineers have included some thoughtful in the bed design. Under-rim LED lighting and sturdy D-ring tie-downs give the bed area night-and-day functionality. To accommodate pickup owners who will carry motorcycles or bicycles in the bed, the tailgate's 5-foot bed has a multilatch system that allows for partial opening to accommodate short and long toys as well as awkwardly shaped items. All Gladiators will be offered with a factory spray-in bedliner.
As to important specification numbers, most Gladiators will have a 5,800-pound gross vehicle weight rating with Rubicon models getting heavier-duty rear springs that bumps their GVWR to 6,250 pounds. This translates to a payload capacity ranging from a maximum of 1,600 pounds (for the Sport 3.6-liter V-6 with the six-speed manual and 3.73:1 gears) to 1,105 pounds (for the Sport 3.6-liter V-6 with the eight-speed automatic and 3.73:1 gears or the Rubicon 3.6-liter V-6 with the eight-speed auto and 4.10:1 gears). Interestingly, the Gladiator with the highest payload capacity — the Sport — will be the one with the lowest trailering capacity at just 4,000 pounds. And the vehicle with the highest towing capacity (the Sport Max Tow at 7,650 pounds) has a 1,535-pound payload capacity and the highest gross combined weight rating at 12,800 pounds (that's the one we want to test first).
Jeep Gladiator's Place in the Market
There are plenty of questions about how the 2020 Jeep Gladiator will fit into the mid-size pickup truck class. For now, Jeep is not offering longer wheelbases to accommodate a longer bed or even an extended-cab model that could offer a longer, usable bed length — but Honda doesn't either. That seems curious to us and so do the five-lug axles, especially for any truck in the mid-size class. All the Gladiator's competitors have six-lug axles. The coil springs also raise a question given our experiences towing with the Ram 1500 and Honda Ridgeline, but a good max tow package could assuage our fears once we get more time behind the wheel.
Still, just imagining a Jeep Gladiator Rubicon alongside a new Ford Ranger Raptor, or all-new Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro has us drooling. Some day. One thing is for certain: The mid-size section of the pickup truck world will not be boring for many years to come. Viva la truck wars!