WARRIOR of the ROAD – the 2020 Jeep Gladiator

The Jeep Wrangler, it has been said, is America’s sports car. Originally designed as a robust, no-nonsense war machine, the Jeep has managed the rare trick of becoming a fashion icon while remaining true to its hardcore, utilitarian roots. It’s more than a vehicle; it’s a statement. And that statement is so perfect, it feels true whether the Wrangler is shuttling teenage fashionistas through Beverly Hills, or scaling cliffs in Moab.

 That is to say, all Wranglers, no matter their vintage, remain hot properties, and remain a cash cow for Jeep and parent company FCA. So it only makes sense that Jeep took the Wrangler and combined it with another hot property: the mid-size pickup truck. Say hello to Jeep’s newest cash cow: the Jeep Gladiator.

 It’s a Jeep Wrangler. With a five-foot pickup bed bolted to the back. That right there tells you all you really need to know about the Gladiator, and if you’re an existing Jeep fan, chances are you’ve already spent hours building your own on the Jeep homepage. We did the same, then went one step further by convincing Jeep to give us the keys to a Gladiator Overland edition for a week. No surprise: the package just works.

 Buying a Jeep Gladiator means buying into the whole off-road story, and the mechanical bits that tell this story are second-to-none. Power starts with a standard 3.6-liter V6, rated at 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission also comes standard, though our tester came equipped with an 8-speed auto. Getting that power to the ground is a robust 4×4 system that includes heavy-duty, third-gen Dana 44 axles; electric front- and rear-axle lockers; and beefy 33-inch off-road tires. An electric swaybar disconnect also comes standard for added wheel articulation, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Design-wise, the Gladiator is a four-door Jeep Wrangler, with a five-foot pickup bed bolted to the back. The basic shape has remained unchanged since WW2, so it’s not like there are any surprises here. And like those Jeeps of yore, the doors and roof can be removed, and the windshield can be folded down. You’ll need the included Torx wrench and some time to make it all happen, however. For a quick hit of sun, the front half of the roof gets a quick-release feature, which we guess technically transforms the Gladiator into a Porsche-esque Gladiator Targa.

All this, of course, is to be expected from a Jeep. What isn’t expected is just how civilized this package is on the road. The interior of our Gladiator Overland is filled with leather-trimmed surfaces, and boasts power-everything and multi-stage heated seats. The sound system is surprisingly good, as is the Apple CarPlay-capable high-res touchscreen display. And despite all those lightweight, removable body panels, this Jeep is remarkably quiet inside. It’s more akin to a luxury car than a commuter, and significantly quieter than most other trucks in this segment.

And it drives… wait for it… like a Jeep Wrangler. Its suspension is set up for aggressive off-road trails, which means it’s soft. And that softness in the suspension means that the steering is vague, the chassis never feels like it wants to track straight, and that there’s always a delay between your driving input and the Jeep doing what you asked of it. Acceleration isn’t terrible, but high-speed maneuvers are absolutely out of the question, as is anything resembling a hurried stop. But if you wanted something fast, chances are you wouldn’t be looking at box first designed back in the 1940s.

In a world where even the cheapest car is designed to use computers to drive itself, there’s a charm to the Jeep Gladiator’s honest, mechanical simplicity. It’s a vehicle that requires its driver to actively be involved in the driving process. This isn’t a vehicle for mindless cruising; it’s designed for adventure, and it expects you to lead the expedition, whether that’s a trip down Rodeo Drive, or the Moab Rim Trail.  

Justin Kaehler
Justin Kaehler is a Los Angeles-based writer, photographer, and auto enthusiast who has been sharing his passion for cars for over 15 years.