“You want me to do what?” I asked the man sitting in the passenger seat next to me.
He pointed at a large rock in the middle of the shallow creek and said: “I want you to put your front left wheel on that rock. It’ll make a pretty picture.”
Everyone else hopped out of the vehicle to get that pretty picture and left me alone to wade through the water and guide the 2020 Jeep Gladiator onto the tip of the rock.
At this point, I have to say thank goodness for the available forward-facing off-road camera and waterproof boots.
Because he was right. It did make a pretty picture.
During a recent trek to the Badlands Off-Road Park in Attica, Indiana, Jeep treated us to a first look at the off-road prowess of the all-new Gladiator.
To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Than again, I shouldn’t have expected anything less from a brand that makes its reputation on go-anywhere, trail-rated vehicles.
The Gladiator is available with the Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems as well as a Track-Lok limited slip differential, knobby 33-inch off-road tires and electronic sway-bar disconnect. It can ford up to 30 inches of water, tow up to 7,650 pounds and has a maximum payload of up to 1,600 pounds.
In terms of specific off-road stats, Gladiator has an approach angle of 43.6 degrees, a breakover angle of 20.3 degrees and a departure angle of 26 degrees. Ground clearance is 11.1 inches.
All Gladiators are only available with a 4X4 drivetrain, and they all receive a Trail Rated badge.
The standard powertrain in the Gladiator is a 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that delivers 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The standard transmission: a 6-speed (get this) manual. An 8-speed automatic is available.
While we weren’t driving at highway – or even city street – speeds, I thought this engine did really well in the off-road course with plenty of low-end torque to crawl through the difficult obstacles.
Starting in 2020, Jeep will also offer a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V06 engine that delivers 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. This will only be available with the 8-speed automatic.
If you look at the all-new Jeep Gladiator straight on, you’d swear you’re staring into the eyes of a Wrangler.
It’s got the same iconic seven-slot grille, the same rounded headlights and even the same hidden image of an old Wrangler climbing up pile of rocks on the windshield.
But once get the Gladiator starts to turn, you see the 5-foot steel truck bed.
And a part of me had to wonder if it could be as nimble as its Wrangler brethren.
For the most part, it is. I spent pretty much the entire day either driving or sitting in the passenger seat while the Gladiator conquered obstacle after obstacle.
From the nearly 3-foot-deep mud puddle to the sandy hills and rock crawls, the Gladiator slowly and steadily made its way through the wending trails that crisscross the Badlands.
There were certainly a couple instances where we needed a spotter or had to reverse to hit a more appropriate angle. But as we were often tailing a Wrangler, the theme of the day was: I can do anything you can do.
One of the best things about the Gladiator, however, is that it shares more than just a design likeness with the Wrangler; it shares the Wrangler functionality as well. Doors can be removed and the windshield can fold down. There is also an available three-piece easy-to-remove hardtop and an available Sunrider softtop – both of which provide an open-air experience.
The interior of the Gladiator is equal parts rugged and tech savvy. The Rubicon models were driving had red interior accents and leather seats, but the standard is a rugged cloth material with accent stitching.
Push button start is standard on the Gladiator as are four USB and one USB-C port. The base UConnect system is on a 5-inch screen, but leveling up to the 7-inch makes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto available. There are also more than 80 available advanced safety and security features including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert and adaptive cruise control.
Gladiator has three trims:
- Sport ($35,040): Includes removeable top and doors, lockable rear storage, available programmable auxiliary switches, backup camera, cloth seats, Uconnect with 5-inch touch-screen display, manual door locks and manual windows.
- Sport S ($38,240): Adds 17-inch aluminum wheels, power windows, heated power side mirrors, power locking doors and tailgate, remote keyless entry, available Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, available Uconnect with 7-inch touchscreen display, available 115-volt power outlet and available removable Bluetooth speaker.
- Overland ($41,890): Adds 18-inch aluminum wheels, side steps, body-color fender flares, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, Uconnect with 7-inch touchscreen display, available navigation with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, available leather seats, available LED headlights and taillights, available adaptive cruise control and available forward collision warning with active braking.
- Rubicon ($45,040): Adds Rock-Trac 4X4 system with up to 84:1 crawl ratio, 33-inch off-road tires with high-clearance fender flares, electronic sway bar disconnect, locking front and rear differentials, FOX shocks, vented Rubicon hood, steel off-road rock rails for cab and bed, available TrailCam off-road camera and available 8.4-inch touch screen display with navigation.
Gladiator is on sale now.
The Bottom Line:
It has been almost 30 years since Jeep had a pickup truck in its lineup. And with the much-anticipated launch of the Gladiator, the brand adds towing and hauling capability to the go-anywhere fun.
Though I didn’t have the chance to drive the Gladiator in normal conditions, I can say it’s a competent off-roader that can tackle most of the same obstacles that a Wrangler can. I say “most” because the turning radius isn’t as tight, and we didn’t try an obstacle that hadn’t already been pre-selected for us. But the Badlands park was one of the more technical off-road courses I’ve trekked, and the Gladiator never lost its cool.
Stay tuned for full review when I get more seat time in a week-long test.
Editor’s Note: Driving impressions in this “First Look” review are from an invitation-only automaker launch event that allowed special access to the vehicle and executives. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles covered our accommodation and meal costs.