Do you remember the TV advertisement for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups that showed a person walking while enjoying a chocolate bar, and another person walking while eating peanut butter? Accidentally they collide, their foods mix, and they discover that chocolate combined with peanut butter is delicious.
Think of the new Jeep Gladiator in a similar way: Two desirable products combined.
Americans are avid fans of pickup trucks and buy very many of them. A big part of their allure for consumers is the rough and rugged, working-man image pickups convey. Then we have the Jeep Wrangler, a very popular off-roader that a lot of people buy for its gritty, go-anywhere image. Combine the two and you have Jeep’s new Gladiator, essentially a four-door Wrangler with a pickup box in back.
From a product-design and marketing perspective, the idea is brilliant. Take two very popular vehicle types and graft them together to create a third vehicle type that is bound to attract fans.
But the Gladiator is more than just some flash and dazzle meant to gain more business for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles – the Italy-based car company that makes Jeep, in addition to the American brands Chrysler, Dodge and Ram. The Gladiator is a worthy vehicle for the same reason that the Jeep Wrangler is a worthy vehicle: It really can tackle the rough stuff.
Most vehicles – including most sport-utility vehicles – with all-wheel drive include the feature to improve traction on paved surfaces when road conditions get dicey. The Gladiator and Wrangler carry sturdier, more capable four-wheel-drive setups that are engineered to power the vehicles through streams and over mud, sand, gravel, big rocks, ruts, snow and steep inclines.
Supporting their go-anywhere wheel grip are big-knuckled steering gear and suspension joints attached to sturdy, rigid frames. The Jeep Wrangler and Gladiator are elevated for high stepping, to more easily clear extreme surface irregularities. They’re sealed to ford nearly three feet of water. Their bumper areas are specially tapered to prevent scraping when mounting or dismounting abrupt inclines.
Jeep presents its new Gladiator as a separate model in the medium-sized pickup category, distinct from the Wrangler sport-utility vehicle. And, yes, there are distinctions. The Gladiator wears the distinctive grille of seven vertical slots, like the Wrangler. But on the Gladiator the slots are wider, to allow more airflow through the radiator because the heavier Gladiator requires more engine cooling. It requires more cooling especially when towing, with its 7,650-pound maximum trailering capacity the highest among small-scale pickups, according to Jeep.
The Gladiator also is subtly more tapered around its nose to ease airflow around the pickup and thus improve aerodynamics, increasing gas mileage. It has aluminum doors to reduce weight.
But overall the Gladiator looks like a near double of the Wrangler. Sure, Gladiator has a pickup box in back. But its forward portion carries the same round headlights, the crisply angular, exterior fenders, slab sides, flat, upright windshield and horizontal roof, that are signature aspects of the Wrangler.
The Gladiator is still finding its place. It arrived on the market as a 2020 model only about six months ago. I think people will view it not as a wholly distinct model, but as the pickup-truck variation of the Wrangler sport-utility.
They already appear to be. When I was driving a top-of-the-line Gladiator pickup, a woman in an approaching Wrangler SUV waved the Jeep high-sign as our vehicles crossed. It’s a V-shaped finger flash that deeply dedicated Wrangler drivers exchange to show their solidarity. Clearly in that woman’s eyes, my Gladiator was a like model.
Passenger accommodations in the Gladiator closely mimic what you find in the four-door version of the Wrangler. Both have five-person seating and very nearly the same interior volume. Of course, while the Wrangler SUV has some cargo space in the rear of its cabin, the Gladiator carries the pickup bed in back.
The Gladiator is close to one yard longer than the Wrangler. Both are the same width. The Gladiator is nicely powered by a 285-horsepower V6 engine. Its entry-level transmission is a six-speed manual, with an eight-speed automatic sold as a $2,000 option. Four-wheel drive is a standard feature, not a higher-priced option as on other pickups.
Jeep sells the new truck in four levels, with list prices ranging from $35,040 to $45,370. Extra-cost options can bring you features like a removable hardtop to replace the Gladiator’s fold-down convertible top, at $2,295. Stop-and-go intelligent cruise control with forward-collision monitoring and automatic braking adds $795. Leather-trimmed front bucket seats with additional cabin enhancements boost the price by $1,495.
The model I evaluated included those extras and others, topping out as a fully-loaded model at $59,585.
It was comfortable. I did a 250-mile run and never felt fatigued. It was accommodating. Its high-level, high-output audio setup kept me entertained, while its intelligent cruise control and other monitoring systems keep me feeling secure during that 250-mile run.
I had the opportunity for only some moderate off-roading in my trial Gladiator. But over snow, across some substantial ruts and bumps, around boulders, up some iffy inclines and down the same, I felt like there was little the Gladiator couldn’t conquer.
But the evaluation also highlighted the sort of shortcomings you can expect in a vehicle that’s tailored for off-road travel. While the Gladiator handled freeway and around-town motoring well, it admitted more wind noise and pavement chatter than a more refined street vehicle would. And during my freeway run, powerful wind gusts buffeted it from the side so that I felt I had to grip the steering wheel assertively. It’s a tall, upright and boxy vehicle, after all. What’s more, through nearly 400 miles of driving, my Gladiator consumed gas at a thirsty rate of 18 miles per gallon.
But I could be describing the experience in any pickup. That’s no slight to the Gladiator. Jeep’s new model that mates its popular Wrangler with the open-box utility of a pickup truck is an attractive combination.
Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at www.jeffreyzygmont.com.
2020 Jeep Gladiator
Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, four-wheel-drive medium-size pickup truck
Price range: $35,040 to $45,370 (plus options)
Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty
Engine: 3.6-liter V6
Power: 285 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 260 lb.-ft. torque at 4,400 rpm
Base transmission: six-speed manual
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city; 22 mpg highway (with AWD)
Wheelbase: 137 inches
Length: 218 inches
Width: 74 inches
Height: 75 inches
Weight: 4,672 pounds
Fuel capacity: 22.0 gallons
Turning circle: 44.5 ft.