There is a lot of excitement surrounding Jeep’s new Gladiator, the manufacturer’s first truck offering since 1992. And like the popular fashion of that year, the Gladiator is, well, a bit weird.
Here we have what is a mashup of a Wrangler and a truck that also happens to be a four-door, soft-top convertible, and a camper hauler, and a serious off-roader with removable doors and windshield.
And its military-like exterior appearance means the Gladiator would hardly look out of place in a black and white newsreel film urging viewers to buy war bonds to “help our boys overseas.”
It is essentially the Swiss Army car. I mean SUV. Or maybe off-road buggy. No, Swiss Army truck. Definitely truck. Maybe.
Calling the Gladiator weird is not a knock on the Jeep, my confusion on how to classify it is simply evidence that it is a class of its own.
Want to go mountain biking with your significant other in a remote location? The Jeep can get you there with plenty of space for bikes in the 5-foot long bed. Want to go camping as a group of four deep in the woods? There’s ample room for people in the spacious cabin and, unlike the four-door Wrangler, the equipment won’t infringe on that space. Need to haul a boat to a body of water and want to put the top down on the way or maybe even leave the doors at home? You can do that.
I don’t know if Gladiator owners are going to do any of these things — most Jeep owners I know get as much exercise and sunlight as a meat grinder — but the possibilities are there should the fancy take them.
Powering these adventures, seen in seemingly every advertisement for any SUV that can handle traversing over a few pebbles, is a 3.6-liter V6. The Pentasar power plant provides 285 horsepower with 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The engine makes the Gladiator far from a Trophy Truck, it’s far better suited for leisurely strolls around back roads or slow treks over rough terrain, but it has enough grunt to get the Jeep’s bulk on the move. On the subject of bulk, its 285 torques likely means hauling that aforementioned boat will bog the Gladiator down, but I can’t say for sure. I don’t own a boat, and I get about as much exercise and sunlight as a meat grinder.
How much your Gladiator can haul is dependent on your trim, transmission and options, but those figures range from 4,000 to 7,650 pounds.
Buyers can choose from a 6-speed manual transmission or an 8-speed automatic in all three trims offered — Sport, Overland and Rubicon. The auto I tested was a bit dopey around town, apprehensive to change down when the situation called for it and clunky when it finally decided to do so.
While the Gladiator was engineered beyond taking a four-door Wrangler, extending the wheelbase and throwing on a truck bed, the feel from the driver’s seat is absolutely Wrangler.
It’s bouncy around town, the steering has play and is fairly uncommunicative, and the brakes, while effective, feel numb.
Of course, whenever a Jeep badge is attached to any model, capability off the paved paths is demanded.
My tester had obviously been through the off-road ringer, evidenced by a bevy of scratches likely gained from traversing over rocky terrain. So, I decided to employ some mechanical sympathy and let the Jeep have an easygoing week solely on paved roads.
Okay, that is a lie. The real reason I didn’t take the Gladiator off road is because my wife had just given birth and I was too sleep deprived to try and find a location to put some mud on its tires. While I can’t speak to the Gladiator’s off-road capabilities, other objective accounts paint it as a real deal Jeep. In a way, I’m telling you to read another review if you want to know more about the Gladiator’s off-road prowess, and you just don’t get that kind of solid consumer advice from Car and Driver, now do you?
For on-paper off-roading, the Overland comes with a two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, heavy-duty Dana front and rear axles and skid plated for the fuel tank and transfer case. My tester also included the optional anti-spin rear diff ($595), and locking diffs come standard in Rubicon trim.
The Gladiator, like its Wrangler counterpart, is no cheap toy, but at least with the Gladiator you are getting truck capability and increased towing figures. A base sport starts at a reasonable $33,545, but most buyers will want to add some optional packages or upgrade to Overland (starting at $40,395) or Rubicon trim (starting at $43,545).
My Overland tester came with 10-grand in options, including the trailer package, heated seats and steering wheel, LED lighting, an upgraded infotainment system including GPS and an Alpine speaker system. Other options added a rear-park assist system, blind-spot and cross-path detection, active cruise control, a 115-volt AC outlet in the bed, a creative storage bin under the rear seats and some other features.
For the driver and passengers, the Gladiators’ interior is spacious and the styling, if I can make up a term, is “utilitarian chic.” The Jeep’s interior is absolutely meant to be roughed up, right down to a waterproof starter button, but it is roomy and the controls and switches are beefy and easy to use. There is also a good amount of storage, and you can opt to add two USB ports in the rear.
In covering so many automotive genres, the Gladiator holds some appeal to a wide array of buyers. But if the initial stages of its release are any indication, Jeep won’t necessarily need to worry about attracting new customers.
The manufacturer’s following will love the added space and capabilities of the Gladiator without sacrificing what makes a Jeep, well, a Jeep. It’s a truck without being too bulky, it’s a commodious four-door convertible, it’s an off-roader that has the feel of a truck, and there’s the cool factor, because there is just nothing else like it on the road right now.
Like most Jeep people, the Gladiator is a bit weird, and that’s why it is bound to be a resounding sales success.