2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon: Let’s hang on to summer for as long as we can, with this all-new, top-off, doors-off, windshield-down pickup.
Price: $59,830 as tested. Starts at $43,545 for the Rubicon; Active Safety Group added $895; Adaptive Cruise, $795; Trailer Tow Package, $250; and more, and more. Other options outlined below.
Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “genuine trail-rated capabilities, undeniable Jeep character, significant towing capacity,” but not “diesel engine not available yet, one-size-fits-all configuration, pricier than the already pricey Wrangler.”
Marketer’s pitch: “Don’t just push boundaries — erase them.”
Reality: A whole new direction in off-roading.
What’s new: The Jeep Gladiator takes the ruggedness of a Jeep Wrangler and adds a five-foot bed on the back, making it the go-anywhere pickup of your mountain-man (and -woman) dreams. It’s the first Jeep pickup introduced since the Comanche in 1986. You remember that, right? I didn’t think so.
Up to speed: The 3.6-liter V-6 creates 285 horsepower. Drivers can see 60 mph in as fast as 8.1 seconds, according to Motor Trend. (A planned 3.0-liter turbodiesel intrigues me.)
Shifty: A true Wrangler aficionado will decry the lack of a stick shift in the Gladiator tested, but the shiftable 8-speed automatic ($2,000) worked nicely. The gearshift is designed for big paws, and the shifting is firm but not difficult. Automatic mode is serene. A 6-speed manual is still available (hooray!).
On the road: In typical Jeep style, the Gladiator requires plenty of steering corrections and lots of attention to the road — not a bad thing at all, but something to adjust to. Of course it’s not sporty, just a different kind of fun.
Bearing that in mind, it performs well on the highway. Large potholes are swallowed by the giant tires, but washboards and other rippled surfaces tend to be amplified.
The Gladiator is still fairly small, so curves and such can be handled somewhat swiftly for a truck.
Off the road: Mr. Driver’s Seat is not much of an off-roader, but I made a point of getting the Gladiator’s tires dirty, first driving through Sturgis’ Vertical Acre in Chester County, and then trespassing on an unmarked farm trail for a few hundred feet. (I’m sorry, Mr. Farmer, but the gate was open and it wasn’t posted and I was in a Jeep. I didn’t hurt anything. Now, put that gun down.)
The Gladiator never let me down, even when I got myself into a hillside three-point turn where the truck felt as if it were just going to slide backward down the hill and into the woods. I switched into Drive before I really lost footing, and the Gladiator simply inched forward and then got right back on track. Nice.
Instant bonding: Every other Wrangler/Gladiator driver waves to you. Every. Single. One.
Driver’s Seat: The high command position in the leather-trimmed bucket seats ($1,495, adding rear armrest, leather-wrapped knobs and more) makes you feel as if you’re on horseback. The seat is not the lap of luxury — all the adjustments are manual — but it’s comfortable. The dashboard provides clear information.
Friends and stuff: We used the Gladiator to haul some trees and branches to the township compost site. A five-foot bed doesn’t seem so small.
One downside — the rear camera is in the tailgate, which will often need to be in the down position to haul things. Hence, no backup camera for the big haul.
Still, like the Wrangler, the Gladiator allows the top and doors to be completely removed — and the windshield folded down, as well — as easily as any Jeep, making family time that much more fun. We also hauled the last load of branches with the top off, and only caught only a few stragglers making their way into the back seat. Clean up the dust in the bed, though, as it tends to wander up into the passenger compartment easily. (The hardtop adds $2,295 to the price.)
Play some cool tunes: The stereo and the heater controls are fairly intermingled, so sorting out what’s what can be a challenge to newbies. Volume and tuning feature big knobs, with a heater fan control pulling up the center.
The 8.4-inch radio and Premium Audio Group added $1,495 to the price, and sound was impressive. (It has to be, to keep up with all the wind noise/tire noise/rebel yell noises.) Did they get me to trade hot tunes for a cool breeze?
At least the seats can be heated for $995, which heats the steering wheel, as well.
Night shift: The Platinum LED Lighting Group ($995) turns all the lights to LED, and illuminates things nicely.
Fuel economy: I averaged a piggish 16 mpg on some fast highways and in minor off-roading. The Gladiator will do battle on whatever.
Where it’s built: Toledo, Ohio
How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts the reliability to be 2 out of 5.
In the end: There’s nothing like a Jeep — but FiatChrysler is milking its cash cow until it moos.
Next week: Our last car of summer — the 2020 BMW Z4 M40i Roadster.