The 2020 Jeep Gladiator feels like its been a staple of conversation for the better part of two years now, and that ever-building sense of anticipation is finally paying off as Gladiators begin to hit showrooms and dealer lots everywhere.
This expansion of the Jeep lineup is notable for a number of reasons. First, it thrusts Jeep into the midsize truck segment, a move which (until recently) might have been confused with an attempt to fill the gaping hole in the RAM lineup. And while RAM has all but confirmed that a midsize truck is in some vague stage of development, let’s not get off course. A midsize RAM is a conversation for another day – and the Gladiator is its own beast and one deserving of our undivided attention.
The second reason behind the Gladiator’s inarguable impact is the fact that its introduction doubles as a resurrection, reigniting the love affair between today’s drivers and the truck-styled Jeep products of yesteryear. The Wagoneer line, and the Scrambler it would eventually inspire were true classics whose throwback appeal seems all too fitting for such a celebrated reboot.
But therein lies a third notable consideration, albeit one that might come with a bit of baggage. While there’s no redundancy present between Jeep and their FCA truck cousins, and the resurrected Gladiator is just as similar to (and different from) its predecessors to stand on its own two feet, is it really that different than the current Wrangler that serves as its base? Ultimately, isn’t it just a JL variant with an elongated wheelbase, reinforced suspension, and a five-foot bed slapped on? Even more troubling, isn’t it feasible that Jeep is splitting their consumer base between two offerings more than they’re actually drawing in a new demographic?
We’ll probably have to wait a while longer before we can say for sure. So, let’s just embrace the 2020 Jeep Gladiator for what it is – and celebrate its strengths, while noting areas for improvement in an attempt to help the model brand grow.
Aesthetics might be subjective, and there are certainly those who aren’t entirely enamored with the Jeep aesthetic, but it would be hard to argue any claim that Jeep has managed to deliver one of the most lasting and iconic design philosophies in automotive history. That said, the Gladiator carries all the rugged appeal associated with the Jeep brand and does so unapologetically. It makes no claims to be anything other than a truck-inspired Wrangler with the option of full trail-rated capability and that alone we consider to be ‘one for the win column.’
This, of course, would be an incomplete attempt were it not for the Gladiator’s ability to offer the iconic open-air experience. With removable roof and door components, the Gladiator presents another distinctive feature that sets it easily apart from any other midsize offerings.
But one of the most interesting distinctions comes in the oft-lamented arena of ride quality. The fact that the Gladiator offers a smoother ride than the Wrangler is no real surprise – after all, it enjoys the added stability of a wheelbase that’s larger by 19-inches and the specialized rear suspension. But we’ve encountered a number of other automotive journalists who share our opinion that the Gladiator offers a smoother ride than the restyled Tacoma, the resurrected Ranger or the ever-consistent Colorado. This, of course, is most likely due to the Gladiator’s lengthier wheelbase, which bests any of those three by around 10-inches.
As for the utility feature that is the 5-foot bed, well it’s fairly typical. In a world of carbon fiber boxes and multi-pro tailgates, a classic bare-bones bed might almost feel refreshing. Compatible with various styles of tonneau covers, the bed is perfectly functional, bested only by some of the six-foot offerings out there in the marketplace.
And the cabin is perfectly comfortable, with its well-mannered handling complemented by the spacious interior and surprisingly roomy second-row. Leg and headroom are present in abundance, so we have no complaints there. That said, it is a Jeep-designed/Wrangler-inspired interior, it may not be for everyone, but we think many will find themselves pleasantly surprised (if not outright satisfied) with the comfortable ride that the Gladiator offers.
We’re also big fans of Jeep’s decision to offer a singular engine option, paired with either of two transmissions to create a sense of refinement and clear identity. The capable V6 delivers an all-too confident 285 hp, and we can’t help but think we’re perfectly okay with that. After all, who’d want to set horsepower and torque records behind the wheel of an open-top Jeep, knowing that it might mean certain death? Who? Not this guy.
That said, it’s not all a big payoff. Sure, we think Jeep delivered on many of the things that they had promised in bringing the Gladiator back to us, but there are plenty of shortcomings as well; and many are core Jeep characteristics that tend to prove divisive.
Consider the ease (or more appropriately) lack thereof. While many of us have no problem climbing into, or out of a Wrangler/Gladiator – others might find it more challenging, even with the most dependable of running boards or steps welded on. In addition, there are visibility challenges, be it through the upright windshield panel, several blind spots, or in terms of rear-facing visibility of the bed itself.
We also would have liked to see full-time 4WD as a standard feature, making the Gladiator a natural adventurer as some of its corporate stablemates are. That said, these are all minor gripes. There are pros and cons to every vehicle out there, and the Gladiator is no exception. We happen to think that it’s perfect for any Jeep enthusiasts looking for a little more utilitarian can-do. Of course, there are limitations to what a five-foot bed can accomplish – but you don’t go out and buy a Jeep Gladiator because you want a midsize truck. You go out and buy one because you want a Jeep Gladiator.
Only time will tell how long a life this new wave of Jeep Gladiator endures. We’d like to think that Jeep wouldn’t have teased it as a concept for quite so long if they weren’t fully committed to its potential as a new mainstay of the lineup, then again, we’ve been wrong plenty of times before.
But, in the wider sense, did the 2020 Jeep Gladiator live up to all of the hype that had preceded it? We think so. It certainly doesn’t cast a wide net or try to be anything that it isn’t, and we’ve always been fans of both the Wagoneer and Scrambler (as well as an unapologetic demo-grab). That said, the Gladiator delivers an eye-catching silhouette, on-brand styling, confident performance, and just enough utility to make it worthwhile. If you’re not into Jeeps, the Gladiator isn’t for you. But if you count yourself among those rabidly loyal seven-slot zealots, well, we recommend that you polish up your Jeep wave because you’re going to have a lot of people taking notice when you approach – and then pass them buy. Enjoy that.