Emma Jayne Williams

Jeep brings back a pickup truck in the form of the 2020 Gladiator

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator, shown here in the Overland trim, marks Jeep's return to the pickup truck market for the first time in nearly 30 years. The Jeep truck, built on the Wrangler chassis, comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator, shown here in the Overland trim, marks Jeep's return to the pickup truck market for the first time in nearly 30 years. The Jeep truck, built on the Wrangler chassis, comes with a 3.6-liter V-6 engine. © 2018 FCA US LLC

The first Jeep pickup since the 1992 Comanche, the much-anticipated Wrangler-based Gladiator is now available as a 2020 model.

As one of the most-capable midsize trucks ever, Gladiator builds on Jeep’s rich heritage of tough, dependable trucks with rugged utility, authentic design, open-air freedom, brilliant functionality and versatility, best-in-class towing (up to 7,650 pounds) and payload (up to 1,600 pounds), exceptional on- and off-road dynamics (up to 30-inches of water fording), progressive fuel-efficient powertrains, and a long list of ground-breaking safety and cutting-edge technology features.

Gladiator’s heritage goes back to 1947 with the first Willys Overland Jeep pickup, to 1963 for the original Gladiator, through the Jeep Comanche into the early 1990s.

The Wrangler-style round headlights beside the iconic keystone-shaped grille, a fold-down windshield, removable soft top, and square taillights make Gladiator instantly recognizable as a Jeep. Gladiator’s crew cab configuration features a durable five-foot steel bed with integrated tie-downs.

Four configurations are available: Sport ($33,545), Sport S ($36,745), Overland (the model I drove, $40,395), and Rubicon ($43,545).

Ten exterior colors include Firecracker Red (blue/red), Sting Gray (medium), Granite Crystal Metallic (darker medium), Punk’n Metallic (creamy orange), Hydro Blue Pearl (deep ocean), Gobi (sandy gray), and Gator (green/gray).

My Gladiator was black with a black interior. Black with Dark Saddle and black with Heritage Tan (light) interiors are available.

The standard engine is the tried-and-true 285-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with engine stop/start technology. A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 will be offered later in the year. The V-6 engine’s low-range torque is needed when off-road or during hauling or towing. A six-speed manual transmission is standard on all models with the 3.6-liter engine.

My Gladiator had the optional eight-speed automatic for $2,000. The package included Selec-Speed Control (a button on the console), which manages the vehicle in 4-LO on off-road terrain with no input from the driver, allowing the driver to focus on steering.

For steep ascent or descent, or over obstacles, Selec-Speed applies torque and/or braking to maintain a consistent, safe speed. Tip Start and a transmission skid plate were also included.

Command-Trac Part-Time 4WD was standard on my Overland. The system has a two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, and heavy-duty axles with a 3.73 rear axle ratio. The higher ratio improves acceleration on grades, or when carrying cargo or pulling a trailer. Full-time torque management enables optimal grip in low-traction conditions.

Gladiator’s rugged, striking Wrangler-based design features Jeep’s seven-slot grille with widened slots for increased air intake to support increased towing capacity. The top is gently swept back to boost aerodynamics.

A Premium LED Lighting Group ($995) included LED daytime running light accents, LED front fog lights, LED front turn signals and parking lights, LED reflector headlights, and LED taillights. The crisp white light produced a modern look. DRLs formed a halo around the headlights for a distinct impression. Front turn signals are prominently mounted on the bold front fender flares.

Traditional upright rectangle taillights flanked the wide tailgate. The tailgate was damped for easy opening and had three open positions. The upper position would allow a sheet of plywood or wallboard to rest on top of the wheel wells and the top of the tailgate.

A Trailer Tow Package ($250) upgraded from a Class II receiver to a frame-mounted Class IV receiver for serious towing. The package included a 240-amp alternator and heavy-duty engine cooling, and added Trailer Hitch Zoom to the standard ParkView Rear Back Up Camera. The camera display has dynamic guidelines to help maneuver into parking spaces or narrow areas. A middle line also helps line up a trailer to the hitch, while the zoom feature allows the driver to toggle back and forth between normal view and 4x zoom for a closer view.

A seven- and four-pin wiring harness is standard, as are two front and one rear tow hooks and an engine oil cooler. Gladiator’s suspension is tuned for optimum on-road handling and comfort without giving up off-road, payload, or towing capability.

A Cargo Management Group with Trail Rail System ($895) increased the usability of the bed and the cab with adjustable tie-downs on three rails on the inner walls of the bed and lockable under-seat storage in the rear of the cab. The storage bins open 60/40 (the same as the folding seat backs and seat cushions) and include four movable dividers for more versatility. The package included a 240-amp alternator, 400-watt inverter, and a covered 115-volt AC outlet (on/off button in the cab). Under-rail bed lighting was standard.

The bed was protected by a Spray-In Bed Liner ($495), which prevented scratches and gouges when I hauled blocks and soil for my flower beds. A full-size steel spare wheel was mounted under the bed, behind the rear axle. The mount is capable of holding up to a 35-inch tire. My Gladiator wore 18-inch Granite Crystal painted aluminum wheels with five V spokes.

Gladiator’s interior combines authentic styling, such as the clean, sculpted heritage-inspired center stack, complementing the horizontal dash, with model-specific sport finishes. The instrument panel in my Overland featured a soft-touch surface with accent stitching.

Climate- and volume-control knobs, media charging and connectivity ports, and the ESS control were sculpted for quick recognition and were easily within reach. Circular HVAC vents with 360-degree louvers were surrounded by platinum chrome bezels for a premium yet rugged appearance.

Textured metal-plated accents trimmed the gear shifter, 4WD shifter, parking brake handle, attached with real bolts. The gear-shift knob had a silhouette of a Jeep Wrangler imbedded in the plastic top. Real bolts were also featured on the grab handles, HVAC control panel and the infotainment screen’s frame. Satin silver trimmed the steering wheel, shifter surround, and door handles.

The door armrests (attached with Jeep bolts) had a lift handle underneath for lifting the lightweight doors. Four bolts at the top of the windshield allowed the windshield to fold down quickly and easily. The header bar connected the A-pillars and stayed in place, allowing the rearview mirror to stay.

A Torx tool kit, designed especially for Jeep bolts, was stored in a special bin in the center-console armrest. A storage bin with slots to store the bolts after removing doors or top or folding the windshield was under the driver’s side rear seat. The bin lid was labeled to indicate the number and location of bolts using Petroglyph-style pictures.

My Gladiator had an easy-to-use Premium Black Sunrider Soft Top ($595) for a segment-exclusive open-air experience.

A Leather-Trimmed Bucket Seat Package ($1,495) replaced the standard cloth seats and included a full-length floor console with Premium Armrest, leather-wrapped park-brake handle and shift knob, premium door-trim panel and instrument panel bezels, and a rear armrest with cupholder.

Heated front seats and steering wheel were included in a Cold Weather Package ($995), along with remote start, which would heat or cool the vehicle to a pre-set temperature and could also be programmed to activate the heated seats and steering wheel if the outside temperature falls below 40 degrees.

The rear seats, exclusive to Gladiator, were comfortable and supportive with segment-leading rear legroom. The seatbacks folded flat to access various storage spaces on the cab back (with LED lights on the trim panels providing illumination), and the seat cushions folded and locked up to access the storage tray underneath and provide more upright cargo capacity in the cab.

Removable all-weather slush mats ($150) with a “shove and pick” symbol and topography relief “maps” kept mud and dirt off the carpet.

An 8.4-inch Radio and Premium Audio Group ($1,595) included nine-speaker Alpine Premium Audio, navigation (with one-step voice entry, Junction View, 3-D landmarks, city models and digital terrains), HD radio, rearview auto-dimming mirror, SiriusXM Guardian (SOS Call directly to an agent for medical or other emergencies), Roadside Assistance Call (directly to Roadside Assistance Service), Stolen Vehicle Assistance, and a mobile app to send destinations to the navigation screen, remotely start the vehicle and much more (requires cell phone coverage).

SiriusXM Traffic/Travel Plus sends color-coded traffic information to the map, including average speeds, traffic flows, accident location, road construction, and more. Travel Link provides weather alerts, maps and forecasts, local fuel prices, local movie listings/synopses, and sports scores and schedules.

Fourth-generation Uconnect shared the screen, along with AM/FM radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, voice command, hands-free calling, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and included a full-color LED instrument cluster. Directly below the screen were climate- and volume-control knobs, two USB ports, one USB-C port, and an auxiliary port. Rear passengers had two USB ports.

An Active Safety Group ($895) brought Blind Spot and Cross-Path Detection, ParkSense Rear Park Assist (detects stationary objects behind the vehicle while reversing, issues visual and audible warnings).

Also addressing safety as well as convenience, an Adaptive Cruise Control/Forward Collision package ($795) brought full-speed radar cruise with Advance Brake Assist to apply maximum braking if the driver under-reacts to a potential collision warning, and adaptive cruise to maintain speed and a safe distance from preceding traffic, coming to a full stop if needed and resuming when safe to do so.

My Gladiator had “Jeep” badges, “Gladiator” fender decals, “Overland” and “Trail Rated” badges – and a tiny silhouette of a Wrangler in the lower corner of the windshield.

Gladiator is EPA rated for 17 mpg city/22 highway. With lots of highway driving, I averaged 20.5 mpg for the week.

Initially, we were a bit uncertain about a “Wrangler pickup,” but the Gladiator grew on us. We enjoyed everything about it except the high, narrow side step.

With $11,155 in options and $1,495 destination charges, my fun-to-drive Gladiator Overland delivered for $53,045.

The automotive columns of Emma Jayne Williams have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 2007. Contact her at emmajayne1948@gmail.com.

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