When towing with smaller vehicles like mid-size pickup trucks, properly setting up the trailer is extremely important. Appropriate trailer loading is even more important as the trailer weight gets close to the maximum rating of the tow vehicle. This was in full effect during my towing test of the 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon EcoDiesel, which has a towing capacity of 6,000 pounds. I attached a 21-foot-long full width-and-height 4,650-pound travel trailer to the Gladiator diesel to see how well it hauls a trailer that’s larger than a mid-size truck should tow on a regular basis. These are my results and recommendations for the best towing experience.
By Matt BarnesFebruary 15, 2021
My test trailer was 8 feet wide and about 10 feet tall. The Gladiator’s mirrors didn’t protrude enough from the truck to provide adequate coverage for a trailer this wide, but this trailer’s frontal area is larger than most mid-size trucks should be towing. According to the SAE International J2807 towing standard, trailer weights between 5,000 and 7,700 pounds should have a 55-square-foot frontal area (this is also the maximum frontal area recommendation for the Gladiator Rubicon diesel). The frontal area of my test trailer was roughly 80 square feet. There are many implications with this, but the added width is more than the mirrors on the Gladiator were designed to accommodate, and the wind resistance was much greater on my test trailer than the SAE standard calls for.
Jeep recommends a weight-distribution hitch for anything more than 2,000 pounds, but I wanted to test its composure in a worst-case scenario, so I didn’t tow with a weight-distribution hitch (always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations, however). When set up properly, my test Gladiator towed well enough that I didn’t put in the effort to add a weight-distribution hitch, which would only improve the experience.
It’s always best to have a trailer tongue weight of 10 to 15% for a conventional bumper tow setup. The trailer is more prone to sway below 10%, and above 15% it can potentially overload the tow vehicle. For my testing, the tongue weight was just over 10% at 475 pounds. The tongue weight caused the Gladiator to squat a little, but within an expected range.
My Gladiator had a calculated 899-pound payload capacity, so with the 185-pound driver and 475-pound tongue weight, 239 pounds of payload capacity remained. While this isn’t very much, it could be enough for two to three more passengers (think a small family of four in quantity and size).
Without much payload leftover, the remaining gear needed for a camping trip could be stowed inside the trailer. The key here is distributing weight between the truck and trailer to avoid overloading either one and to not exceed the gross combined weight rating of the truck. Anything loaded into the truck directly reduces the payload capacity of the truck. When loading gear into the trailer and keeping a 10% tongue weight, only 10% of the total weight added to the trailer is added to the truck, allowing for more gear to be carried on a trip.
How the Gladiator Diesel Tows
Despite having a high towing capacity for the class, the Gladiator does not offer a selectable Tow/Haul drive mode. Generally, Tow/Haul mode adjusts programming for the engine, transmission and the brakes to increase towing performance and decrease heat within the engine and transmission. Even though the Gladiator lacks this mode, Jeep says that the pickup automatically detects when it is towing and makes the necessary adjustments.
Once on the road, the first thing I noticed was how little the load affected the Gladiator’s acceleration. For a mid-size truck, 4,650 pounds is a significant load, but between the eight-speed automatic transmission and the EcoDiesel engine’s torque, power was not an issue.
City driving was as expected, without a hint of sway or control issues. The trailer followed the truck well, and the maneuverability of the mid-size Gladiator made backing up and taking tight turns easier than in a full-size truck.
Merging onto freeways, the EcoDiesel easily got the Gladiator and trailer up to speed. Once at speed, it was easy to maintain a desired speed. With 442 pounds-feet of torque on hand at 1,400 rpm, there was little need for throttle adjustments or downshifting unless climbing a steep grade. Other vehicles in this class aren’t as easy to keep at a constant speed when towing.
On an empty stretch of road, I tested how well the Gladiator controls sway. To try and find a logical point where the trailer would upset the truck, I swerved progressively more left and right (within my lane and within reason) and returned to center. This test simulates a gust of side wind or the bow wave of a passing semi. At 65 mph, I was unable to upset the Gladiator and never had to manually apply the trailer brakes. More extreme testing would require a private road and other safety measures.
However, there were times when the Gladiator felt like it was approaching its limits. On larger bumps, I could feel the trailer pushing the truck around a bit. Nothing that was unsafe, just something that let me know that the trailer was there and proper caution was needed.
Slowing the trailer was no problem. I wish Jeep would add an exhaust brake switch to EcoDiesel-equipped trucks. Even without the exhaust brake, there was a decent amount of engine braking for control during long descents. Beyond that, the traditional brakes on the Gladiator had no problem safely bringing my load to a stop.
Gladiator Towing Recommendations
Know your weights. Be sure to adjust cargo within the trailer to get a tongue weight of at least 10%. Take the trailer to a truck scale to get the trailer and tongue weights. For known trailer weights, and when added cargo weight can be easily estimated, simply use a ball mount with a built-in scale to get an accurate tongue weight.
I also recommend reading the owner’s manual. Jeep recommends using a weight-distribution hitch when towing more than 2,000 pounds. On top of that, I recommend using a weight-distribution hitch with sway control whenever towing a high-profile trailer.
Trailer brake controllers are paramount for towing safely. Without a trailer brake controller, a vehicle won’t apply the brakes on the trailer even if the trailer is equipped with brakes. For the Gladiator, Jeep recommends that trailer brakes be used for towing more than 1,000 pounds.
The EcoDiesel is certainly the engine of choice for the Gladiator while towing, even if it doesn’t have the Gladiator’s maximum towing capacity of 7,650 pounds; the standard Pentastar V6 is the only option if towing more than the EcoDiesel’s 6,000 pound capacity. The Gladiator EcoDiesel tows like a dream, however, when kept within its ratings with a properly setup system, remaining stable and composed even near its maximum load.
Cars.com contributor Matt Barnes is a product engineer for Progress Mfg. Inc. in Utah, makers of the Equal-i-zer hitch and Fastway Flash ball mounts. As part of his work, Barnes tests various pieces of trailer towing equipment including trailer hitches.
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