Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman
At the in Moab, Utah, the Jeep J6 concept — a shortened, regular-cab version of the 2020 Jeep Gladiator resplendent in vivid Brilliant Blue Metallic paint — was the immediate hit of the lot, the one everyone drooled over. I recently got some seat time behind the wheel to see how it felt. My conclusion: Jeep is nuts if it doesn't build a production version of this thing.
The beauty of Jeep's EJS concepts is that they're always drivable. The company wheels them off-road as part of the festival, so they're fully functioning trucks despite many of them being hand-built.
Driving the J6 is a unique experience; you climb in like any other tall, lifted Jeep, which requires a bit of a jump given that it's sitting on hefty 37-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain KM3 tires wrapping 17-inch bead-lock wheels. The J6's length is much more manageable than a standard Gladiator because the J6 sits on a Jeep Wrangler JL frame with a 118.4-inch wheelbase instead of the Gladiator's crazy 137.3-inch span. It enabled Jeep designers to lop off that second set of doors and keep the J6 a two-passenger, regular-cab model while lengthening the bed to a full 6 feet instead of the Gladiator's truncated 5. It just looks right: The proportions are perfect, unlike the Gladiator's awkward stretch, and everyone who gazed upon it agreed that its looks are pure dynamite.
It drives surprisingly well, too. My brief stint in the J6 was a largely straight jaunt down suburban Detroit's storied Woodward Avenue as part of the recent Woodward Dream Cruise activities, so sadly there was no off-roading involved. But we know it's made for off-roading, as all the components underneath are pure JL Wrangler — it doesn't use the Gladiator's more robust, Ram 1500-derived rear suspension, however, as it's meant to be more of a visual proof-of-concept than a production pickup. That means it likely doesn't have any better towing ability than the Wrangler's 3,500 pounds instead of the Gladiator's 7,000-pounds-plus limits (Jeep declined to speculate on the J6's towing abilities, citing its status as a concept truck).
But how does it feel out on the street compared with the Gladiator? The shortened length means that the turning circle is considerably better than a Gladiator, and I found its handling behavior to be pretty much identical to a Wrangler, if perhaps a bit lighter on its feet. Surprisingly, the knobby off-road tires weren't even all that loud on the pavement. Acceleration is also as expected, given the ubiquitous unmodified 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 nestled under the hood. It hustles like a Wrangler but feels a bit more sprightly — I'm not sure of its weight versus a Wrangler Rubicon, but it has to be less than the Gladiator, given its smaller size. Outward visibility was a little compromised, however, due to the bed-mounted spare wheel and tire that completely eats up the view to the rear, and the very thick B-pillars that obscure your over-the-shoulder view. Keep in mind that this hardtop is fully removable, just like any Jeep Wrangler or Gladiator. The doors also are removable, and the windshield folds down as well. Open-air trucking is just a few screw twists away.
But when it comes down to it, the final say is based on the simply perfect proportions of this truck. The Gladiator, it must be said, looks weird. It's too long, it has overhangs in the wrong places, its proportions just don't aesthetically work. Just like a Porsche Panamera, it basically looks the way it looks because it really couldn't look any other way. But the J6 Concept just works, visually. The long bed, standard cab and lack of a front overhang make it look like a great big Tonka toy, and to know that the driving experience is equally enjoyable is truly uplifting.
Given the public reaction to this beast on Woodward Avenue, I'm willing to bet that there's a business case to be made for this truck that Jeep's product planners just aren't getting the gist of. For an off-road pickup like this, with a regular cab, removable top, stout V-6 and styling that's absolutely killer, I'd be first in line at the Jeep dealer.
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