- Jeep Gladiator is all-new for 2020 and shares components with the JL Wrangler.
- Toyota Tacoma receives a mild update for the 2020 model year.
- 2020 Jeep Gladiator uses a solid front axle for added low-speed off-road capability.
For the past 10 years or so, the Toyota Tacoma has reigned supreme in the midsize pickup segment. While other automakers abandoned their midsize pickups in the late 2000s (General Motors, Ford) and others left theirs to languish on the vine (Nissan), Toyota held course, and by the mid 2010s had achieved a significant market share. Recently though, the competition has heated up, with new entries from GM, Ford and Jeep putting the squeeze on the Tacoma’s status as king of the hill. Perhaps the most intriguing of these new competitors is the all-new Wrangler-based Jeep Gladiator, and here we’ll compare the two trucks in a number of categories to help you determine which one is best for you.
The Tacoma carries a starting price of about $27,000 and tops out at $47,500 in fully-loaded TRD Pro spec. Given its more modern design, sure-to-be cult following and added configurability, the Gladiator carries a much higher price tag. Pricing for a basic Sport model with a manual transmission starts at about $35,000, while a fully-optioned, top-of-the-line Rubicon comes in at about $60k.
The Tacoma comes with two different available powertrains, although the lower-end option is certain to appeal to only the most price-conscious of shoppers. Basic-spec Tacomas come with a small 2.7-liter 4-cylinder making just 159 horsepower and 180 lb-ft of torque paired to a 6-speed automatic. The more common powerplant — and the one we’d recommend — is a 3.5-liter V6 putting out 278 hp and 265 lb-ft of torque, paired with either a 6-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. In its most common configuration with the V6 engine, automatic transmission and 4-wheel drive (4WD), the Tacoma returns 18 miles per gallon in the city, 22 mpg on the highway and 20 mpg in combined driving. The Tacoma is rated to tow up to 6,800 pounds, although in our experience, the way its automatic transmission is tuned makes towing even a third of that a chore to say the least. TRD Pro models are rated for 6,400 pounds. See the 2020 Toyota Tacoma models for sale near you
For now, the new Jeep Gladiator comes with just one powertrain: a 3.6-liter V6 putting out 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. Transmission options are either an 8-speed automatic or a 6-speed manual. The Gladiator comes standard with 4WD. With the automatic, the Gladiator achieves 17 mpg city/22 mpg hwy/19 mpg combined. Jeep has made it known that a 3.0-liter diesel V6 will be added to the lineup down the road, but no official on-sale date has been announced. Output from the diesel V6 is said to be 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has yet to release fuel economy figures for the diesel. While diesels are usually better for towing, Jeep has stated that the gas engine will still carry the higher tow rating once the diesel goes on sale. When properly equipped, the Gladiator is capable of towing up to 7,650 pounds — a respectable figure in the midsize truck segment. The Rubicon is rated for up to 7,000 pounds. See the 2020 Jeep Gladiator for sale near you
Tacoma buyers can choose between an extended cab with a 6-ft bed or a crew cab with either a 5-ft short bed, or the 6-ft long bed. The Gladiator is offered only as a crew cab with a short 5-ft bed. The Jeep’s trump card is its removable roof and doors, along with its foldable windshield.
The Gladiator is offered in four different trims. The entry-level option is known as the Sport and comes with roll-up windows, manual locks, a simple vinyl soft top and not much else. Sport S models introduce basic creature comforts like power mirrors, power windows, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and options like Fiat-Chrysler’s 8.4-in UConnect infotainment system with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. If it’s comfort and curb appeal you’re after, look to the Overland model, which is optioned very similarly to the Wrangler Sahara, with body-colored fenders, 18-in wheels, side steps and available leather trimmed seats. While every Gladiator offers respectable off-road capability, the top-of-the-line off-road model is the Rubicon, which comes with tougher Dana 44 axles, all-terrain tires, a Fox off-road suspension, higher-clearance fenders, locking front and rear differentials, an electronically disconnecting sway bar, rock rails for the rocker panels and rear bumper corners, an off-road 4WD transfer case with lower gearing, skid plates, recovery hooks and more.
The Tacoma starts off in basic SR and SR5 trim levels. SR models are equipped like a simple work truck, although even this low-end trim comes standard with active safety features like automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane-departure warning, automatic high beams and radar cruise control, along with a sliding rear window, three USB ports and the Tacoma’s clever deck-rail tie-down system. The SR5 adds more creature comforts with fog lights, a better audio system, keyless entry, a screen located in the gauge cluster and nicer wheels and trim pieces. TRD Sport models add some curb appeal via a hood scoop, body-colored bumpers and fender flares, 18-in wheels, and a sport-tuned suspension, while the Limited comes with different wheels and a leather interior. At the top of the lineup are the Tacoma’s two off-road trims; both of which serve to accentuate the Tacoma’s strong points. The Tacoma TRD Off-Road comes with a Bilstein suspension, a locking rear differential, 16-in wheels with all-terrain tires, black plastic fender flares and Crawl Control and Multi-Terrain Select modes that allow you to optimize the Tacoma’s traction control system for a number of applications. 2020 model-year Tacomas gain a camera system that can show you what’s underneath the vehicle while off-road. The TRD Pro builds on this by adding a heavier-duty Fox suspension, black wheels that give the vehicle a 1-in greater track width, a TRD cat back exhaust, a TRD front skid plate and some additional stylistic elements.
The Tacoma is known for legendary reliability, which contributes to industry-leading resale value. As it’s a very new product line, Jeep may have some kinks to work out with the Gladiator, and on top of that, parent company Fiat-Chrysler is known for some quality issues, although only time will tell if these apply to the new Wrangler and Gladiator. Both Toyota and Jeep offer a 3-year/36,000-mile basic and 5-year/60,000-mile powertrain warranty.
The Tacoma comes standard with a variety of active safety features, which earns it major points in our book. These include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, automatic high beams, adaptive cruise control, and lane departure warning. Blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors with cross traffic detection are optional. In crash testing conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Tacoma receives good scores overall.
The Gladiator is a little behind the curve when it comes to active safety features. Automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control with low speed functionality are both available, as are blind spot monitoring and rear parking sensors with rear cross traffic detection. IIHS has yet to crash test the Gladiator.
While infotainment has long been one of the Tacoma’s shortcomings, 2020 models gain a new system that serves to rectify many of the issues recognized in previous model years. The 2020 Tacoma comes with a new 8-in display with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility. If you’re considering a 2019 Tacoma, be prepared to live with Toyota’s limited outgoing system that lacks Android Auto and Apple CarPlay and is overall antiquated and frustrating to use.
Despite the Tacoma’s updates for 2020, the Gladiator still probably reigns supreme when it comes to infotainment, given the strength of parent company Fiat-Chrysler’s UConnect system. While lower-end models get a basic 5-in or 7-in screen, optional on Spot S models and up is an 8.4-in UConnect system with intuitive menus and buttons along with Android Auto and Apple CarPlay compatibility.
While the Jeep Wrangler (with which the Gladiator shares the majority of its components) has historically been a rough, simplistic off-roader, the newly redesigned model actually sports a fantastic interior. With a variety of different surfaces, high-quality finishes and a generous heaping of aluminum, the Gladiator’s interior is in fact a very nice place to be. That said, the vehicle’s boxy proportions make for a unique driving experience, with thin, upright doors and a windshield that is very close to the driver. Additionally, while the hard top is less noisy than the canvas soft-top, neither is particularly quiet. Given that you may be driving it with the doors and/or top removed, the Gladiator offers lockable storage in a few different areas throughout the cabin, including under the rear seat bottom. There’s also an optional removable Bluetooth speaker located behind the rear seatback.
The Gladiator has a roof and doors that come off and a windshield that folds down. This means that it can serve as a pickup, a convertible and a beach buggy, all in one, which sets it apart from the rest of the segment.
The Tacoma’s interior is … fine. While it isn’t as modern or novel or refined as the Gladiator’s, it’s nicer than what you get from competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado, Nissan Frontier and Ford Ranger. Knobs are laid out in a way that is functional and intuitive, if not a little lazy. Additionally, the materials used are just good enough, which unfortunately is kind of the theme in the midsize segment, at least before the Gladiator came along. The Tacoma’s awkward, uncomfortable driving position has also been a major point of criticism up to this point, an issue Toyota hopes to rectify via a power, height-adjustable driver’s seat that will be offered in the 2020 model.
The Gladiator’s bed is made of steel, meaning that you’ll likely want to pay extra for a spray-in bedliner to protect it from dents and rust. The Tacoma, on the other hand, has a bed made from a durable, lightweight composite material that doesn’t require a bedliner for enhanced durability, quietly giving it a leg-up on the competition. Both vehicles offer an available home-style power inverter in their beds, along with clever deck rail systems, but the Tacoma earns a leg up for offering it as standard.
The Gladiator’s and Tacoma’s basic architectures originate at two different ends of the off-road spectrum. Like the Wrangler upon which it’s based, the Gladiator uses solid axles both front and rear — one of the last vehicles on sale in the United States to do so. While the solid front axle allows for more articulation and better stability in low-speed off-road situations, it’s a major drawback on-road when it comes to ride quality and handling, no matter how much R&D the Jeep engineering team has put into making it as livable as possible. On the other hand, the Tacoma — which still uses a solid rear axle — comes with independent front suspension (IFS) (along with every other midsize pickup on sale today). As a result, while they’re both trucks with truck-like driving characteristics, the Tacoma handles a lot better than the Gladiator on-road. Off-road, the Tacoma’s IFS also allows for greater stability at high speeds at the expense of low-speed articulation, although this can be seen as either a strength or a drawback, depending on your preferred style of off-roading (side note: vehicles like the Ford F-150 Raptor and competitive trophy trucks all use IFS). Don’t get us wrong — neither of these vehicles drives like a Mercedes S Class, let alone a Toyota Camry, but you’ll probably find yourself more comfortable and relaxed after hopping out of a Tacoma at the end of a long road trip than you will a Gladiator.
Looking at top-of-the-line off-road trims, the Gladiator Rubicon is available with more hardcore off-road features than the Tacoma TRD-Pro. The Rubicon comes with a locking front differential, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, rock rails and exposed recovery hooks — to get any of these on a Tacoma, you’ll have to look to the aftermarket. Additionally, the Rubicon comes with better approach and departure angles and more aggressive tires than the Tacoma TRD Pro.
Finally, while both of these vehicles have strong aftermarket support, modifying a Gladiator will likely be easier and less expensive than modifying a Tacoma, especially given that many of the Gladiator’s components are shared with the Wrangler.
The Tacoma represents the old guard in the midsize truck segment. That said, it’s a safe purchase in that it comes with proven reliability and excellent resale value. In terms of off-road capability, the Tacoma TRD Off-Road is still probably the best value in the midsize segment, as it comes with most of the basic off-road functionality one could want out of a midsize truck without requiring a massive price premium over lesser trims. Step up to the TRD Pro and the value proposition weakens a little, but the more capable suspension, styling elements and exclusivity are still appealing. Additionally, the Tacoma’s two available cab and bed sizes mean that buyers have more options when it comes to specifying a truck that meets their needs.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator on the other hand sets a new standard for midsize trucks in a number of ways. First, its iconic design and removable roof and doors make it hands-down the most fun vehicle in the segment, and its off-road capability is unmatched by the competition, regardless of trim level. Additionally, it’s got a much better powertrain than the Tacoma, along with a better infotainment system and a more modern interior. Its drawbacks come in the form of its solid front axle that hurts drivability, removable roof and doors that result in more noise at highway speeds and its price tag, as it’s considerably more expensive than any other midsize pickup on sale today.
Deciding between these two is tough. The Tacoma is a known quality and still offers great off-road capability. If you can tolerate the harsher ride and greater wind noise of the Gladiator, though, its configurability and modernity is hard to pass up. When it comes down to it, the Tacoma is probably the more sensible option, but the Gladiator is just plain fun, and it’s hard to put a price tag on fun. Find a Jeep Gladiator for sale or Find a Toyota Tacoma for sale