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2020 Jeep Gladiator Review

LIKES
  • So much personality
  • Turbodiesel on the way
  • Still seriously capable
  • Top comes off
DISLIKES
  • Expensive against rivals
  • Light on standard features
  • Rivals are more comfortable
  • Only one body and bed combo
BUYING TIP
  • The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon delivers astounding off-road capability.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator pairs everything we love and hate about the Wrangler with a useful pickup bed.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator combines pickup-truck utility with the Wrangler’s unmistakable swagger and off-road prowess, for better or worse.



The 2020 Gladiator costs more than its rivals and is a compromised hauler in some ways, but it can trudge off-road exceptionally well, its top comes off, and it won’t be mistaken for anything but a Jeep.

On our scale, we award it 5.2 out of 10 points. 

Three Gladiator trims are on offer: low-frills Sport, tony Overland, and massively capable Rubicon. All share a standard 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 teamed to either an 8-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual and part-time four-wheel drive. Properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds. Fuel economy is slightly worse than the Wrangler but in line with mid-size pickup truck rivals at 19 mpg combined regardless of transmission.

A 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6 is due by the end of calendar year 2020, but the Gladiator won’t offer the 2.0-liter turbo-4 that’s optional on the Wrangler.

The Gladiator revives a long-retired name but it’s less conventional than most Jeep pickups that came before it. From the rear seat forward, the Gladiator is a Wrangler, seven-slot, upright grille and all. Fun fact: The Gladiator’s grill slots are slightly wider than those in the Wrangler to improve engine cooling. Its windshield folds flat against the hood after removing a few screws and its fabric soft top or composite hard top can be partially or fully dropped. Behind the Gladiator’s four-door cab (no two-door version is available) sits a 5-foot steel bed with a tailgate that flops down. The Gladiator’s wheelbase is about 19 inches longer than the Wrangler’s and Jeep tacked on an additional 12 inches of frame behind its rear wheels. At 218 inches from bumper to bumper, the Gladiator is a half-inch longer than rivals with 5-foot beds.

Predictably, off-road breakover and departure angles suffer in the name of practicality, but the 2020 Gladiator remains hugely capable due to its standard four-wheel-drive system, high ground clearance, and solid axles. Rubicons do even better with their 33-inch all-terrain tires, Fox monotube shocks, taller springs, sway bars that disconnect at the tap of a button, and locking front and rear differentials.

Inside, the Gladiator feels like a Wrangler, albeit one with the rear window moved a few feet toward the cabin. Its front seats are comfortable enough, but not as adjustable as in some rivals and the center console is relatively narrow. Outward vision isn’t as good as the high seating position would suggest due to the small windows and high sills. Rear leg room grows about three inches over the Wrangler four-door, but the small door openings remain a hindrance.

Jeep charges about $2,000 more for the Gladiator than it does for a similar Wrangler. You won’t find one on a dealer’s lot for less than $35,000, and that money buys roll-up windows and a tinny audio system.

Base Gladiator Sports are spartan. Air conditioning and a 5.0-inch radio display are standard, but that’s about it. Power windows, alloy wheels, a hardtop, 7.0- and 8.0-inch touchscreens for infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, and an 8-speed automatic transmission are options that will bump the price of most Gladiators north of $40,000.

The Gladiator Overland is far from lavish, but can be outfitted with leather upholstery and heated seats. Opt for the Gladiator Rubicon and Jeep builds on the base model with a slew of off-road goodies. Automatic emergency braking is paired with adaptive cruise control and forward-collision warnings in an option package, too.

Styling
If you like the Wrangler’s looks, you’re probably on board with the 2020 Jeep Gladiator.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator doesn’t try anything new, and that’s just fine with us. It’s a Wrangler in front and a useful pickup in back, something like the opposite of a mullet.

We rate it at 8 out of 10.

Park the back half of the 2020 Gladiator behind a wall and the only way even the most devout Jeep faithful will know it’s not a Wrangler is by its badge. The two Jeeps share a look that never seems to get old with a seven-slot grille flanked by round headlights, chunky fender flares that can be painted, and meaty tires on most versions.

A black cloth top is standard, while the optional composite top can either come in black or body color. With its soft top down or hard top removed, the Gladiator looks like no other pickup on the road. Removing the top and doors and folding the windshield makes the Gladiator look like thieves paid it a visit, although the open-air experience is a lot of fun from behind the wheel.

The Gladiator’s rear doors are cut just as sharply at the bottom as those on four-door Wranglers, but we don’t know why. On the Wrangler, the narrow door opening is forced by the rear wheel wells. The Gladiator’s wheelbase is about 19 inches longer than the Wrangler’s, with about three of those inches dedicated to rear-seat leg room. Its rear wheels don’t intrude into the cabin, but its doors are narrow.

Just one bed length is on offer, a 5-foot steel bed that is available with a spray-in bedliner and a roll-up cover. The Gladiator’s spare tire sits below the bed instead of on the tailgate, which flops down on the pickup instead of swinging open as it does on the Wrangler.

Inside, the Gladiator’s dashboard is shared with the Wrangler. Controls sit up high, though the standard 5.0-inch radio display looks downmarket compared to the available 7.0- and 8.0-inch touchscreens. No Gladiator is dressy inside. Gladiator Saharas and Rubicons with optional leather upholstery have stitched vinyl on the top of the dashboard that looks a little better than the standard hard plastic.

Performance
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator excels off-road, but it comes up short on pavement.

One look at the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is enough. It’s a Wrangler with a bed, and it’s not much of a surprise that the 2020 Gladiator drives like one.

We rate it at 5 out of 10 for its performance. To get there, we dial a point back for a ride that’s better than the Wrangler, but not by much, and add that point back thanks to stellar off-road ability in every configuration. 

The Gladiator shares a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter V-6 with the Wrangler. The V-6 works best with the optional 8-speed automatic transmission. Together, the combination provides good acceleration and the transmission slips through its eight cogs quickly and efficiently. The standard 6-speed manual has long throws paired with a light clutch, but the V-6’s limited low-end torque means that drivers will find themselves shifting often.

Late in the 2020 model year, the Gladiator will be offered with a 3.0-liter turbodiesel engine teamed with the 8-speed automatic, but we haven’t driven that setup.

Where the Gladiator differs is underneath. Its frame stretches more than two feet longer than the Wrangler’s, with 19 of those extra inches coming between the wheels. It reacts more predictably to bumps and freeway expansion joints, but not by a lot. Rivals generally deliver a more controlled ride.

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The Gladiator rides big Dana 44 solid axles front and rear regardless of trim level (the Wrangler saves those axles for the Rubicon). Coil springs all around provide good articulation. The rear suspension is mostly cribbed from the Ram 1500 in a bid to help the Gladiator tow 7,650 pounds when the Sport trim level is specified with the optional trailering package and 8-speed automatic transmission. Other versions are rated at between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds. Payload also varies dramatically, from as low as 1,105 pounds to 1,600 pounds for the base Sport with the manual transmission. Shop carefully if hauling is important to you.

The Gladiator’s steering is light and requires more correction at highway speeds than its pickup truck rivals. It handles confidently enough on a curvy road, but not with the precision of most other vehicles on the road today. Never does the Gladiator feel especially tippy, but it’s far from sporty.

The optional hard top can be fitted with an extra-cost insulation package that muffles road noise reasonably well. The standard soft top lets in lots of road roar at speed, a price to pay for the ability to go topless at the tug of a few levers.

Every Gladiator comes with part-time four-wheel drive tugged between high and low range via a balky, but charming lever next to the transmission. Some competitors and even the Wrangler offer an automatic four-wheel drive mode, but not the Gladiator.

The Gladiator Rubicon is the clear off-road champ, but even the base Sport makes good use of its solid axles and old-fashioned four-wheel-drive system. Rubicons add a beefier transfer case with a lower crawl ratio for low-speed loping, 33-inch off-road tires, locking front and rear differentials, and automatic sway bar disconnects. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator Rubicon’s fenders can swallow 35-inch tires and a matching spare will even fit below the bed.

A nifty optional trail camera is mounted to the Gladiator’s grille and it points forward to show what the driver might not be able to see on a tricky trail. Tap a button and an integrated spray nozzle cleans mud or dust off the camera, too.

Comfort & Quality
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is spacious, but it’s a big step to climb aboard.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator shares its interior with the Wrangler, with one three-inch exception. The pickup truck’s longer wheelbase means it has more rear-seat leg room, which adds to its big utility upgrade.

Still, we arrive at 5 out of 10 for comfort. The 2020 Gladiator has narrow door openings that are not easy to climb into and its front seating area could be more comfortable.

Front seat passengers have acceptable outward vision out thanks to the short dashboard and upright windshield, though the roof rails are beefy.

Don’t look for power adjustment on the driver’s seat. The throne itself is supportive enough, but the driveline tunnel cuts deeply into leg room for both the driver and the passenger. Rear-seat riders have about 41 inches of leg room and a reasonably comfortable bench that can be folded flat for all-weather cargo storage. The seatbacks can be locked in place to secure smaller items behind when the top is down, for instance.

Interior materials are nothing special. The optional leather upholstery has a reasonably rich feel and the imaginative dashboard design means the Gladiator generally looks a cut above its rivals inside.

Overall, the Gladiator feels narrower than its 74-inch width would suggest. Its door panels sit close to outboard passengers and the driveline hump in the floorboard robs leg room for front-seat occupants. Dark trim and relatively small windows give it a confining feel, too.

No Gladiator is truly quiet. Wind and road noise are constant companions regardless of tire and top selections.

While some rivals offer multiple bed lengths, the Gladiator comes only with a 5-foot cargo hold. The options list for the bed includes a spray-in bedliner, a roll-up cover, and a power outlet. The aluminum tailgate is damped so that it glides down and can be lifted up with just a couple of fingers. Wire straps allow the tailgate to be left just a couple of inches open so that home-improvement types can lug home 4-by-8-foot plywood in the relatively short bed.

Safety
We’d like to see more active safety gear standard, but the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is par for the course.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator hasn’t been crash tested by either independent or federal officials, so we’ll have to hold off assigning a score for now.

We’ll update this space when we know more. 

The 2020 Gladiator comes with the basics, and that’s about it. The removable top means that it lacks curtain side airbags. Just four airbags are on board, among the least found in any new car. Safety gear is bundled in two option packages. The first adds rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitors, and LED taillights. Selecting that one means buyers can then order a package that pairs adaptive cruise control with automatic emergency braking. Ford and Toyota make most of those features standard now, so it’s a shame to see that Jeep makes them optional.

Features
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator range stretches from basic to less basic.

Don’t go looking for luxuries in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. Sure, leather seats and a heated steering wheel are on the options list, but the 2020 Gladiator prioritizes style over value.

We rate it at 5 out of 10, peeling a point back for its spartan base Sport trim that we add back for the unreal capability offered by the Gladiator Rubicon.

Don’t expect to climb aboard a Gladiator Sport for less than $35,000. Add the power windows and locks (yes, they’re really optional) and alloy wheels that come with the Gladiator Sport S package and you’re looking at about $38,200. With a wide range of optional extras ranging from upgraded infotainment with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility to a hard top to an automatic transmission, we doubt many 2020 Gladiator trucks will leave the assembly line for less than $40,000.

The Gladiator Overland costs about $42,000 and adds power features, painted fender flares, 18-inch alloy wheels, side steps, and a 7.0-inch touchscreen for infotainment. Options include leather upholstery, heated front seats and steering wheel, a 8.4-inch touchscreen for infotainment, and active safety features. If you’re cross-shopping the Wrangler, the Gladiator Overland is spec’d out about like the Wrangler Sahara.

If occasional off-roading is part of your plan or you live where rain and snow are often in the forecast, pick the optional limited-slip rear differential on Sport and Overland trims.

Serious-off roaders will almost certainly bypass the Sport and the Sahara for the $45,000 Gladiator Rubicon. That model comes outfitted about like the Sport S inside but subs in a higher suspension paired with wider axles and 33-inch tires, sway bars that disconnect at the tap of a button, a unique transfer case with a more aggressive low range, differential locks, and a few other goodies.  

The optional trailer package adds a receiver hitch, but only the Sport with the automatic is rated to tow 7,650 pounds. Other versions are rated between 4,000 and 7,000 pounds, so shop carefully.

Fuel Economy
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is rated at 19 mpg regardless of configuration.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is larger than the Wrangler, so it’s no surprise that it uses a little more fuel.

We rate it at 3 out of 10.

Still, at 19 mpg combined for any trim level or powertrain, the 2020 Gladiator isn’t too thirsty considering its boxy shape. The upcoming Gladiator turbodiesel should be thriftier.

With the standard 6-speed manual transmission, the Gladiator is rated at an estimated 16 mpg city, 23 highway, 19 combined. Opt for the 8-speed automatic and things don’t change much: 17/22/19 mpg.

Caveat: those figures are Jeep’s estimates. We’ll update this space when the EPA releases its estimates.

The standard stop/start system is reasonably unobtrusive, although the engine is more audible inside the cabin with the standard soft top than it is with the optional hard top.

With four-wheel drive and a crew cab, the 2019 Ford Ranger is rated at 22 mpg combined while the 2019 Chevy Colorado and 2019 GMC Canyon match the Jeep’s 19 mpg combined.




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