It’s not a Scrambler, and that’s why the new 2020 Jeep pickup is called a Gladiator. It’s a real truck—not a Wrangler with a bed. The long-awaited Jeep pickup has landed, and it holds a clear competitive advantage. In the midsize truck market, only two manufacturers are currently duking it out—the Toyota Tacoma and the Chevy Colorado/GMC Canyon.
The Nissan Hardbody is over 10 years old and is no longer a significant contender, and the upcoming Ford Ranger is still a virtual no-show. As always, Toyota’s rugged reputation holds its trucks firmly in the marketplace, and the new ZR2 and the AEV Bison are clearly ahead of the game in off-road ability and towing. But a true game-changer entered the market today—the Jeep Gladiator.
Named for its stellar predecessors from the ’60s and ’70s, the specs on paper alone make the new Gladiator appear to honor the past and blow away the current competition. It is a dedicated, real truck with a separate bed, not just a Wrangler JL with a longer bed tacked on the end like the old-school Scrambler. That was one reason for the name selection—Jeep knew it had to do it right and build a fully off-road–capable Jeep as well as a fully functional truck with four doors and a usable bed—exactly what this current market needs. Of course, it looks like a Wrangler JL, which it is supposed to.
While the cab and forward sheetmetal is the same or similar to a JL, it is decidedly different in every other respect. The frame is specific to the JT, as are the bigger axles, brakes, wheels, suspension, and thankfully, the available 33-inch mud-terrain tires on the Rubicon model. The Falken M/Ts are LT285/70R17 with a C load rating, while the Sport and Sport S get 245/75R17 Bridgestone Dueler HT 685 or A/T RH-S tires and the Overland gets the 255/70R18 Bridgestone Dueler HT 685 or A/T RH-S tires—all interesting choices for an OE-style tire on a Jeep. Even the grille is modified for better airflow due to the cooling requirements of a truck that can actually tow; it’s rated at a 7,650-pound towing capacity and 1,600-pound payload, which out-specs the competition. With a wheelbase of 137 inches and a 5-foot box, the JT is about 400 pounds heavier than a comparable JKU.
Only the Gladiator has a removable hardtop or soft top, along with removable doors. The optional tonneau cover rolls out of the way for easy access. The Overland trim level seen here comes with 18-inch rims, while all others sport 17-inch versions. Payload capacity remains the same for all trims and both engine choices.
The Gladiator is also the only convertible pickup in the market, and it is offered with either a removable hardtop or a soft top, or both. Options mirror the JL line, and there are four trim levels: Sport; Sport S; Overland; and, of course, the top of the line in performance and style—the Rubicon. The rear flare to bed/body looks odd at first, but as an engineer said, “twist happens,” and there is no issue when off the road concerning body interference. The longer rear link arms are set lower for better control and towing ability, as the suspension of the Gladiator is also truck specific—as are the Fox aluminum-bodied 2-inch-diameter shocks available only on the Rubicon. Protecting the body of the Jeep Rubicon model are full-length side bars, and an additional bar for the bed area. Optional steel bumpers are available and a myriad of Mopar add-ons are also ready for tacking onto the Jeep. Of important note is that the bedsides are shorter and lower than a fullsize truck, making loading and unloading cargo easier and more convenient. The tailgate even has a halfway-down option, which allows for hauling 4x8 sheets of plywood in the back for the contractor side of your life.
For towing the JT is equipped with an optional Class 4 receiver and 4- and 7-pin harness plugs. You can still slap a ball on the bumper too, if all you tow are some lightweight toys to the beach. Sadly, there is no integrated brake controller provided—like all other contemporary trucks. A trip to your Mopar dealer can solve this oversight with some cash and time to install it. The same goes for the lack of a key-off live 12V power port in the bed of the truck. Does Jeep not think this will be the next greatest overlanding vehicle? They even named the trim level Overland, yet forgot the 12V port in the back. And while we decry the push-button start, at least it is billed as waterproof—but for Lee Iacocca’s sake, please make the not-key fob smaller than a brick. We certainly think these three items merit Jeep’s attention. Write your congressman and demand the change!
As with any newly introduced vehicle, the JT is awash with over 80 safety and convenience items. Some we love and others need some work. A newly introduced Off Road + button will allow the JT to have enhanced ability off-road by changing the parameters of BTC, and all the other crap in high range for sand running and low range for rockcrawling. This is said to not take away control, such as the dial-selection knob–style of lesser vehicles, as the transfer case lever and optional locker switches remain. In fact, late availability of rear locker access in high-range 4WD is also on the drawing board. Also, holding the + button for 5 seconds is purported to turn the nannies completely off in low range—and maybe high-range 4WD. We will hold judgment until we try it ourselves, but that feature would be truly welcomed and appreciated. Other interior upgrades from the JL include Off-Road Pages for the infotainment screen, where you can configure and fiddle to your tech-geek heart’s content rather than just driving the Jeep. The forward-facing camera is handy, but using your memory to visualize what you just drove over might be a better tactic.
In the power and torque department the current V-6 with 285 hp and 260 lb-ft ratings will be standard, with no mention of a four-cylinder. Of course, the 2020 model should feature the upgraded 3.0L EcoDiesel mill with 260 hp and 442 lb-ft, which is more than enough twisting force to pull a load. The gas engine can be had with a six-speed manual and the eight-speed auto, while the diesel only gets the new eight-speed slushbox, and only the Rock-Trac Rubicon and regular Command-Trac transfer cases are available. The Gladiator’s frame is an additional 31 inches longer, while the wheelbase is 19.4 inches longer than the JLU Wrangler. An approach angle of 43.6 degrees, breakover angle of 20.3 degrees, departure angle of 26 degrees, and a ground clearance of 11.1 inches make for a competent wheeler—a true winner we can’t wait to try out.