Return Of The Jeep Truck: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Test Drive

This has been a big year for trucks, but overshadowing the high-volume sales war of the full-size segment, most of the attention has been on the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator.

Designed to put an off-road spin on the mid-size segment, the Gladiator is aimed squarely at the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, and Toyota Tacoma. Based on the rugged Wrangler, the Gladiator pickup is expected to be as good at hauling passengers and cargo as it is at tacking the trails. With that in mind, we spent a week with the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland putting it through its paces at the 2019 Jeep Beach Jam in Panama City, Florida.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Exterior

From the rear doors forward, the Gladiator and Wrangler are identical, and that means you still get to enjoy features such as the removable top, removable doors and the folding windshield. Like the JL Wrangler, the Gladiator's soft top is enjoyable in numerous ways – you can remove the sides and rear window, you can fold the front part of the top back or you can remove the entire top assembly completely. I wasn't able to take the whole top off, but everything else is easy to remove and install. No clunky mechanisms and pinched fingers! Even the aluminum doors, which were designed primarily to shed pounds from the curb weight, are the easiest to take off and put on than any metal doors ever offered on a CJ or Wrangler. The best part about the shared sheet metal with the Wrangler is that there are already plenty of accessories (both Mopar and aftermarket) available for customers – including the Rugged Ridge tube doors with mirrors that we were able to borrow for this tester.

To make room for the cargo bed on the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, the wheelbase was stretched by 19.4 inches compared to the Wrangler Unlimited and the overall length has been extended by almost 30 inches. While this does result in shallower breakover and departure angles, the only time I had any clearance issues when off-roading with the Gladiator was on an articulation course designed specifically for shorter Wranglers. After taking off the Overland's standard running boards (not a hard job, by the way), this truck tackled the off-road course without a problem. Looking at other mid-size pickup trucks, the Gladiator's approach angle of 40.8 degrees blows the competition away, while the breakover and departure angles (18.4 degrees and 25 degrees, respectively) are comparable to its rivals.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Interior

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is offered in four trim levels, but the Overland trim level is exclusive to the Gladiator (not offered on the Wrangler). In base form, the Overland doesn't really add too much in terms of content, but it is available with a wider variety of optional features such as leather seats, Chrysler's 8.4-inch touch-screen navigation system and LED exterior lighting; checking the option box for these packages alone bumps up the price by almost $4,000.

The biggest disadvantage that the Gladiator faces compared to its competition is the lack of cab configurations. As much as the Jeeping world would love a regular cab version, Jeep will only offer this four-door model, while mid-size truck rivals offer two or three cab options. The good news is that like the Wrangler, the four-door is plenty roomy with room for five people to sit comfortably. During some off-roading, this Gladiator had a full load of passengers (two adults and a 7-year-old in the back seat) with no complaints – not that there's much to complain about when you're off-roading. Jeep got creative with rear seat storage offering a lockable and removable bin under the rear seats, and small cubby holes behind the lockable rear seat backs. It isn't much, but it's more lockable space than a Wrangler.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Powertrain

Like the standard Wrangler, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator comes with Chrysler's ubiquitous 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 under the hood. This engine produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, and it returns EPA-rated fuel economy estimates of 17 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway* when equipped with the optional ($2,000) eight-speed automatic. The Gladiator is the only truck in its class where the higher trim levels are offered with the manual gearbox.

In terms of ride comfort, the stretched wheelbase does give the Gladiator more road manners than the Wrangler and Wrangler Unlimited, and it boasts improved towing and payload capacities, too. This is due largely to the added rear sway bar giving the Gladiator a five-link rear suspension more similar to a Ram 1500 than the JL Wrangler. When it comes to towing, the Gladiator can haul up to 7,650 pounds (on the Sport model with automatic transmission), which falls just 50 pounds short of best-in-class to the diesel-powered Colorado; the Gladiator's max payload of 1,600 pounds is the best of any mid-size pickup.

In order to balance on-road refinement with off-road capability, the Gladiator Overland is equipped with all-season Bridgestone Dueler H/T tires. These 255/70R18 tires provided plenty of clearance measuring about 32 inches in diameter and 10 inches wide with almost seven inches of sidewall; the tread pattern was perfectly quiet when being driven around town yet good enough to tackle an off-road obstacle course and soft sand dunes without having to air down.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Safety

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator has not yet been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, but the Overland trim level is available with the latest in driver-assistance safety technology. The $895 Active Safety Group adds rear park assist, blind spot monitoring and cross-path detection, and for an extra $795 you can also get full-speed forward collision warning, advanced brake assist and adaptive cruise control with full stop; more importantly, the adaptive cruise control is still operational when the windshield is folded down!

2020 Jeep Gladiator Overall

It has been 27 years since Jeep last offered a pickup and 33 years since you could last get a Jeep truck with a removable roof and doors, but the 2020 Jeep Gladiator was definitely worth the wait. From the outside, the Gladiator may look like a Jeep Wrangler with a cargo bed slapped to the back, but the all-new chassis, longer wheelbase and exclusive rear suspension setup results in the Gladiator being a true pickup truck that just happens to look like a Wrangler. You still get some of the inherent harshness of a body-on-frame, solid-axle truck, but the overall experience should definitely help to draw in truck buyers looking for something with a go-anywhere attitude. And this truck is even better when you take off the doors, roof and windshield! The Wrangler has always been the ultimate SUV and ultimate convertible and now the Gladiator stands as the ultimate pickup truck.

The new Gladiator's starting price of $33,545** is just $2,000 more than a base four-door Wrangler Unlimited, and it's actually about $5,000 less than a crew cab Colorado 4x4 Z71. Once you start tacking on the trim levels and options, the Gladiator gets pricey quick with this fully loaded Gladiator Overland topping out at just under $55,000. While that's a whopping $10,000 more than fully loaded versions of the Ranger and Colorado, it's the price to pay for the freedom of driving a convertible pickup truck with no doors.

Make sure to visit your local AutoNation Jeep dealership and test drive the 2020 Jeep Gladiator today!* Based on current EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.** MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.
Categories: Test Drive Reviews