First drive review: 2020 Jeep Gladiator truck tackles off-road terrain that competitors can’t

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The 2020 Jeep Gladiator does more with more.

There’s nothing subtle, dainty, or delicate about Jeep’s first pickup truck in 25 years, and it’s that dogged refusal to acquiesce to slippery lines and soft suspension tuning that sets the 2020 Jeep Gladiator apart from competitors.

With the 2020 Gladiator, Jeep has a truck ready for off-road and hauling duty—some configurations more than others.

ALSO SEE: Read our 2020 Jeep Gladiator review

From its front bumper to its rear door, the Gladiator makes no effort to disguise its Wrangler heritage. Keen observers might notice that its seven grille slots have been widened for improved engine cooling, but the Gladiator shares with the Wrangler its hood, fenders, and doors. The standard cloth top folds back and can be removed entirely and the windshield flops down after a few bolts are removed. Most Gladiators will probably have the optional hardtop that has three removable panels for various versions of the “wind-everywhere” experience.

The 5-foot bed bolted to the Jeep Gladiator’s rear end adds utility, though rivals have a lower liftover height and can be had in longer bed configurations. To help the Gladiator lug as much as 7,650 pounds in the right configuration—the Sport trim with the optional 8-speed automatic transmission and towing package, Jeep beefed up the Gladiator’s axles over those used in the Wrangler and stretched its frame by 26 inches (and it’s 30 inches longer overall than a four-door Wrangler). Nineteen of those inches come between the Gladiator’s wheels, which helps somewhat to quell the Wrangler’s busy ride.

There’s no disguising that the Gladiator drives like a Wrangler, however. Its solid front axle improves off-road wheel articulation at the expense of handling and highway cruising. If taking advantage of the standard four-wheel-drive system makes your palms sweaty at the thought of having to clean the Gladiator later, the Jeep pickup is not the truck for you.

READ NEXT: 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck will cost more than $60K fully loaded

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

For off-roaders, it’s the one to have.

The base Gladiator Sport delivers tremendous four-wheeling capability thanks to its solid axles that help ensure that the wheels stay on the ground. Gladiator Rubicons master rugged terrain with their high-riding suspensions, Fox shocks, 33-inch tires, locking front and rear differentials, and disconnecting sway bars. Outward vision isn’t spectacular in any truck due to the relatively short windshield, high door sills, and tall hood. That’s alleviated somewhat by the optional trail camera mounted in the grille that shows the view ahead in the infotainment screen.

On a purpose-built course in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains near Sacramento, California, we inched a Gladiator Rubicon over rock-strewn moguls that would pose a challenge to even the best hiking boots. The Gladiator’s length means it’s not a good fit for narrow trails, though the longer wheelbase adds stability on sandy or muddy roads where momentum is necessary.

The 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 is tasked with lugging at least 4,700 pounds of Gladiator around, and it’s mostly up to the task. Add about 300 pounds for the Rubicon, and an extra 15 or 20 hp would be nice. The V-6 mates best to the optional 8-speed automatic transmission, which has enough cogs to keep the rev-happy engine in its sweet spot. The V-6 lacks low-end pull, which means lots of shifting in traffic or for highway passing in manual transmission versions.

Late this year, Jeep plans to build a Gladiator with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. The mild-hybrid turbo-4 that’s optional in the Wrangler won’t make an appearance on the Gladiator, and that’s a shame since the Gladiator is rated at 19 mpg combined with the gas V-6.

The boxy Gladiator lets in more wind noise than in its sleeker rivals. The optional hardtop cuts out some road roar compared to the standard soft top, but neither is quiet. That’s the price to pay for a roof that slides back (softtop) and removes in three pieces (hardtop) for an open-air experience that competitors skip. Even the doors can be removed with few tools included with the truck.  

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator

2020 Jeep Gladiator comfort

Peeling the doors and top off is the only way to make the Gladiator truly feel spacious. At nearly 74 inches wide, the Gladiator is far from narrow. However, its cabin is confining against the comparatively airy Ford Ranger. There’s more head room than in some competitors, but the Gladiator lacks for leg room up front. The front seats are manually adjustable and offer decent, but not spectacular support, though the optional leather has a soft, quality feel.

Rear-seat riders have good leg room once they’re aboard. With the optional running boards, climbing into the rear seat is a pant-dirtying affair unless passengers first put both feet on the board and then hoist themselves inside.

The rear seat sits higher off the floor than in some rivals and while its backrest isn’t adjustable, its angle is less upright than in the Chevy Colorado and GMC Canyon. The rear seatbacks fold flat or the base lifts up to reveal a pair of storage bins. An optional wireless Bluetooth speaker lives in a charging dock behind the rear seat back, too.

Speccing a 2020 Jeep Gladiator

The Gladiator Sport starts at about $35,000, but it’s not likely many will leave the automaker’s Toledo, Ohio, assembly plant in that configuration. For about $2,000 more, the Sport S trim level adds to the spartan Sport power windows and locks and alloy wheels. Options worth selecting include a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, a package that bundles adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking, and a limited-slip rear differential to make the most of slippery terrain. Add the hardtop and automatic transmission and most Gladiator Sport S trucks will be at least $40,000.

From there, the lineup goes refined (at least by Jeep standards) or rugged.

The Gladiator Overland costs about $42,000 and is outfitted with automatic climate control, side steps, and 18-inch wheels.

Serious off-roaders will want the $45,000 Gladiator Rubicon with its four-wheeling goodies. Tick all the option boxes and a Gladiator Rubicon will top $60,000.

That’s serious money for a mid-size truck, but the Gladiator is a serious truck. It’s been worth the wait.

Jeep provided travel and lodging to Internet Brands Automotive to bring you this firsthand report.

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