Over the years, and after many hours driving various generations and configurations of the tried and true Jeep Wrangler, I’ve grown to love them. I took some time and read back over various reviews I’ve done over time, and there was always one resounding opinion I continued to have: It was uncomfortable. Uncomfortable to own, uncomfortable to drive, uncomfortable to park in smaller urban settings, just uncomfortable.
Well, the all-new 2020 Jeep Gladiator is, shockingly, smooth and dare I say comfortable-ish.
But maybe that’s a strange thing to say about a Jeep, especially a Jeep that’s as ginormous as the Gladiator – which is, essentially, a full-size Wrangler with a truck bed tacked on the back. Seriously. It’s 18.17 ft long. Read that again. To give you some perspective: That’s longer than a Ford F-150 with a 6.5’ box in the back.
It’s hard to not talk about the Gladiator’s size right away, since that is its most defining feature, after all. Since it is a Wrangler in all other aspects, and from all other angles, the sheer presence the Gladiator has on the road really is the conversation starter here and is the reason this thing gets the looks it does – parked or in motion.
I caught myself looking back at it every time I parked and walked away, because it really is impressive. And in Rubicon trim ($53,995 MSRP) with a bright red paint job and black trim, my Gladiator was a showstopper. Interestingly enough, I would say the same about the interior. Now, Jeeps aren’t known for their uber design-y or creature-comfort interiors, but the Gladiator has stepped it up quite a bit.
Now, there are two interior trim choices, red or a black. My Rubicon had the red accents (the standard option at no extra cost), and my only gripe with it was that it didn’t match the exterior Firecracker Red paint colour. My slightly OCD brain hated that the exposed door paint next to the dash clashed because the interior red is much deeper than the exterior paint colour. In my opinion, if you’re going to have any colour other than white or black on the outside, then pony up for the dark saddle (brown) seats and black dash to keep your OCD friends from twitching uncontrollably when you show off your brand-new Gladiator.
Otherwise, the inside is typically Jeep. The upright dash is functionally laid out, and all buttons and knobs are sturdy and can easily be manipulated with or without gloves on. If you opt for the base Sport S model, you only get a 5” touchscreen and no Apple CarPlay unless you opt for the larger 7”-8.4” touchscreen. There are plenty of USB ports and charging options for smartphones in the front and rear seats, and there’s lots of interior space and storage spots, as well as lots of ways to fold and store the seats or secure them down with all the doors and roof are off (which the Gladiator can do, too, just like the Wrangler).
The chunky gear shifter is one of my favourite in the industry because of its sturdy feel and clunk as you put the Gladiator into D. Now, I’ve not driven the manual, but over the years I’ve always been amused by the Wrangler manual shifter and how savagely it vibrates and swings around in its casing – shifting gears is a game of tag-you’re-it with the lever even on the smoothest roads, and would inevitably lead to a bruised wrist for me by the end of the week’s test.
Thankfully though, no bruising occurred while I drove the 8-speed automatic Gladiator. Equipped with a 3.6L V6 that produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. At the moment, it is the only engine available. Jeep teased everyone with a diesel option, but they haven’t released it just yet. Fingers crossed it emerges next year, as promised. The 3.0L V6 diesel engine will produce 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque and will increase the towing capabilities to 7,620 lbs (compared to the 4,150 lbs the gas engine can tow), and it will be able to carry 1,600lbs in the 5’ bed.
Just like all the Wranglers I’ve driven over the years, the Gladiator’s steering was somewhat numb and becomes floaty when on the highway at higher speeds – mostly due to the large off-road tires. On bumpier terrain, the steering wheel can also be jerked around quite a bit.
One of the best driving features on the Gladiator Rubicon I had was the front-facing camera which makes for much more confident off-roading since the front of the Gladiator is so massive and seeing directly in front of its massive Jeep grille is near impossible otherwise. Of course, the Gladiator can be outfitted with a host of other safety features like blind-spot detection, rear cross-traffic alert, and even adaptive cruise control.
What Jeep has done with the Gladiator is effectively blend a capable off-roader with a pickup. And while I didn’t get a chance to rock climb or go extreme mudding with the Gladiator, I’ve watched plenty of videos and heard firsthand accounts from journalists who HAVE taken the Gladiator way off the beaten path and the response was always the same: This thing is big in all the right ways. Big in off-road cred. Big in size and space. Big in personality. Big in price (a fully decked out Rubicon like mine was in the mid-$60k range…).
Bigger really can be better, especially when it comes to the 2020 Jeep Gladiator.