After teasing us with jaw-dropping concept cars for years, Jeep has finally returned to the pickup truck segment with a rugged model based on the fourth-generation Wrangler. The long-awaited truck — which resurrects the heritage-laced Gladiator nameplate — made its public debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show, and it will go on sale in early 2019. The first 4,190 examples will be sold exclusively online, an unusual move for Jeep.
Digital Trends has already driven the Gladiator, and we’re impressed. Unlike some of its rivals, it isn’t the type of pickup that sells by flexing its towing muscles. Jeep developed it as a more lifestyle-oriented truck aimed at buyers who want a pickup to carry their friends, their dogs, and their toys to the great outdoors. Its natural habitat is a dirt trail miles away from the nearest paved road, not a construction site. To that end, it comes exclusively with a four-door cab placed in front of a 60-inch cargo box, and Jeep doesn’t offer a stripped-down, no-frills trim level like many of its rivals do.
Upfront, the Gladiator borrows styling cues like round headlights and Jeep’s signature seven-slot grille from the fourth-generation Wrangler; there are no surprises in that department. Out back, it boasts a five-foot box with integrated tie-down hooks and an external power source. Buyers have three top options to choose from: A soft top, which comes standard, and two different hard tops. The ability to go topless makes the Gladiator unique in the pickup segment. And, since it’s based on the Wrangler, the windshield easily folds down and the doors are removable.
The original, Wagoneer-based Gladiator introduced in 1963 was about as refined as a John Deere tractor inside. Times change; Jeep couldn’t get away with launching such a basic model in 2018. The modern-day Gladiator is available with a touchscreen-based Uconnect infotainment system that’s compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also offers creature comforts like A/C and heated seats, and electronic driving aids such as adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system, and forward collision warning technology. Rubicon models even come with a forward-facing camera that gives the driver an unobstructed view of what’s ahead of the truck.
The only engine available at launch is a 3.6-liter V6 rated at 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque that shifts through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic. Jeep will add a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 to the lineup in 2020. It’s rated at 260 horsepower and a volcano-awakening 442 pound-feet of torque, but it will only be offered with the eight-speed automatic. Four-wheel drive comes standard regardless of the type of engine under the hood.
Properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds and haul 1,600 pounds. Fuel economy is rated at 17 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg in a combined cycle.
The sheet metal hides a longer evolution of the ladder frame that underpins the latest Wrangler, and off-road-friendly solid axles help the truck power through the toughest trails on the planet. Jeep moved the spare tire to under the cargo box. Rest assured, off-roaders, the space is big enough to accommodate a 35-inch tire.
Made in Toledo, Ohio, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator will begin arriving in showrooms in the spring of 2019. The lineup includes four trim levels called Sport ($ 35,040), Sport S ($ 38,240), Overland ($ 41,890), and Rubicon ($ 45,040), respectively. All prices include a mandatory (and rather hefty) $ 1,495 destination charge. In comparison, the four-door Wrangler on which it’s based carries a base price of $ 33,040 including the same destination charge.
Jeep will release a Launch Edition model (pictured above) on April 4, because it decided 4/4 is 4×4 day, and it will stop selling the truck on the very same day. It will be available for one day only. Production will be limited to 4,190 examples, a number chosen because Toledo’s area code is 419. The Launch Edition is a fully-loaded Rubicon model with edition-specific accents inside and out, including an aluminum badge on the tailgate. It’s not cheap: Pricing starts at a luxury sedan-like $ 60,815. Customers will be eligible to win $ 100,000 by entering a contest organized by the brand.
Interestingly, Jeep will exclusively sell the Gladiator Launch Edition on its official website. After reserving a truck, buyers will be contacted by a Jeep concierge who will finalize the sale and connect the customer to their nearest dealer. This will be the first time Jeep sells a car online, but it certainly won’t be the last.
Updated 3-30-2019: Added pricing, fuel economy, Launch Edition details.