Arrow-right Camera

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Friday, November 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 32° Partly Cloudy

Autos

All-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator is the ultimate niche machine

Officially, the new Jeep Gladiator competes in the midsize pickup segment.

In reality, it’s a segment of one, the ultimate niche machine.

The Gladiator is — take your pick — the Swiss Army knife of pickups or a Transformer toy for big people. 

Its basic formula is simple; stubby, unadorned hood, oversized crew cab and a 5-foot bed. Lightweight composite fenders hover over the wheels.

Its jaunty stance is at least one part playfulness and another part retro.

Fluid identity

In fact, there isn’t another rig that boasts a more fluid identity. Gladiator’s body, door and roof panels can be removed for the last word in open-air motoring. 

Button everything back up and the four-door is dressed for work. Its 7,650-pound tow rating is bettered only by the competitions’ diesel variants and its 1600-pound payload ranks high among the segment leaders.  

Based on Jeep’s four-door Wrangler Unlimited, the Gladiator is available in five trims: Sport ($33,545), Sport S ($36,745), Overland ($40,395) and Rubicon ($43,545). 

A few weeks ago, we packed five days’ worth of traveling gear (cooler, cooking supplies, folding chairs, multiple duffle bags and more) into the immense rear seating area of our Rubicon tester and struck out for the John Day Fossil Beds in eastern Oregon. 

Rubicon the ultimate Gladiator

The Rubicon is the ultimate Gladiator. While every Gladiator trim is fitted with four-wheel drive, the Rubicon’s advanced Rock-Trac 4x4 system tackles the thorniest off-road situations.

Rubicon rides on 33-inch all-terrain tires and the segment’s only electronic sway-bar disconnect offers improved wheel articulation and total suspension travel. 

Burly skid plates protect Gladiator’s vulnerable underside bits. Generous ground clearance (11 inches on Rubicon, 10 on the rest) and approach/departure angles help ease its way through the gnarly spots. 

Exclusive to the Rubicon, an optional forward-facing off-road camera displays the trail ahead in vivid detail.

User-friendly cabin electronics

Rubicon has a 7,000-pound tow rating. In all Gladiators, the hitch and trailer sockets are well integrated, and the system is pre-wired to support an electric trailer brake controllers. The blind-spot monitoring system also has trailer coverage. 

A 5.0-inch touchscreen is standard on the Sport, with 7.0 and 8.4-inch units available on upper trims. Gladiator’s surprisingly quiet cabin sports a full array of modern and user-friendly electronics and its audio systems deliver impressive sound. 

Directly below the touchscreen there’s a row of hard buttons and knobs for climate and audio system volume control. A nest of media connectivity ports accommodates multiple devices.

The center console houses the shift lever, transfer-case controls and parking brake. To underscore Gladiator’s robust build quality, Jeep leaves bolts exposed on the shifter, grab handles and the touchscreen’s frame.
 
A weather-proof surround protects the push-button starter.

Turbodiesel is coming

A long list of available active and passive safety and security features includes adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection and a backup camera with dynamic grid lines. 

All Gladiators are powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 engine that makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. Its broad torque band produces gobs of power at low engine speeds, ideal for towing and extreme off-roading. 

A six-speed manual transmission is standard; an eight-speed automatic is optional. 

A turbodiesel Gladiator is expected next year. Jeep says the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 will make 260 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque. 

The Gladiator is 31 inches longer than the four-door Wrangler Unlimited and its wheelbase is 19.4 inches longer. Those numbers contribute to the Gladiator’s spacious cabin and to a ride that’s smoother and more settled than the Wrangler’s. 

Gladiator’s recirculating-ball steering system lacks precision and feel. It feels vague and, absent a solid on-center groove, its allows Gladiator to wander in its lane.  

Body lean is a fact of life in a tall, softly suspended rig like this. In the winding and hilly two-lane roads of John Day country, the Rubicon was happiest when we scrubbed a few miles per hour off the speedo before entering a turn.

No harm; the Gladiator does so much so well that it needn’t also be a sports car.

Questions or comments? Contact Don at don@dadair.com.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
Vehicle base price: $35,040
Trim level base price: $43,545
As tested: $59,680 (includes destination and handling)
Options included leather upholstery; tow package; heated front seats and steering wheel; LED headlights, fog lamps and tail lamps; Alpine audio system; navigation; body-color three-piece hardtop; cargo management system; eight-speed automatic transmission; winch-capable steel front bumper; spray-in bedliner; forward-facing Trailcam
Tow rating: 7,650 lbs (Rubicon: 7,000)
EPA rating: 19 combined/17 city/22 highway
Regular unleaded fuel specified



Don Adair
Don Adair is a Spokane-based freelance writer.