This week, we’re driving the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup, delivered in Rubicon 4×4 trim. Classified by the EPA as a “standard” pickup, the Gladiator is a larger midsize competitor with a 5-foot bed and there’s nothing “standard” about it.
Matter of fact, it’s the only vehicle I know of that combines the best of being a real pickup truck, a serious off-road 4×4, a people mover with room for five and the ability to turn into a convertible fun machine in a matter of minutes. Four trims are available in Sport ($33,545), Sport S ($36,745), Overland ($40,395) and our tester Rubicon ($43,545). All Gladiators arrive with 4×4 underpinnings and a 3.6-liter V6 coupled to either a 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic. Notable is that the Gladiator is Jeep’s first pickup since the Jeep Comanche back in 1992.
The Jeep legend dates back to World War II when the initial Jeep military vehicles arrived and transported troops through rough, enemy infested terrain. This reality results in the current “Jeep love affair” with soldiers and everyday consumers around the globe. Personally, I fondly remember my days behind the wheel of numerous Jeeps serving both in active duty at Ft. Jackson, S.C., and then with the U.S. Army National Guard from 1969 through 1975. To this day, everyone from millennial to baby-boomer knows what a Jeep is and the multi-generation “love affair” continues.
Built in Toledo, Ohio, the new Gladiator is a prime example of a Jeep multi-use pickup that delivers both a comfortable highway drive or a weekend of serious off-road activities. Our Rubicon tester, not surprisingly, came with nearly $20,000 worth of options that many will find unnecessary and retailing for some $30,000 more than the entry S trim. Granted, for those that can afford them they sure make the Jeep pickup a glorious vehicle to own and drive. But be assured your Jeep dealer has a pickup in stock to match your wallet size.
I recommend starting with the Sport S, as the entry Sport does not offer things like Apple and Android compatibility and a host of other safety and entertainment features. Notable is two different tops available, including the standard removable soft top version or the recommended removable hardtop version with a real rear window that is a $2,295 option.
The engine that powers all Gladiators is a 24-valve 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 285-horsepower and 260-pound foot of torque and generates fuel mileage of 17 city and 22 highway. Gladiator owners can rest assured there is more than enough horsepower although more horses would be appreciated.
The 4×4 mechanicals include Jeep’s heavy duty locking differential 4.1 Rock-Trac heavy duty part-time Tru-Lok 4×4 with solid axle coil underpinnings front and rear. Numerous skid plates protect essentials while Dana 44 front and rear heavy duty axles, 4.10 gears and off-road special Jeep FOX 2.0 shocks are all Rubicon standard features. Notables include the first ever, 5-MPH off-road cruise control and terrain specific off-road plus mode. A front off-road camera deserves mention and when all of this extra off-road equipment is added to the weight of the other trims, a Rubicon is some 400 pounds heavier and surpasses the 5,000-pound curb weight mark.
Safety features include all the air bags, four-wheel ABS discs, stability and traction controls, electronic brakeforce, and much more. The ride is good, handling secure and suspension tuned more so for off-road than comfort.
Standard fare on the Rubicon are 33-inch all terrain Falken tires on 17-inch aluminum and black polished wheels. As for the aforementioned options, many safety items I would like to see Jeep add as standard equipment in the future include an $895 Jeep Safety Group that adds rear park assist, blind spot and cross path detection. It will take another $795 for adaptive cruise and forward collision warning plus.
On the road, Gladiator may not be a cornering champ by any means with the big tires and high stance, but highway driving is fine and mostly comfortable considering its off-road DNA. Acceleration is so-so, as I expected a bit more from the 3.6-V6. We timed the Gladiator to 60 mph in a bit over seven seconds. The eight-speed transmission will set you back $2,000 over the six speed manual, but it is surely a necessity for many modern-day drivers.
Recommended are options like a tow package for $350; Cold Weather Group for $995 and a Premium Sound group for $1,695 that enhances the seven speaker standard stereo to a nine speaker, 552-watt Alpine unit with 8.4-inch display. I’d pass on the Leather Package for $1,495 and also the polished black aluminum wheels that adds $995.
There’s so much to like about the new Gladiator including removable and chargeable Bluetooth speaker ($295 more) located behind passenger side rear seat, lockable storage bins under the rear seat along with a Rubicon specific hood, higher fender flares and standard steel bumpers with winch capable hook up. Rear rock rails help protect the back of the 5-foot box on those serious off-roading days. The final retail of our tester came to $62,020 with $1,495 destination included, but remember the recommended Sport S starts at $36,745.
Important numbers include a wheelbase of 137.3-inches, 5,071-pound curb weight, 11.1-inch ground clearance (other three trims are 10-inch), 1,800-pound payload (best in class) 7,650-pound tow capacity with tow package and a 15.9-gallon fuel tank.
The annals and legend of Jeep vehicles is unquestionable when it comes to consumer loyalty and a cult like following. As for this new Gladiator pickup, you won’t go wrong parking one in your driveway as it’s one of the most innovative, 4×4 ready, fun to drive pickups we’ve driven to date. (Wish I had more space to tell you more!)
Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist.
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