When you first lay your eyes on the 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup, the evolution from a four-door SUV to a mid-sized pickup makes you wonder how it took the manufacturer so long to introduce the new model.
Jeep has a long history as a rugged, go-anywhere utility vehicle. The original two-door (now called the Wrangler) was like a mountain goat, which endeared itself to a legion of diehard fans.
The space behind the front seats was minimal for humans and cargo alike. The solution came in the form of the Wrangler Unlimited in 2007, featuring a longer wheelbase and two extra doors.
That vehicle’s success (it now accounts for 75 per cent of Wrangler sales) has led to today’s tester.
The Gladiator comes in three trim levels — the Sport S, Overland and Rubicon. List prices range from $46,995 to $53,995. My tester was the entry-level model.
As a brand, Jeep is one of the few that doesn’t worry about brand identity. The iconic Jeep look is unmistakable.
A cursory look might suggest that Jeep had little to do to create the Gladiator, save from removing the rear of the Unlimited. But you would be mistaken.
Jeep has added 480 millimetres to the wheelbase, stretching it to 3,487 mm. Consider for a moment that the full-size F-150 regular cab’s wheelbase is only 3,099, and you will understand what a stretch those extra millimetres mean.
Its overall length is 5,537 mm, more than 180 mm longer than the new Ford Ranger.
All this extra length, especially in the wheelbase, means that the Gladiator rides like no other Wrangler-based Jeep in history — the ride on the highway is even more comfortable than the Unlimited.
The five-foot box is proportional to the body, and comes with indents and tie-down points for owners’ toys. Promotional pictures show recreational products, such as dirt bikes, kayaks and the like in the box. This is not marketed as a work truck.
The tailgate is damped (meaning it slowly drops) and features an arresting hook for the cable that allows the tailgate to be held open at a 45-degree angle — useful for long items you don’t want sliding out during transport.
The tailgate can be locked, and the handy tonneau cover on my tester was easy to fold up. A three-prong power outlet is available.
Jeep claims best-in-class 4x4 towing, with up to 3,470 kg (7,650 lbs.), just squeaking ahead of the Ford Ranger. A hitch receiver and 4/7-pin wiring harness comes standard.
If it were just a mid-sized truck comparison, the story would end here. But the Jeep isn’t just another truck.
Like all Wranglers, the Gladiator can shed its doors and optional hardtop roof with just a few minutes’ work. The roof over the front occupants can be removed with a flip of four latches each (there is a roof panel above each occupant). The remainder of the roof can be removed by undoing bolts (and there is a moulded container to store the bolts).
I did not test the regular soft-top version to compare the two.
If you are so inclined (and the law allows), you can remove the doors. There are accessory bars that serve as quasi-doors should you like to have something between you and the pavement.
For the true wind-in-your-hair and bugs-in-your-teeth experience, you can also fold down the front windshield.
Jeep offers a plethora of accessories to enable you to personalize your ride.
One popular option that Jeep fans usually buy is 33-inch tires to replace the stock 245/75 R17s, to give their off-road vehicles a distinctive mucho-macho look. The Gladiator’s ample wheelwell easily accommodates this popular modification.
The Gladiator comes in only 4x4 and the systems range from mild to serious rock-climbing.
There is only one engine option for now — the trusty 3.6-litre Pentastar V-6, producing 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque.
Even with engine stop/start in the city, the engine still consumes 14.3 litres per 100 km in the city and 10.4 on the highway.
You can stick with a six-speed manual (unique in its segment) or opt for an eight-speed automatic transmission.
The size of the infotainment screen depends on the trim level you choose. The base is a five-inch unit. My tester had the optional seven-inch touchscreen.
The rest of the cabin is identical to the current Wrangler.
The rear seat deserves mention. Not only does the seat bottom fold up for extra cargo carrying, the back also folds forward. A lock on the seat release means you get a bit more security for long items (such as fishing poles) when away from the vehicle. Two small LED lamps provide illumination when you are attempting to stash things away back there.
Desirable advanced driver safety features, such as brake assist, forward collision warning, active braking, blind spot, cross path detection and rear park assist are available, but optional.
But the worst omissions are heated seats and a heated steering wheel. They are only available in a optional $895 package. I would argue that all Canadian vehicles should come with at least one of those features as standard.
Was it worth the wait? Absolutely. The Gladiator is like a breath of fresh air in the cookie-cutter segment, with a number of innovative features. It looks like a Jeep, drives like a Jeep and now hauls like the best of the segment. It’s a welcome addition to the Jeep line.
THE SPEC SHEET
Type: Mid-sized four door pick up front engine 4x4
Engine: 3.6-litre V-6, 285 hp at 6,400 rpm, 260 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,800
Transmission: Eight-speed automatic
Dimensions (mm): Length, 5,537; width, 1,875; height, 1,905; wheelbase, 3,487
Curb weight (kg): 2,110
Price (base/as tested): $46,995/ $55,085 (includes $1,895 freight and PDI and $100 AC tax)
Options: Technology group $995, Trailer tow package $500, convenience group $495, auxiliary switch group $295, roll-up tonneau cover $495, 8-speed automatic $1,595, traclok anti-spin differential $525, hardtop $1,195
Tires: 245/75 R17 all-terrain tires on alloy wheels
Fuel type: Regular
Fuel economy (L/100km): 14.3 city / 10.4 highway
Warranty: Three years/60,000 km new car, five years/100,000 km powertrain and roadside assistance