By on April 1, 2019

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Jeep engineers and PR folks wasted no time in telling media, assembled in Sacramento to drive the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator mid-size pickup, that this truck is more than just a Wrangler with a pickup bed slapped on the back.

Technically speaking, it’s true — there are key mechanical and structural differences. So no one who uttered this assertion was lying.

But while those mechanical differences are important, they don’t change the fact that the Gladiator still feels just like a Wrangler with a bed. No matter what anyone from Jeep tells you, the Gladiator is, in a way, a Wrangler with a bed.

And that will be a good thing for many, if not most, potential buyers.

(Full disclosure: Jeep flew me out to Sacramento, put me in a nice hotel, and fed me several nice meals. The company offered a hat I didn’t take.)

While a diesel will be available in 2020, the only engine available at launch is a 3.6-liter V6 making 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Regardless of trim, you can row your own via a six-speed manual transmission or opt for an eight-speed automatic.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

On road, the Gladiator’s manners are what you’d expect. The V6 offers adequate pep at best, with a lack of low-end torque forcing drivers of manual examples into frequent downshifts.

Shifting the stick is a mixed bag – the clutch is abrupt and grabby with an oddly high engagement point. You’ll be as smooth as a day-one driver’s ed student, at least until you get used to it. The shifter itself has long throws, yet it’s easy to find the correct gate. When you do, there’s a satisfying “snick.” The automatic may make it easier to tap into low-end torque, but the manual is a tad more fun to drive, even with the clutch’s crankiness.

Constant steering corrections are needed to keep the truck from wandering, and tight corners are taken slowly, as the truck’s handling doesn’t much inspire confidence. The ride is smoother than that of a Wrangler thanks to the longer wheelbase (although there is some float and wallow), but even that is relative – it’s still truckish.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

And yet, with just about any other truck, all of those qualities would likely be considered negative. For Jeep buyers, however, they can be written off as quirks. Or the trade-offs one must make for off-road capability – such as solid front and rear axles.

Ah, yes. That. Here’s the good news: The Gladiator plays in the dirt as well as any Wrangler. Yes, the increased length may be an issue on some trails, but with that aside, the Gladiator got through a muddy off-road course that included a few rock piles, and it did so without exhibiting any sweat. I did bang against the skidplates here and there, but that’s what they’re there for.

Sure, Jeep wasn’t going to build a trail we couldn’t get through, but the off-road course wasn’t easy. I’m not sure all of the mid-size trucks on the market could make it through, although I’d bet the more off-road-oriented Toyota Tacomas and the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison would have a reasonable shot.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Jeep’s off-road wizardry depends in part on modern tech. A switch in the cockpit on Rubicon models allows you to disconnect the front swaybar, and the front and rear differentials on the Rubicon are also electronically locking. An available Off Road + mode can further adjust powertrain, shifting, and chassis settings for certain applications.

Heavy-duty Dana 44 axles are part of the equation, and non-Rubicon models have a 2.72:1 low-range ratio with the two-speed transfer case and 3.73 axle ratio. On the Rubicon, the numbers are 4.0:1 and 4.10.

You can equip your Gladiator with 17- or 18-inch wheels, and the Rubicon gets 33-inch tires. The Rubicon is also available with a camera that can help guide you around obstacles.

Other key numbers include a payload of 1,600 pounds, the ability to tow up to 7,650 pounds, and the ability to ford water up to 30 inches deep. Ground clearance is 10 inches on Sports and Overlands, and 11.1 on Rubicons. The approach angle is 40.8 degrees on the Sport and Overland, and 43.4 on the Rubicon.

Breakover angle is 18.4 degrees on the lower trims and 20.3 on the Rubicon, and departure angle is 25 degrees (26 on Rubicon).

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Trucks aren’t just meant to be off-road tools. The Gladiator’s Wrangler-esque cabin includes storage behind the rear seats, and those same seats can fold flat to accommodate larger items via access to the five-foot-long cargo bed. The seat benches can be raised, stadium-style, to unveil under-seat storage bins.

Speaking of the rear seat – I had no issues getting my long legs back there. Space was a little tight, but adequate for most taller adults in most situations. The available running boards are awkwardly placed, however, and even in their absence one risks dirtying their pants by sliding them against the bottoms of the doors. Entry and exit must be handled carefully during inclement weather or while off-roading.

As befits Jeep, you can remove the top, whether its soft or one of the two available hardtops (black or body color), and you can of course remove the doors. And yes, the windshield folds down – though the rearview mirror stays put. Opt for a hardtop and you’ll get a manual sliding rear window.

Removable doors and roof and off-road tires mean the Gladiator is loud on-road. So loud that I couldn’t separate wind and tire noise – it all blurred together.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

The Gladiator certainly looks cool – the cargo box seems a natural fit, and it’s safe to say we turned some heads on the freeway. The interior is more or less the same as what’s found on the current Wrangler, and that’s a good thing, since Jeep finally modernized Wrangler cabins with the most recent redesign. It’s not perfect – some of the materials are way too hard – but controls are laid out logically and the availability of 5-, 7-, or 8.4-inch touchscreens is nice. Fiat Chrysler’s UConnect infotaiment system is available, and one cool available app is the “off-road pages.” This app displays things like pitch and roll or altitude.

Available features are many. Among them, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, push-button start, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, five USB ports, subwoofer, wireless speaker, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, satellite radio, and forward-collision warning. Off-road-oriented features include skid plates, front and rear tow hooks, heavy-duty bumper (Rubicon), and winch-ready front bumper (Rubicon).

The cargo box is steel but the tailgate is aluminum, and the screws you see in the cabin are real metal. You can fold the soft-top up for easy access to the sky, and as always with Jeep, there’s plenty of hidden Easter eggs (logos and the like).

2020 Jeep Gladiator

The biggest differences from the Wrangler include the payload and towing numbers, a wider grille for better cooling, increased in-cabin storage, and the rear suspension. That last change sees the control arms relocate beneath the frame rails; Jeep also borrowed the track bar from the Ram 1500.

Fuel economy for the V6 is listed 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined with the automatic transmission and 16/23/19 for the stick.

You can have your Gladiator as soon as May, and Mopar already has 200 aftermarket parts on ready. For the Sport trim, you’ll fork over $33,545, and a Sport S will run you $36,745. Step to the Overland, and the sticker jumps to $40,395. A Rubicon will start at $43,545. All trims get hit with a destination fee of $1,495.

Jeep has offered buyers the opportunity to spend more, however. A Launch Edition, limited to 4,190 units (a reference to the Toledo area code), rings the register at $60,815. Orders open on April 4th (National Off-Road Day, since it’s 4×4). This version will come in five colors, don a body-color hardtop and fender flares, add gloss black 17-inch wheels with 33-inch off-road tires, and check all the Rubicon option boxes. One Launch Edition buyer who enters Jeep’s “Find Your Freedom Contest” will win $100,000.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Jeep staffers told me over lunch that the brand is targeting all potential mid-size truck buyers, not just Jeep fans or hardcore off-roaders. I don’t believe they’ll be successful in this mission, but I do believe that there are enough Jeep partisans out there that it won’t matter.

Consider that the Honda Ridgeline has impressive on-road manners. So does the “new” Ford Ranger (new to America, that is) – Jeep had one on hand for on-road testing, and I was surprised how good it is on pavement. Now consider that the Gladiator, like the Wrangler, trades on-road comportment for off-road prowess. I have a hard time picturing a buyer who’s shopping for the most well-rounded rig selecting the Gladiator.

Which, again, would normally be problematic, but not in this case. Jeeps are supposed to be challenging on-road so that they can conquer the off-road. Not only that, but some Jeep buyers will line up for this truck simply because it looks so damn cool. They may never venture off paved surfaces, but they’ll tool around town sans doors and top. They’ll festoon the tailgate with “it’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand” bumper stickers. They won’t moan about how hard it is to keep the truck tracking on-center, or how loud it is on the freeway. It will make them smile, and that’s all that matters.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Some vehicles are popular despite not being particularly well-mannered. Indeed, sometimes they’re popular because of that. The Wrangler is one of those vehicles, so it follows that the truck version of the Wrangler also would be, despite the under-skin changes.

Sure — mechanically, it’s more than just a Wrangler with a pickup bed slapped on. But it’s still a Jeep truck, for better or for worse.

That’s all it really needs to be. That’s just what the people want, after all.

[Images © 2019 Tim Healey/TTAC]

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70 Comments on “2020 Jeep Gladiator First Drive – Getting What You Asked For...”


  • avatar
    seth1065

    I am sure they will sell a fair amount but this is 2019 they could have added the safety tech as standard. based on the internet this should sell to everyone who wants a stick in any trim. I do not see why you would buy this over a regular Wrangler But I do not see why anyone would buy a Wrangles so it must be a Jeep thing and I do not get it.

    • 0 avatar
      slavuta

      Want a nanny – hire one

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        People who can afford to, very often do. Indicating nannies have value. When they cost $5 to include, not including them is simply a sign of a company ran by extraction obsessed rabble, rather than efficiency minded engineers.

    • 0 avatar
      maui_zaui

      Who would buy this over a Wrangler? Anyone who wants a Wrangler, but prefers more storage and a 7650lb tow rating comes to mind.

      • 0 avatar
        Carlson Fan

        “Who would buy this over a Wrangler? Anyone who wants a Wrangler, but prefers more storage and a 7650lb tow rating comes to mind.”

        Sorry this thing would be an absolute nightmare to drive with 7650lbs behind it. It wouldn’t be able to get out of it’s own way for starters and with that ridiculously long overhang on back it couldn’t handle the tongue weight.

  • avatar

    I know I don’t need this, and I can get a Frontier Pro-4x for about $10k less, but this is a very cool vehicle and they will sell every one they make for way more than it’s realistically worth. I’ve been holding out for the new Bronco and things are looking good there, but I really could use a truck bed, and I’m not sure my old rodeo will hold out for the Bronco.

    This thing is in my sights end of the year once the Wife’s Expedition is paid off.

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      Yeah, I did a “build and price” on the Ranger a while back. It was an XL, 4×4, crew cab with some options, and it was significantly cheaper than this is in base trim with no options.

      Does the Ranger have a solid front axle? No.
      Do I really need it where I would use the truck off-road? No.

      Would I rather have something that drives better 90% of the time I’m using it? Yes.

      Does this look WAY cooler? Yes.

      But, I do find the Ranger attractive and I couldn’t see paying thousands more and dealing with the poor on-road driving characteristics simply because the Jeep looks so good. I’m sure plenty of others will feel differently, but I think the author is right, this wont conquest too many midsize truck buyers who are more concerned with daily driveability and value than they are about hard core off-road ability and the looks.

      I’m also waiting to see the Bronco. Between now and 2021, I’m going to do my best to get things in order (concerning the non-automotive aspects of my life, lol) so that I can comfortably finance one and not be financially stressed. If, for whatever reason, the Bronco doesnt work for me, itll be the Ranger I described above.

  • avatar
    civicjohn

    Oh yes, they will sell a ton of them. After my ex extracted all of the “transitional” alimony from me (Google it), she then found her next love, I think he’s about 15-17 years older than her, and the first vehicle he bought her was a Colorado. Both of my kids tell me that after a year or so of driving it, when they are staying at her house, she prefers to drive their cars (purchased by me) instead of driving the truck, “because it’s hard to park at the mall”.

    Had this been available prior to the purchase of the Colorado, it would be sitting in the driveway. I seem to recall she’s like 5’4″ or 5’5″, so perhaps it’s a Napoleon Complex deal, but it would have been the preferred vehicle of choice.

    So yup, they’ll sell everyone they can make. Maybe that’s why FCA was trying to buy the GM plant. Why in the world FCA would want a marriage with PSA is completely beyond my comprehension and pay grade.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Honda Ridgeline not need apply.

      • 0 avatar
        JohnTaurus

        I’m so glad you didnt let an opportunity to diss Honda pass you by.

        • 0 avatar
          geozinger

          @John… Why u bag on Pete? Come on man, you do the same thing further down the thread…

          Besides how many times in threads here someone has to mention some domestic product their grandfather owned 40+ years ago and how bad it was? Its rarely is related to the subject of the original post, usually by folks who would never buy a domestic car…

  • avatar
    Land Ark

    Man, those rear doors look awkward.
    Getting in an out of the back seat of a 4-door Wrangler is not a pleasant experience. It doesn’t look like they addressed it here, and I can’t see why they didn’t.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      It actually wasn’t bad, except for avoiding getting my jeans full of mud.

      • 0 avatar
        LectroByte

        I’m from a big Jeep family (I kinda gave up on them after the XJ went away), and between parents, inlaws and siblings, they have 4 Wranglers, all 4dr’s, so I’m riding in one of these a lot — getting in the rear is a pain, the door just seems too narrow, even compared to something like a Tacoma Double Cab’s rear door. That said, I’m sure these will sell great, at least the first year or two, after that, it remains to be seen.

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      I assume they saved $50 by just using the doors from the wrangler?

    • 0 avatar
      Lorenzo

      They could have addressed it by eliminating the rear doors and back seat, but a standard cab Jeep pickup you will never see again.

  • avatar
    ajla

    This thing sure checks an awful lot of the boxes I’ve seen claimed by truck-desiring internet commenters.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    And fully loaded the Gladiator costs the princely sum of $61K — BEFORE delivery charges.

    The world has gone nuts.

    • 0 avatar
      PrincipalDan

      Perversely there is actually an “Ace of Base” case to be made for the Sport/Sport S. IF you compare them to the “base” off-road oriented (reg TRD, Z71…) trims of the competition the Gladiator has more impressive off road specs and is cheaper.

      However you don’t get all the infotainment comfort toys of the competition when you go base.

      I also assume that it will take a year or two after launch for dealers to start selling at anywhere below MSRP.

    • 0 avatar
      28-Cars-Later

      It’s a mad mad world.

    • 0 avatar
      LectroByte

      That $61k was for the loaded Launch limited edition version, the top of the line Rubicon doesn’t seem too far out of line with loaded-up Tacomas and Colorados.

  • avatar
    Sigivald

    “The V6 offers adequate pep at best”

    Adequate at best, if you choose the manual Because Reasons, I guess.

    Get the automatic *everyone is going to actually buy* and just enjoy it being more than “adequate”, which is what the review seemed to not want to admit.

    (Yeah, the five serious offroaders who buy one *might* want the stick.

    Or not.)

    • 0 avatar
      JohnTaurus

      I didnt realize the automatic added more power or torque, I just thought it downshifts for you to access what power/torque the engine has. Very interesting.

      But yeah, people are stupid for wanting what they want, which is why everybody should just shut up and buy a Ridgeline.

    • 0 avatar
      Tim Healey

      The manual is more fun, but the automatic is a bit quicker to match the gear to the rev-band. The Gladiator doesn’t feel that much faster with the auto. Just a bit more responsive.

  • avatar
    Boxerman

    I know what the tow rating is, but how well does it actualy tow say 4000lbs.
    How deep is the bed.
    Are alll versions noisy on highway or juist the rubicon. For example how does a sport with hardtop sound on the highway.

  • avatar
    JohnTaurus

    The midsize truck with the most to lose is Toyota Tacoma. Considering that most are bought more for style than substance, and obviously their on-road manners are of no concern to the buyers, I’d be worried if I were Toyota. Not only that, but the Taco Truck is the most cross-shopped vehicle with the Jeep Wrangler.

    GM twins and Ford Ranger are/will eat into the heart of the buyer base, this will definitely eat into the poser demographic as well as those who truly intend to go off-road.

  • avatar
    dividebytube

    I like it – a lot. And I’m not much of a Jeep guy. I’ve only been a passenger in one including a co-worker who offered to drive his Wrangler on a business trip. I could barely walk or hear after a few hours of that torture.

  • avatar
    Oberkanone

    I’m not a Wrangler person and I find Gladiator to be appealing. I don’t need any more off pavement capability than my full size truck with off road package provides. Yet I could see myself enjoying the Jeep pickup. Even if it tows less, hauls less in the bed, has less interior room and costs more.
    What really stops me is the pricing.

    Nice job FCA on this new Jeep pickup.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Jeep had one of these at the Denver auto show a couple of days ago, and it attracted a huge crowd. They’re gonna sell a bunch of these.

    (For the record, the other two cars that attracted a huge crowd were the Civic Type R, and the new Shelby Mustang.)

    • 0 avatar
      deanst

      “(For the record, the other two cars that attracted a huge crowd were the Civic Type R, and the new Shelby Mustang.)”

      You can see the difference between attracting a crowd and attracting sales – 2 very different things.

  • avatar
    legacygt

    Has there ever been a car where the difference between the approach angle and departure angle was this large? The Gladiator can approach an obstacle like a Wrangler but it can only depart from one like a RAV4. (Actually the RAV4 has a greater departure angle.) If it comes to rock crawling, the Wrangler-like front end is going to be held back by the pickup-like rear. Still, this truck will do better-the fine under more typical off-road conditions but probably no better than the off-road versions of the mid-sized trucks by Nissan, Toyota, GM and Ford. Not to mention that for $60K, you’re in Raptor territory. What you do get are the Jeep brand, Wrangler looks and the ability to drop the doors, roof and windshield. I wonder if the doors and/or roof can be carried in the bed.

  • avatar
    thelaine

    I absolutely love this truck in Rubicon trim and I have a place to frequently use its capabilities. It is perfect for hunting in the hills and mountains, where a larger truck can be a problem. It is an extraordinary trail beast for a production pickup and very comfortable considering what it can do.

    The money though. Oy. My current truck, despite its limitations, looks like a keeper. The best truck is the one that is paid off and still running like new.

    Maybe some day, if they put a more powerful engine in it, I will pull the trigger.

  • avatar
    slavuta

    “Shifting the stick is a mixed bag – the clutch is abrupt and grabby with an oddly high engagement point.”

    Nothing ruins manual experience as badly calibrated clutch. But on the other hand, you have a chance to experience the “old days” and workout your weak left leg.

    But seriously, sounds like manufacturers don’t have the drivers who understands how clutch should operate, to tell them to polish this component.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    A “truck” sporting a manual option is impressive. Jeep will sell a boatload of these.

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    A “truck” sporting a manual option is impressive. Jeep will sell a boatload of these.

  • avatar
    Lie2me

    Man, this is going to print so much money for FCA

  • avatar
    CannonShot

    I’m disappointed. The Wrangler look does not translate well to a truck. It’s awkward looking. Many of the concept trucks we’ve seen from Jeep over the last several years were much better looking. I may be in the market soon for a mid-size truck and for the money it makes more sense to get something else. Not that Jeep needs me. They’ll have no trouble finding buyers for the Gladiator.

  • avatar
    Hummer

    The starting price seems fantastic, going by the H3T that started around 29k 10 years ago this only gains 4K but also gains a solid axle. another engine cylinder, and one more cog in the transmission.

    However the top end is dissapointing, the H3T offered a V8 which is essentially required if you choose the automatic. I like this truck, my only reservation is that it needs a V8. The H3T had a V8 for under $45k, that’s a high price for a midsize but I can’t imagine spending that much and being stuck in a V6.

    Drop the 5.7L into this and I’ll wait patiently at the door to place my order.

  • avatar
    Carlson Fan

    “the V6 offers adequate pep at best, with a lack of low-end torque ”

    WOW….sign me up!!!!! Just what I want in a truck, an engine that’s completely gutless on the low end. This thing is proportioned so awkwardly, the box looks like a complete afterthought. The massive overhang on the rear means it will tow like crap with anything heavier than 2K pounds. Shaped like brick it will have plenty of wind noise at interstate speeds and get blown all over the place anytime there is a side wind with the added benefit of fuel economy that lags behind a V8 powered 1/2 ton PU.

    This thing is such a disaster as a PU but I suspect despite all its shortcomings there will be plenty of people lined up to buy one! “Jeep You Wouldn’t Understand”……..Yep you got that right LOL!

  • avatar
    MKizzy

    If their dim view of the Wrangler is any indication, we can pencil in Consumer Reports rating the Gladiator the worst pickup truck money can buy. They’ll then scratch their heads over its excellent customer satisfaction rating about a year later.

  • avatar
    danio3834

    How gilded we’ve become when a pickup truck that can do 0-60 in the 7 second range is merely “adequate at best”.

  • avatar
    Dan

    On its merits I don’t get it. At all.

    It takes all of the things that a Wrangler does well and then does them badly because it’s too big. Forget the technical offroad nonsense because nobody does it. But as an urban convertible for extroverts the two extra feet to park and four lanes to make a U-turn is a constant pain in the butt.

    It then takes all of the good things that a truck does and fails miserably at them because it’s a Wrangler. Cramped and noisy with a bad ride and a crap powertrain by 2009 standards of half ton let alone 2019.

    But you can say most of that about the Tacoma too and they sell scads of them anyway. Merits don’t matter when you’re buying image.

    • 0 avatar
      Flipper35

      If we were buying a truck I would give this a long hard look. It is smaller than the full size trucks, looks different than all the other trucks and has a removable top. One of the reasons I had an old Ramcharger was the removable top and I am sure it is much easier in the Jeep. I only need to tow up to 5000 pounds on occasion and I could still go places that old Ramcharger couldn’t go when going off road.

      If I really wanted a true off road beast I would get a 2 door Wrangler or an old Samurai and build it up.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    I don’t see this as appealing to anyone other than the Jeep faithful. And that could be a problem as it will just cannibalize Unlimited sales. No one is going to cross-shop a Gladiator against a Ridgeline, and few will choose it over a Tacoma, Colorado, or Ranger. Other than the off-road prowess (something not many actually need), there’s little to recommend it.

    Frankly, after the initial hoopla dies down, I wouldn’t look for the Gladiator to be around after, say, 2025.

    • 0 avatar
      Hummer

      People actually shop for Ridgelines? I thought dealers just played a game of switcheroo on people buying Pilots and tricked them into a useless minivan-Ute half way through signing paperwork.

  • avatar
    JD-Shifty

    These things are awesome. needs an extended cab version, but the market only seems to support crew cabs It would be nice if these didn’t rust out in the cab corners and wheel arches like domestics do


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