The midsize pickup segment is on fire right now. With strong entries from long-time players Toyota and Chevrolet, and new additions from Ford and Jeep, buyers will have better options to choose from in 2019 than ever before.
Perhaps the most exciting new vehicle to launch in the segment this year — if not in the entire auto industry as a whole — is the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator, which combines the immense utility of a pickup truck with the off-road credentials of the venerable Jeep Wrangler, which itself was all-new just a year ago.
The Gladiator is so many things in one. It offers the iconic styling and off-road capability of the Jeep Wrangler, the functionality of a pickup truck and a convertible top. Here we’ll take a look at this vehicle that is so many things in one.
What’s New for 2020?
After years of clamoring from fans and speculation from the automotive media, Jeep has finally released another pickup, this time based on the Wrangler. The 2020 Gladiator is the first Jeep pickup to be offered since the Comanche ended production in 1992. While it’s mostly identical to the Wrangler from the rear doors forward, the Gladiator offers all the benefits of a midsize pickup with regard to its rear architecture, allowing for excellent towing and payload capability.
The Gladiator will be sold only in a 4-door body style with a 5-foot bed, which is right on par with the short bed offerings of the rest of the midsize truck segment. Two soft-tops, a black plastic hard top and a body-colored hard top are available. The nicer of the two available soft tops is dubbed the "Sunrider" and is made of a heavy-duty canvas material. The hard tops are a 3-piece design with removable panels over the driver and passenger seats. The premium soft top costs $595, the basic hard top is $1,195 and the body-colored hard top comes in at $2,295.
Powering the Gladiator is a 3.6-liter V6 engine putting out 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and paired with either an 8-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual transmission. A 3.0-liter diesel is said to be joining the lineup for 2020 and will put out 260 hp and a whopping 442 lb-ft of torque. The diesel will be paired exclusively with an 8-speed automatic transmission.
The Gladiator boasts impressive towing and payload figures when optioned with the max towing package, available on Sport and Sport S models. Configured as such, the Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds, second in the segment to only the diesel powered Chevrolet Colorado, which can tow 7,700 pounds. Gladiators equipped with this towing capacity also boast a maximum payload capacity of 1,535 pounds. The Rubicon can tow 7,000 pounds and haul 1,160 pounds. See the 2020 Jeep Gladiator models for sale near you
What We Like
It’s an off-roader, it’s a convertible, it’s a pickup. Great customizability, class-leading towing and payload capacity.
What We Don’t
Solid front axle is a drawback unless you’re off-road, boxy interior can feel more cramped than in competitors. Availability likely to be limited in early months due to high demand.
With the gas engine paired with the eight-speed auto, fuel economy returns are 17 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg on the highway and 19 mpg in combined driving. Opt for the manual, and these figures are 16 mpg city/23 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined.
Fuel economy figures for the planned diesel engine will be released closer to that powertrain becoming available.
Standard Features & Options
Every 2019 Jeep Gladiator comes with 4-wheel drive, a five-foot bed, and four doors. Additionally, every Gladiator has a removable top, removable doors and a windshield that can be folded down.
The Gladiator is offered in four trim levels, from entry-level to off-road behemoth.
The Sport is the entry-level Gladiator and starts at $35,050. It comes with basic features like steel wheels, manual roll-up windows, manual door locks, a plastic steering wheel and basic fabric seats. Still, even in this basic model, you do get push button start and a 5-in touchscreen infotainment system. Optional for the Sport are the max towing package and auxiliary switch group.
The Sport S, which costs $38,240, adds 17-in alloy wheels, power windows and door locks, tinted glass, illuminated sun visors and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Heated mirrors, automatic headlights and a tailgate that locks with the central locking system are also included. A 7-in infotainment screen with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatability is among the available options, as are the max towing package, heated seats, a premium audio system, a removable wireless Bluetooth speaker, a spray-in bedliner and driver-assistance safety features like blind spot monitoring, automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control. Buyers looking to get off-road can also opt for a limited slip rear differential and all-terrain tires.
Similar to the Wrangler Sahara, the Overland — that starts at $41,890 — is the Gladiator’s comfort-oriented trim. Included are 18-in alloy wheels, body-colored fenders, running boards, silver headlight and grille surrounds and silver front bumper accents. Dual-zone climate controls, LED mood lighting, a universal garage door opener and a few more power outlets and ports are also included. Upscale options enter the fray with the Overland trim as well, and LED headlights, leather seats and an 8.4-in infotainment screen can all be added.
The Rubicon that starts at $45,050 is the ultimate Gladiator, offering just about all of the off-road features you could ask for. Standard on the Gladiator Rubicon are 4:1 ratio wide-track Dana 44 axles, a "Rock-Trac" 4×4 system offering an 84:1 crawl ratio (much lower than what you get on lesser models), Fox shock absorbers, rock rails that protect the rocker panels, 33-in all-terrain tires, 17-in alloy wheels, locking front and rear differentials, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, black headlight surrounds and grille inserts, a vented hood, a front skid plate, red tow hooks front and rear, a steel rear bumper and taller fenders that allow for the fitting of even larger tires. Also included on the Rubicon is what Jeep calls "Selec-Speed Control," or basically an off-road cruise control system. Optional off-road features include mud-terrain tires and a trail camera system, which gives you a good look at the terrain directly in front of you in low-speed off-road situations. The Rubicon is also available with all of the goodies offered on lesser trims, like LED headlights, a spray in bed liner, an optional locking tonneau cover, those convenient blank auxiliary switches for operating aftermarket electronics, leather seats and more. This all adds up though, and a fully-loaded Gladiator Rubicon will come in at around $60,000.
The Gladiator is available with forward-collision warning and advanced brake assist, along with adaptive cruise control with low-speed functionality, which is fully capable of stopping the vehicle in traffic and getting it going again once the car in front has started moving. Blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors are also available. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s crash test results for the Gladiator are not yet available, nor are results for the Wrangler.
Behind the Wheel
At the Gladiator launch event in Sacramento, I had the opportunity to drive the Sport S and Overland models on-road. I found the build quality to be great in the Gladiator across the board, which inspired confidence when behind the wheel. That said, while the vehicle always felt safe and planted, that solid front axle — which is included purely for the benefits it offers off-road — had some serious drawbacks on pavement. When it came to cornering, the vehicle felt a little wobbly and it didn’t absorb potholes as well as the other trucks in the segment, all of which come with a more on-road oriented independent front suspension. This is because unlike independent front suspension, which allows each wheel to absorb bumps individually, a solid front axle transfers motion from one wheel, across the axle, to the other, meaning that if you run over a road imperfection with your left tire, both the left and right tires will absorb the impact, and this motion will be felt throughout the vehicle as a result. Altogether, while it’s hugely beneficial off-road, that solid front axle costs the Gladiator in terms of on-road driving dynamics, not to mention day-to-day livability. As a result, you may experience greater fatigue driving the Gladiator on the highway over long distances, thanks to the greater amount of effort it takes to control it. Luckily, this all changes once you leave the pavement.
Once you get off-road in the Gladiator, all of its on-road shortcomings quickly fade out the window, and you’re left with what is likely the most capable adventure vehicle on sale new in the United States today. Even the basic Sport, Sport S and Overland models boast serious off-road chops, thanks to their standard four-wheel drive and 40.8-degree approach, 18.4-degree breakover and 25.0-degree departure angles. On a muddy, rutted out trail on the way to our lunch location, the Overland I was driving performed well, despite its road-oriented tires. The vehicle’s excellent geometry was on display the whole time, and it performed admirably as the ruts grew deep and slippery in certain areas thanks to on-and-off rain showers throughout the day.
Step up to the Rubicon, and the Gladiator becomes unstoppable. Jeep provided a short off-road course on which I was able to test the Rubicon’s array of off-road features. Obstacles consisted of many of the same muddy ruts I mentioned in the previous paragraph, but also large granite boulder fields, at least one of which seemed impassable at first glance. Nonetheless, thanks to the Rubicon’s super low crawl ratio, disconnecting front sway bar, locking diffs and terrain-appropriate tires, I managed to navigate each obstacle with ease. The trail camera proved to be especially helpful on one particularly steep decline, as it allowed for peace of mind that the landing area was free of obstacles and that I wasn’t about to bottom out the truck on my descent. Other than a not-so-great breakover angle — thanks to the vehicle’s increased length — it’s clear that the Gladiator has retained just about all of the Wrangler’s off-road credentials.
Other Cars to Consider
2019 Jeep Wrangler — If you don’t have any need for a truck bed, or if you want to save a few dollars, consider the Jeep Wrangler. The Wrangler is offered in both 4-door and 2-door body styles, both of which are shorter than the Gladiator, and are therefore more maneuverable off-road. While the Gladiator measures 218 inches, the 4-door Wrangler Unlimited comes in at 188 inches, while the two door is 167 inches.
2019 Toyota Tacoma — The Tacoma offers great reliability and a strong aftermarket. Unlike the Gladiator, Tacoma buyers have some choice when it comes to body style and configuration, with extended cab and long bed options available, in addition to the crew cab short bed configuration shared with the Gladiator. Still, the Tacoma lags behind the Gladiator with regard to powertrain and interior refinement, and also lacks the Jeep’s inherent toy-like qualities.
2019 Ford Ranger — The other newcomer to the midsize pickup segment for this year, the Ranger offers a great turbocharged engine paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission, giving it what is arguably the best powertrain in its class. While the Ranger is all-new for the U.S. this year, its basic design is not all new, as a version of this same vehicle has been on sale in foreign markets since 2011, and evidence of a lack of refinement presents itself in areas like the interior and un-damped tailgate.
2019 Toyota 4Runner — Another popular adventure vehicle, the 4Runner offers great off-road capability and a few cool features, like a rear window that folds down into the rear hatch. It’s also one of the oldest new vehicles on sale today, having last been fully redesigned for 2010, and the 2019 4Runner therefore lacks many of the features and tech you get with a more modern vehicle like the Gladiator.
There’s no other vehicle quite like the Gladiator. It offers practicality, style and off-road capability, along with great configurability, allowing you to turn it into a beach buggy in about a half hour by removing the roof and doors. While its fully-loaded sticker price of around $60,000 may seem like a lot for a midsize truck, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is more than just a pickup, and despite some mild shortcomings with regard to fuel economy and handling, its fun features and refined design earns it our recommendation. Find a Jeep Gladiator for sale