2020 Jeep Gladiator: First Drive

I’ve said it a million times, I’m not a truck guy. Seriously. But this thing here, this is a bit different. The Jeep Gladiator has finally arrived. I say finally, it’s not like we were strung along with promises of a new Jeep truck like we were with the new Supra or NSX. But it’s been awhile since Jeep sold a pick-up truck. OK, it’s been quite awhile, we last saw one around 1992 I believe.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Our own Justin Hughes lamented the lack of Jeep truck back in 2016, and shortly thereafter, Sergio Marchionne confirmed the development of a Wrangler truck. You’re welcome! I got a chance to drive the Gladiator at a press event, so let’s see what’s what.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Gladiator Overview

Unlike the regular Wrangler, there are only four versions of the Gladiator vs. eight trim levels on the JL. You can choose from the:

  • Sport ($33,545)
  • Sport S ($36,745)
  • Overland ($40,395)
  • Rubicon ($43,545)

For reference, the base JL Unlimited Sport starts at $31,795, so the premium for Jeep truck ownership is $1,750. Interestingly enough, that translates up the food chain, the Gladiator Rubicon is exactly $1,750 more than the JL Rubicon.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

For those new to the Jeep world, the Sport is very much the base model. Even though the new Gladiator, and the JL really, are much improved over the JK Jeep, you still get roll-up windows on a Sport. That’s something that young people will look at in confusion, trust me I’ve owned a JK Sport, my kids were confused.

Move up to the Sport S and you get some power niceties, keyless entry, different wheels, etc. The Overland is the first Gladiator to crest the $40K mark and is nicely equipped with bigger wheels, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, etc. Naturally the Rubicon is a Rubicon and will drive over your Grandma without putting it in 4WD low. I say “will”, I mean “could”, that got a little dark, sorry.

Back to the review, I got to drive the Gladiator in both Rubicon and Overland trim, so let’s see how it does as a truck and as a Jeep.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

It’s a Truck

Do you remember the first time you ever saw a 4-door Jeep Wrangler? Your brain went “nope, that’s not right”. I had that impression for some time, and now it’s opposite-land. Whenever I see a 2-door Jeep, a sight far less common these days, my brain goes “what’s wrong with it”. I also own a 2017 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Big Bear Edition, so perhaps I’m biased.

That’s how my brain reacts to the Gladiator. It’s just too long! I mean, it’s not really, but that’s what I think when I see it. I’m sure that will change over time as more and more Gladiators are on the road.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

So the biggest question since we’re looking at it from the outside is likely “is it really a truck”. Well, naturally yes, but how much? We had one of the Gladiator’s lead engineers on hand to talk about the truck and answer questions. He noted that it’s 100% truck, and was engineered from the beginning as a truck.

This wasn’t some FCA hack-job, its got a new steel frame and even has some rear suspension bits in common with the Ram 1500! The 3-position tailgate can be set to hold sheets of plywood and underwent the same weight and load testing as the Ram’s. Naturally, there is an available bedliner. The Gladiator also supposedly has the largest brakes in segment and an optional trailer brake control is coming soon. So it’s made to tow as well. Jeep claims a best-in-class available 7,650-pound towing capacity if properly spec’d.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

It’s a Jeep

So, it’s definitely a truck, but does that make it less of a Jeep? Nah son, it’s 100% Jeep, at least according to the Jeep people.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

That means it’s got skidplates, tow hooks, Dana 44 axles, 2” Fox shocks, etc. So their claim that it’s the most capable midsize off road truck ever seems to hold water. The Rubicon also comes with a cool trail cam with washer. For serious off-roading, the rock rails can hold 1/3 of weight and the Gladiator can take on 35s with no lift (however, they do recommend 2” lift for serious off-road use).

It’s also the only only open air truck, which is quite a nice trick. The Gladiator comes with the standard Wrangler sunrider top, or you can opt for the Freedom hardtop in black and body color. So your stuff doesn’t get nicked, there is built in lockable storage in the glovebox, and both the center console and under the rear seat (which is a trick removable bin).

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Driving

I haven’t gotten a full week-long press loaner Gladiator yet, but I’ve spent some time in a few variations. It drives like a Jeep, and that’s not a bad thing. The standard 3.6L V6 is a fantastic engine and pulls surprisingly hard on the highway. A new 3.0 ecodiesel engine coming next year (already available on the JL now). It’s no sports car, but I can say from daily driving a JK Wrangler, that it would likely surprise most people. I found the suspension and ride more compliant and comfortable than most of the midsize trucks I’ve tested.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

On the inside, the Gladiator is quite nice with 4th gen Uconnect and a super-trick Bluetooth speaker docking station. You can pop it out and it automatically connects to your device to play music at your campsite, or whatever outdoorsey thing you are doing.

Summary

So I really don’t like midsize trucks, except for the Gladiator. That’s because it’s also a Jeep, and it does lots of great Jeep stuff. That sounds like a biased Jeep owner just saying that it’s better because it’s different. In reality, it’s better because it’s more versatile, more comfortable, and more capable than any other midsize truck on the road. That alone should make it a success.

Fun fact, the first one sold nearby in Alexandria, VA!

Bonus Pics