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Driving the New Jeep Gladiator

First Drive

Yes, it's here. And yes, it's all Jeep. Make no mistake—this is truly the most capable midsize truck produced in America. Those may be bold words, but as far as a 4x4 goes, only the Gladiator offers front and rear locking diffs and 4:1 transfer case gearing options, as well as the option to become a full convertible by removing the doors and windshield. With a top tow rating of 7,650 pounds for non-Rubicon models (and 7,000 pounds for a Rubi), the corresponding 1,600-pound payload is the sweet spot of the market. Naysayers may chant nasty epithets about who needs such a truck, considering that the Tacoma, Ranger, and Colorado dominate the segment. There is nothing smaller than a Ram 1500 in the FCA stable, until now. And it's true: If you need to tow more than 7,650 pounds on a daily basis, you should be getting into a Ram and towing to your heart's delight. However, you won't be wheeling as well as the Gladiator or be on the same trails with your fullsize behemoth, ripping off front valances and dragging rockers and bumpers through the rocks and slop.

We had a chance to take the Gladiator for a spin and try a trail recently, and we even towed a load. It's been 27-some years since Jeep has made a production truck, and so far, we are excited and pleased at what has been accomplished. Our first impression is simple: This truck rocks. Of course, we're a bit prejudiced, but comparing it to the other vehicles in the segment isn't even fair. Only Jeep offers a highly capable solid-axle'd pickup. That alone should make it a winner in any off-roader's book, but there's more. If you select a Rubicon model, you get locking diffs front and rear, swaybar disconnect, deep 4:1 transfer case gearing, 33-inch mud tires, and 4:10 gears. What the heck more could you want? And while it's initially fitted with the 3.6L Pentastar V-6, the next offering should be the 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6. Stop us now, but that alone is enough, and don't forget it features a true convertible or hard top—the windshield folds down and can be removed, as can the doors.

But how well does it wheel, and how well does it drive and tow? In a nutshell, spectacularly for a midsize pickup, and that's the key. It's not a short little two-door Wrangler, and it's not a Ram 3500 Dually. And it's not meant to be. Off-road the Gladiator wheels like any well-sorted-out Jeep. The longer wheelbase helps on steep climbs, while the overhang in the rear is acceptable. We've managed to scrape some rocks with that and the side rails, but for such a long vehicle, it is totally acceptable. The engine and powertrain are all well-matched—and even the base model with roll-up windows and black painted steel wheels does fine on road and trail. Breezy driving with the back window out is fun, and you can still hear yourself and passengers while driving. Towing is best in class, and we hooked up a huge boat behind us to pull around and up and down the hills. Surprisingly the Pentastar mill whipped the boat around like a seasoned pro, with no issues in power or handling. Since electric brake controllers weren't available on these preproduction test models, we were happy to have surge brakes on the boat trailer.

Having a 5-foot bed is plenty for many truck buyers. While it's considered short from a contractor's point of view, remember that a Ram 1500's bed is only 5 feet 6 inches. Loading the bed for a week in Moab also proved the point that you can carry too much stuff, but this truck has the room to do it. Available with a soft tonneau cover, we never worried about our gear while parked in seedy areas. The interior is similar to a JL Wrangler, but the different seats in the rear are foldable with cool features and extra storage. We plan on doing more cross-country jaunts and trails in the Gladiator, and we are confident that it will do whatever task is needed.

Tech Specs
2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
Base price: $43,545 manual, $45,545 automatic
Engine: 3.6L DOHC V-6
Rated hp/torque (lb-ft): 285/260
Transmission: D478 6-speed manual or 850RE 8-speed automatic
Transfer case: NV241OR Rock-Trac
4WD system: 2-Hi, 4-Hi, Neutral, 4-Lo
Low range ratio: 4.0:1
Frame type: Ladder
Suspension: Solid axle, link coil, leading arms, track bar, coil springs, monotube Fox shocks, electronic stabilizer bar disconnect (front); solid axle, link coil, trailing arms, track bar, coil springs, monotube Fox shocks, stabilizer bar (rear)
Axle ratio: 4.10:1
Max crawl ratio: 84.2:1 manual, 77.2:1 automatic
Steering: Electro-hydraulic power recirculating ball
Brakes: 12.9x1.1-in vented rotor, twin-piston floating caliper (front); 13.6x0.86-in vented rotor, single-piston floating caliper (rear)
Wheels (in): 17x7.5
Tires: LT285/70R17C Falken Wildpeak A/T, Falken Wildpeak M/T
Wheelbase (in): 137.3
Length (in): 218.0
Height (in): 75.0 soft top, 73.1 hardtop
Width (in): 73.8
Base curb weight (lb): 5,050 manual, 5,072 automatic
Approach/departure angles (deg): 4