The genesis of a pickup truck based on the Wrangler, that toylike off-roader, is rather simple. According to Jeep’s research, when their drivers left for a different brand, rather than buying another seven-slot grilled 4×4, they’d generally get a pickup. And since Jeep hadn’t offered one in more than two decades, the Gladiator was born.
In the past, Jeep’s Franken-mashup pickup trucks like the CJ-8 Scrambler and the Comanche tended to exhibit compromises on the “pickup” end of things. And while the Gladiator looks the part of a Wrangler, it’s really built to haul. Fewer than half of its parts carry over from the Wrangler: A burlier high-strength steel frame, five-link rear suspension (similar to the Ram 1500’s), and a freer-breathing grille all help the Gladiator attain tow and payload ratings better than those of the Toyota Tacoma or Chevy Colorado.
But you don’t really need to linger over that spec sheet. A wise man will tell you to approach life with a sense of humor, and the Gladiator, despite its militaristic name and squared-off, battle-ready look, has one. If your aim is to get weekend gear to the most laughably improbable backcountry campsite, well, it can do that. A terrain-detecting off-road mode, ample approach and departure angles, and front and rear locking differentials make the Jeep capable of clawing up terrain that’ll get you tingly, as we experienced in the Sierra Nevada foothills while riding in high-end Rubicon trim.
As an antidote to our screen-addled era, the Jeep goes alfresco, big-time. You can snap off the rooftop, yank the doors, and flatten the windshield to feel the wind in your face. Not since the Dodge Dakota Convertible (1989–91) have we been witness to such a sybaritic pickup.
All of this is revelatory stuff, but most surprising: After three hours on snaky byways, the Gladiator felt more comfortable on pavement than a Wrangler, in part because of a 19-inch-longer wheelbase that’s more forgiving on imperfect roads. Of course, there’s still a fair amount of wind noise, as you’d expect from a design with echoes of WWII. Luckily, its oversize volume knob makes drowning out the howl easy. Loud music kinda suits the thing, anyway.
- Horsepower: 285
- Zero to 60: 7.5 sec.
- MSRP from $43,545