2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport 4x4 Review

King of the Hill, Pauper of the Pavement


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Excellent off-road capability, interior accommodations are surprisingly comfortable, practical bed changes the Jeep game, solid infotainment, easy to drive.
Negatives: A little flighty at high speeds, unsettled on road, rear door latch jabs you in the back if you're not careful, thirsty at the pump, price of entry is high.
Bottom Line: For those who love the Wrangler Unlimited, the Gladiator offers more utility and overall size than the SUV. While it gives up some highway manners, the result is a pickup that's comfy and can do serious off-roading. Plus, it makes other pickups look a bit pedestrian.
When the Gladiator bowed last year, it was huge news, and its anticipation was appropriately substantial given how well pickup trucks are selling. That, combined with the fact that Jeep hasn't had a pickup since the '90s, made the Gladiator quite appealing. With the Gladiator comes more towing power (up to 7,760 pounds compared to the Wrangler Unlimited's 3,500), a longer wheelbase, and a new diesel mill for the 2020 model year. Part of the problem, however, is the Gladiator's price, whose base price is an eye-searing almost $52K for the top trim High Altitude. But there are few pickups that can compete with the Gladiator's visual punch, as well as its off-road readiness except for, perhaps, the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. We drove the base Gladiator Sport for a week to see how it would serve us in everyday driving. Read on for our full review.
 

Driving Experience

7

 

The Gladiator definitely drives like a truck, but that's not a bad thing. You give up some highway road manners as a sacrifice for its tremendous off-road prowess. It's certainly much better than the previous generation Wrangler on pavement.

Ride Quality: The ride is firm, and you feel the bumps. What works well off-road in terms of suspension bits makes it a bit unsettled over pavement and at highway speeds, unfortunately.

Acceleration: The Gladiator is a few hundred pounds heavier than the Wrangler Unlimited, but the 0-60 time doesn't suffer much, getting there in about 8 seconds. The automatic transmission shifts smoothly, too. The low end torque is perfect for off-road requirements, and the V6 feels plenty capable in this department.

Braking: The brakes have good pedal feel and progression. This is important for off-roading, and the Gladiator does not disappoint.

Steering: The steering keeps you busy at higher speeds and requires a lot of correction. It also lacks feel.

Handling: It's not bad in the corners, but there is definitely some body roll, as we expected.

Technology

8.4

 

The infotainment system in the Gladiator might not be earth-shattering compared to other vehicles, but compared to the last-generation of Wranglers, it's a revelation. Uconnect works great here, and it's just the right size for this kind of vehicle.

Infotainment System: The 7-inch touchscreen is crisp, clear, and easy to use. It's embedded right in the dash between the center vents, and it looks great with its chunky frame. Menus are easy, and even though some functions are buried a couple of layers in, the system is responsive.

Controls: The presence of physical controls for HVAC is a plus, and the steering wheel controls work well. We love the fat drive selector knob, and the chunky shifter. We still have to get used to window controls on the vertical face of the center console, though.

Styling

9

 

Jeep really did nail the rugged look of the Gladiator. It looks much more purpose-driven and way tougher than the short Jeep Scrambler from the '80s. Big fenders, a practical bed, the Jeep Wrangler DNA, and the right proportions make it look truly special wherever it roams.

Front: That classic 7-slat Wrangler grille looks great flanked by round headlights. The big black bumper with the circular fogs gives the front end even more presence, and we're also huge fans of the turn signals integrated into the front fenders.

Rear: The tailgate is basic, but the black Jeep lettering looks great on the army green paint. We don't love the protruding taillights that creep out too far, but their position is dictated by the Wrangler's cameras (and in this case, for the tailgate to clear them).

Profile: Although the Gladiator looks really long, the proportions are very good, and it's all mitigated by the big fenders and chunky wheels.

Cabin: Jeep did a solid job with the Gladiator's interior, even in basic Sport trim. It all looks purposeful and is remarkably easy to maintain. Materials look good and feel good to the touch, even the plastics.

Comfort

7.3

 

Apart from the sometimes unsettling ride, the Gladiator is roomy and provides good space for four adults. Jeep did a fine job of making the Gladiator even decently appointed in base trim with good seats, a good riding position, and solid materials.

Front Seats: Just the right amount of cushion and seat size, the front seats also have a good driving position.

Rear Seats: There's solid legroom with 38.3 inches in back, considerably more than the 35.8 inches in the back of the Chevy Colorado Crew Cab.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): There's some wind noise at high speeds, like all Jeep Wranglers, but it's not terrible thanks to the hard top. The build quality seems solid with no errant noises while driving. No doubt the flex of off-roading would change this.

Visibility: Visibility is pretty good all around thanks to big glass. The view around the bed is aided by good cameras. We also really love the removable hardtop roof panels, which are cinch to remove with the latch system. There's no other pickup that provides this kind of open-sky view.

Climate: The automatic climate system is responsive with good air flow for all occupants. The heated seats and steering wheel queued up quickly, too.

Safety

5

 

The Gladiator has not been tested by the IIHS and was only partially tested by the NHTSA. It's based on the Wrangler Unlimited, which didn't fare very well, either.

IIHS Rating: The Gladiator was not tested, but the Wrangler Unlimited on which it's based, was. It did not perform well for the driver small front overlap test (marginal), and it also exhibited a high risk for rollover.

NHTSA Rating: Not tested.

Standard Tech: None.

Optional Tech: ParkSense Rear Park-Assist System, Blind-Spot and Cross-Path Detection, Adaptive Cruise Control/Forward Collision Warning+, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop, Full-Speed Forward Collision Warning Plus.

Storage/Cargo

6.8

 

The Gladiator doesn't crush the cargo/storage game, but it's likely more than enough for most users. Buyers aren't plunking down big money for the Gladiator's capacity. Instead, they want a Jeep that can haul outdoor gear while still having the off-road chops of the iconic Wrangler.

Storage Space: The cabin isn't great for small-item storage. Although the armrest is sizable, there aren't many useful compartments in the front. The small slot in the center console is almost useless since stuff flies out of it when you hit the gas. The door pockets and cupholder, however, provide enough space for smaller items.

Cargo Room: The bed is 60" long, which is more than fine for toting luggage and gear, as well as dirt bikes for weekend fun. The bed, however, is shorter than the Colorado's two bed sizes (61 and 74 inches)and shorter than the longest Ranger's (72 inches).

Fuel Economy

5.9

 

The V6 in the Wrangler Unlimited isn't exactly a miser, and the added weight of the Gladiator doesn't help its efficiency.

Observed: 15.3 mpg.

Distance Driven: 159 miles.

Driving Factors: We drove virtually all of our miles on local roads, so our mileage was down. We didn't haul anything, and only had small children as passengers a few times during the week.

Audio

6.8

 

Our tester didn't have the upgraded Alpine audio system, but it worked just fine. The system lacks the fullness and power of premium systems, but at least it was clear with no distortion. Increasing the bass didn't seem to have much effect, unfortunately.



Final Thoughts

The Gladiator is a niche vehicle, for sure. Its sales have reflected that. But its presence is an important one for the Jeep brand, and buyers will surely love it for its uniqueness, practicality, and ruggedness. Too bad it's pricey, a bit unsettled on the highway, and could use better gas mileage. Buyers will love it, for sure, but there are better options out there that cost a lot less.
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