2020 Jeep Gladiator front, driving in dirt

Jeep is expanding its lineup by adding the Gladiator, a pickup truck version of its popular Wrangler SUV. The formula is quite simple: Stretch the wheelbase, add a truck bed, improve the rear suspension, but leave the brand's ruggedness, styling, and simplicity intact.

This strategy has effectively expanded the Wrangler's own model range and likely creates a tough decision for some Jeep shoppers who may be torn between the SUV and truck body styles now available.

The name reaches back to a 1960s Wagoneer-based pickup truck, and this iteration reminds us of the old Wrangler-derived 1980s Scrambler. That was a two-door Wrangler with an extended rear section. The Gladiator takes the concept further, replacing the rear cargo area of the current four-door Wrangler with a 5-foot bed.

Jeep's new pickup arrives on the heels of the new Ford Ranger, creating an interesting contrast between lifestyle vehicles and traditional pickup trucks. While the Wrangler is essentially in a class of its own, the Gladiator disrupts the midsized truck class with some key advantages—but does have some drawbacks.

Like many all-new models, the Gladiator first hit the market in the more expensive, high-end configurations. As we await the mainstream version, which we plan to purchase for testing, we rented a well-equipped Gladiator Overland from Jeep. Here's our first impression.  

What We Drove: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland
Powertrain: 3.6-liter V6 engine, eight-speed automatic transmission, four-wheel drive
MSRP: $40,395
Options: $11,450
Destination fee: $1,495
Total cost: $53,340 

2020 Jeep Gladiator front, driving on road

What We Like . . . So Far

Look at it head-on or look out from behind the wheel and you'll see this is very much a Jeep Wrangler, complete with the heritage-rich styling and trail-blazing attitude.

The dashboard here mirrors the Wrangler's, complete with rugged-looking knobs and switches. The automatic gear selector is topped with the silhouette of a classic WWII-era Jeep. 

The rented Gladiator was equipped with the optional $555 headliner. In most vehicles, the term “headliner” refers to the material covering the entire ceiling, which is typically cloth-backed with some form of insulation. Here, the so-called headliner looks like cheap stadium-seat pads affixed to the removable top. We found that it dampened some wind noise on the highway, but there's no hiding the fact that this is a loud vehicle either way.

Jeep Road Tests

The front roof panels can be removed easily to provide an open driving experience, but there's no place inside to store them. Most drivers will probably strap them in the bed in their storage bag.

A fully removable top is a key distinguishing feature of the Gladiator. No other truck comes close to offering an open driving experience. And like the Wrangler, the doors can also be removed.

The Gladiator rides better than the Wrangler, thanks in part to its 19-inch-longer wheelbase. It also rides better than two truck rivals, the Ford Ranger and the Toyota Tacoma. The Gladiator's wheelbase is about 10 inches longer those models', as well as the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon's.

For daily driving, we found the Gladiator more comfortable than the Wrangler. Plus, it’s notably free of that typical rubbery shake that pickups often suffer from. 

The Gladiator has solid axles in the front and rear, like the Wrangler—a simple design known for its durability and low cost. The real trick here is that Jeep adapted the Ram 1500 rear coil-spring suspension, resulting in a more civilized ride than in most other pickup trucks.

The second row is roomy for this class. The interior space clearly benefits from the Gladiator being a Wrangler from the bed forward. The rear seatback is upright, but there's plenty of headroom and legroom for adults. Rear vents, power ports, and floor-mounted cup holders help make the backseat comfortable for passengers.

The rear seat folds up and flat to create storage flexibility. There's lockable storage under the seat, which is handy for securing valuables when the top is off.

The 5-foot bed is typical for the class, although the Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Ranger offer versions with a 6-foot bed. The short bed is appropriate for weekend chores and escapes with off-road toys, like an ATV. Our Gladiator had a soft tonneau cover, which can be rolled back very quickly when access to the bed is needed. The tailgate is damped, so it doesn’t slam down when opened—a nice touch.

The powertrain is a standout element, as it is with the Wrangler. The 285-horsepower V6 and the eight-speed automatic transmission work well together. There's strong power, swift acceleration, and smooth shifts. Jeep claims the Gladiator has best-in-class 7,650-lb. towing capability.

At least for now, you can lease a Gladiator for about the same as you'd spend to lease a Jeep Compass, a mediocre model that sells for half of this truck’s price.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland interior

What We Don't Like

Just as its core virtues are largely shared with the Wrangler, the Gladiator’s shortcomings are familiar as well. Getting in or out is a challenge because of the large step-up. Visibility out of the short, upright windshield isn't great.

The bed sits so low that the driver can't see it through the rear window. That makes it hard to judge the Gladiator’s length when changing lanes or parking. This is a vehicle that especially benefits from an available blind spot warning system.

The bed may be large enough for some uses, but the modest length limits some functionality, such as hauling lumber.

The steering feels loose on the road, making on-road driving feel imprecise, and it requires a hefty twirling to get the truck to turn. (That same steering, on the other hand, proves well-suited to off-roading, where it can isolate the vibrations and impacts you might otherwise feel.)

The driver’s space has familiar compromises. The door strap that limits how wide the door can open often tickles the driver’s shin. The right foot is cramped by the transmission tunnel, and there's no dead pedal to rest your left foot on or to use for bracing when tackling tough terrain.

The window switches in the center console still feel odd, but it's a necessary conceit to enable the doors to be removed. Similarly, the seats are manual to allow for deep-water fording that could otherwise short-circuit power seats. The ability to cross deep water has long been a Jeep characteristic, and the brand claims the Gladiator can go through up to 30 inches—more than enough to cause problems for rival trucks. 

We wish the truck could be had with the full-time, four-wheel-drive system we appreciated on our Wrangler Sahara. Such a system can remain engaged indefinitely, letting the vehicle decide when extra traction is needed.

What We'll Keep Our Eyes On

We're critical of the Wrangler for lagging behind the on-road manners common in today’s SUVs, but the Gladiator’s dynamics don’t seem as out of step with its peers. It rides better than the Wrangler and competes in a class of mediocre performers.

Is the Gladiator merely a Wrangler variation? Or is it an all-new midsized truck competitor that shines with its power, off-road prowess, backseat space, and ride comfort? 

We'll wrestle with this philosophical debate further once we buy our own to test.


Read the complete Jeep Wrangler road test.
 

2020 Jeep Gladiator rear, with dirt and rocks

About the cars we rent: Consumer Reports tests only the cars that we purchase. We pay automakers on occasion to drive early or different versions of cars we ultimately buy (we don't borrow press cars free of charge, as many other publications do), but those impressions are never part of the 50-plus-evaluation regimen that we put our purchased cars through.