Jeep’s 2020 Gladiator keeps its business in the back

CASEY WILLIAMS | Auto Reviewer


3.6L V6. 285 horsepower. 17/22-MPG city/hwy.
Base price/As-tested: $33,545/$50,540

Jeep fans apparently like their backwards mullets — what else could explain them asking for a pickup
that’s a party in the front and business in the back, an all-season shag wagon that can still haul and tow. Based on the Wrangler Unlimited, and channeling Jeep pickups going back to the 1950s, grant their wish. Climb in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator and let the fun begin.

Head-on, the Wrangler’s seven-slot grille, big round headlamps and beefy bumpers are all in the family, but move to the side, and you immediately notice the longer wheelbase and bed on the back. Our base Sport model rides on 17-in. wheels with off-road tires and sheds the step bar, which is fine by me because the bars do little more than muddy pants. Roll back the tonneau to find spray-in bedliner, tie-downs and household power plug for serious weekend rendezvous.

Hop inside. Looking forward, the Gladiator is exactly like the Wrangler — same flat dashboard, same upright glass, same easy to use controls. As with the ritzier Sahara and Rubicon editions, the dash features a simple touchscreen with intuitive icons for audio, climate, phone and apps plus redundant controls below for volume, tuning and key climate functions. You’ll laugh when you realize it’s a smaller screen.

This de-gentrification of the Jeep’s screen is beyond silly in a vehicle loaded with heated front seats, heated steering wheel, overhead audio bar and devices connected via Bluetooth, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Safety is amped with adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with auto brake, blind spot monitor and rear cross path detection.

What makes the Gladiator unique, of course, are its top, windshield and doors — as in the top retracts, doors can be removed and the windshield can fold forward. Our truck has the hard Freedom Top with twin removable panels over the front seats. A bundle of tools lets you and a partner remove the entire roof for that open air summer experience. If that sounds like too much foreplay, choose the standard retractable canvas roof.

Move out with a 3.6-liter V6 that delivers 285 horsepower, routed to the 4-wheel-drive system through an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s enough power to pick up the pickup and kick it up, but also delivers 17/22-MPG city/highway. That’s not going to impress hybrid drivers, but isn’t bad for a heavy brick. Properly equipped, the Gladiator V6 can pull a robust 7,650-lbs. trailer — enough for a boat, small RV or motorcycles.

Upon introduction, the current Wrangler’s on-road ride was a revolution in civility. Gone were the ball-busting gyrations of earlier Jeeps. While the Gladiator doesn’t seem quite that smooth, it is pretty easy to take during daily driving. Having a turning radius engineered for tight trails also pays off when maneuvering through parking garages and narrow city streets.

Jeep fans have been asking for a pickup. Whether they got the truck they want depends on perspective. If they desire a vehicle to haul and tow, there are smoother choices. But this vehicle also transforms into an all-capable convertible. I suspect that’s exactly the truck fans expect. Let’s hope they’re fine with a $33,545 base price, or $50,540 as-tested. Competitors include the Nissan Frontier, Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, GMC Canyon and Toyota Tacoma.

Follow Casey on YouTube @AutoCasey.