Jeep’s 2020 Gladiator Overland exceeds our critic’s expectations
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) competes successfully in the thriving U.S. pickup-truck market with its Ram brand, spun off from Dodge in 2010. Until last year, however, FCA offered nothing in the midsize segment, having discontinued the Dakota after the 2011 model year. Four years later, General Motors brought out a much-improved Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon, and Ford reintroduced the Ranger in 2019. Honda, Nissan and Toyota, meanwhile, were producing the Ridgeline, Frontier and Tacoma, respectively. FCA judged it was time to make a splash in the midsize-truck sector.
And what a splash it was. Rather than taking on the Colorado, Ranger and the rest with a revived Dakota, FCA looked to its Jeep brand. Jeep had built midsize pickup trucks under various nameplates and designs from the mid-1940s until 1985, when the last Comanche — based on the old Cherokee — rolled off the assembly line.
At root, today’s Gladiator is a Wrangler with a 5-foot pickup-truck bed in place of the luggage or cargo compartment. It’s therefore more off-road-capable than any other pickup truck now in production, and more versatile than the conventional Wrangler 4-door.
Assembled in Toledo, Ohio, the Gladiator is a crew cab with a 285-horsepower V-6 engine and all the accoutrements of the Wrangler, including removable doors, 4X4 drive, removable top and that Jeep mystique. Most of the people who got behind the wheel of our test truck — a Gladiator Overland, priced at $55,335 with options — loved it. The same can be said of the majority of the Gladiator owners who composed comments for the edmunds.com.
The Gladiator comes in four flavors: Sport, Sport S, Rubicon and Overland. The base Sport starts at $33,545, and comes with a 6-speed stick shift. Our Overland — using a name dating to nearly the turn of the 20th century, continuing with the Willys-Overland label until 1953 — had a base price of $40,395. Its standard features included an 8-speed automatic transmission, push-button start, fuel-tank and transfer-case skid-plate shields, electronic trailer sway control, and a Uconnect4 infotainment system with 7-inch touchscreen display — upgraded to an optional 8.4-inch display with premium audio system and navigation.
Fourteen thousand dollars worth of options raised the Gladiator to a price bracket well beyond what Colorado or Ranger buyers might expect to pay, and a full $10,000 more than the sticker price of the heavily optioned Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road 4X4 truck we test-drove recently.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland 4X4
Engine: 3.6-liter V-6, 285 horsepower, 260 lb.-ft. torque
Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Ground clearance: 10 in.
Weight: 4,720 lb.
Suspension: 5-link coil solid-axle, front and rear
Wheels: 18x7.5 granite crystal aluminum
Tires: P255/70R18 all-season
Box length: 5 ft.
Towing capacity: 6,000 lb.
Fuel capacity: 22 gal.
Fuel economy: 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Fuel type: regular unleaded gasoline
We immediately noticed the Gladiator’s ride was much more smooth and composed than we expected. The engine powers up enthusiastically and consistently. The driving position is comfortable for drivers of all sizes, and the split back seat lifts up to reveal two substantial, enclosed under-seat compartments. Fuel economy — 17 mpg city, 22 highway, on regular unleaded gasoline — wasn’t significantly worse than what we’ve experienced with American pickup trucks or the Tacoma. Our biggest complaint was the vague handling and difficulty of access, especially for tall drivers.
Gladiator sales started slow but then took off, exceeding 40,000 for 2019.
Steven Macoy (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a longtime car enthusiast and full-time editor who lives in Bethel.