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First Drive: 2021 Jeep Gladiator Diesel

Class-leading 442 lb-ft of torque highlight’s Jeep’s hauler and crawler

KJ JonesAuthor, Photography

As vehicle evaluations go, percentages are often used for qualifying a truck's makeup, capability, etc. A rig's makeup might have 50 percent of one thing and an equal amount of another, or the ratio can be 70/30, 60/40, and so on. It really doesn't matter what the ratios are because the math always calculates to 100 percent. It has to, as that's just how things have been since the beginning of time.

The Jeep Gladiator's makeup bucks that normal. Why? Because according to Jeep, it's two-hundred percent; 100 percent Jeep Wrangler and 100 percent pickup truck." Yes, the company feels its newest rig is so good that percentages for both criteria are equal, and at the highest level because Gladiator really isn't just one or the other.

And to that notion, we agree. Introduced in 2019, "JT" is the midsize Jeep pickup truck that hasn't been built since the company parked Comanche in 1992. Based on a 4-door Wrangler JL's chassis, and as such, carrying all of the suspension components necessary for giving it the same legendary Jeep off-road capability, Gladiator also features a 5-foot bed which adds versatility that Wrangler has needed for a long, long time.

The 2021 Jeep Gladiator 3.0L EcoDiesel should hit showrooms in late 2020. Exact MSRP is still pending at this time.

Powertrain Makes a Big Difference

Yes, for Jeep, Gladiator is a wundertruck. And now, based largely on enthusiasts' request for diesel torque, its powertrain comes full circle with the addition of an optional dual-overhead-cam, 260 hp/460 lb-ft of torque, 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 engine ($4,000) and TorqueFlight 8HP75 eight-speed automatic transmission ($2,000) for 2021 Sport, Overland, and Rubicon models. The combination brings the highest torque for midsize pickups. All of the diesel Gladiators require the Dana 44/3.73:1 axles-and-gears package that is standard on Rubicon.

Driving Diesel Gladiator

We had an opportunity to be included in the first group of auto media editors to drive Gladiator (Rubicon) with an oil burner, in on-, and off-road conditions just north of Los Angeles, California. In almost all facets of drivability, the diesel version is very much like its gas-propelled sibling, despite being almost 400 pounds heavier.

However, the EcoDiesel's torque superiority shines off-road, especially in low-rpm, steep-angle "crawl" events, which become basic "point-and-shoot" propositions thanks to Rubicon's easy-to-operate Rock-Trac two-speed transfer case (4.0:1 low-range) and sway bar that's disengaged with a simple switch flip. Even with five additional feet of bed behind the cab, JT's ground clearance and articulation are textbook Wrangler, save for one instance where the box dragged into the dirt while on one of the course's more aggressive hill climbs.

On the street and/or highway, we enjoyed the 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 engine's response and acceleration with the eight-speed automatic, which seems to maintain the right gear for all light and heavy pedal inputs. Despite its size and weight, the truck doesn't lumber, and we estimate (non-scientifically) its 0-60 mph time is in the low-7 to high-8-second range.

However, when assessing on-road ride quality, it's important to understand that the 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6 engine's girth requires making springs and Fox Factory shock valving significantly stiffer. Jeep engineers tell us spring rates are increased by 10 percent, and we found this to be noticeable in the constantly turning environment of our (primarily canyon) drive.

In the diesel Gladiator's case—on-road—"stiff" doesn't equal the type of firmness that is synonymous with or desired for sports cars, or the soon-to-be-released 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392 Hemi model. It also doesn't mean kidney-jarring, either. In our opinion, the truck's suspension setup is fine for local trips or logging major miles. But for spirited drives on paved surfaces, spring rates and dampening could stand a tad more adjustment for both handling performance and driver/passenger comfort (think: Gladiator "Mojave").

But, at its core and like Wrangler, Gladiator's soul is off-road. The suspension definitely meets all expectations there. No doubt.

A nice touch is the relative quiet inside and outside the 2021 Jeep Gladiator diesel. Engine noise is minimal, and we did not detect any excessive wind, or other wayward noises during either leg of the drive.

Important Details

As a pickup, there are performance and capability criteria that are unique to Gladiator, and yes, it has already been recorded for the gas-powered rigs. The basics of interior cabin size and exterior physical dimensions are static. However, as fuel economy is most enthusiasts' leading interest, we're told the EcoDiesel JT pulls down 28 mpg on the highway, 22 mpg in city driving, and 24 mpg combined per the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (based on its 18.3-gallon tank). That's a major gain over the 3.6L Pentastar V-6 gasser's range. Diesel exhaust fluid is also a concern. The tank on these rigs holds 5.1 gallons of DEF.

Towing and payload maximums are two other updated stat lines. Ironically, the diesel-powered Gladiator Rubicon's towing is limited—by the vehicle's grille. Yes, the fascia's seven-slot grille actually restricts airflow to the Charge-Air Cooler, knocking the towing limit down to 6,000 pounds (6,500 pounds for lighter Sport and Overland models), from gas-unit's 7,650-pound capability. The Jeep's payload capacity also changes slightly depending on the configuration.

When it comes to the JT Rubicon's ability to carry, its 1,160-pound maximum wins over its gas counterpart (1,075 pounds).

Vital Statistics

2021 Jeep Gladiator Diesel
Base price: N/A
Price as tested: N/A
Engine: 3.0L EcoDiesel V-6
Transmission: 8HP75 eight-speed automatic
Horsepower: 260 hp @ 3,600 rpm
Torque: 442 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm
Towing capacity: 6,500 pounds (Sport, Overland), 6,000 (Rubicon)
Payload: 1,160 pounds (Rubicon)
Estimated fuel economy: 22 mpg (city), 28 mpg (highway), 24 mpg (city and highway—EPA figure)

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