First Drive: Jeep Gladiator

Gladiator is more than just a Wrangler with a bed

That would have been the easy thing for Jeep to do, just slap a pickup bed on the back of a Wrangler Unlimited and it would have been out years ago. But that’s not the way, thankfully, they decided to move. While the two Jeeps look the same, there is a lot new on the Gladiator. Its frame is an additional 31 inches longer while the wheelbase is 19.4 inches longer. The longer wheelbase and the bed’s positioning center aft of the rear axle centerline enables for better weight distribution and a more comfortable and composed ride when carrying cargo.

While I can’t speak about cargo, I can speak about the ride as myself and other members of the media were invited to experience the new Jeep both on and off-road in central California near Sacramento. For

California Scenic Highway 49

the on-road portion I was sorry I did not have one of my motorcycles along to experience Highway 49’s, panoramic vistas of wild California and the Sierra Nevada foothills. Plenty of twisties and historic towns from the Gold Rush era. Judged by CBS13 Sacramento as one of the best scenic drives. I pushed the standard 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter V-6 engine (260 pounds-feet of torque), mated to the optional eight-speed automatic hard in the turns and for a mid-sized pickup, it handled really well. Coming next year will be a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine rated at 260 horsepower and 442 lb.-ft. of torque, with ESS standard. An eight-speed automatic transmission is standard and is designed to handle the increased torque output.

RELATED: New Jeep Wrangler Unlimited off-road ride

The Jeep people thought of everything on this outing because we

One of our stops along the way.

had the option of pulling a boat or trailer, which I wasn’t up for. The Gladiator features best in class towing at 7,650 lbs and can carry 1,600 lbs payload. To make this happen the Jeep design team picked up the phone and called the Ram people borrowing several chassis parts. At the event, the Jeep people threw down the gauntlet to compare the Gladiator against other trucks in the mid-size class like the Chevy Colorado, Ford Ranger, Toyota Tacoma, and Honda Ridgeline which has limited off-road capabilities.

And now for some serious off-roading

I’ve never been to this part of the country so had no idea what to expect as far and rocks and ruts and stumps and other items Jeeps are known to traverse. Somehow the Camp Jeep team found a 500 acre farm that had plenty of challenges for the Gladiator which found themselves sliding sideways off rocks because of the rainy weather that never posed a problem in the dry conditions. Despite the muckyness, the Rubicon, with its locked differentials and disconnected anti-roll bars (standard on this trim level), traversed from rock to rock, and some deep mud holes in between without any trouble at all. The guides did a great job of, well, guiding us and oh yes, we got the Gladiators plenty dirty.

Jeep’s Selec-Speed Control, sort of like a low-speed cruise control, managed speed when we were in crawl situations and can be trimmed using the shifter’s manual gate in one-mile increments. Also helping the Ruby through the muck were the optional 33-inch-tall Falken Wildpeak Mud Terrain tires. All-Terrain Wildpeaks of the same diameter are standard.

Cool tools inside

Look, it’s a Jeep, not BMW, so no over-the-top tech but some really nice features. Not only is there a backup camera to view on touchscreens  which come in either 7.0- or 8.4-inch sizes, but also a front one, on the Gladiator, which comes with a water jet to clean it off. Also loved the 4-Wheel Drive Plus screen which gave detailed information on things like diff locks, wheel turn and incline angles. I love toys!

There’s plenty of options for more room as the 60/40 split rear seatbacks fold flat, and the seat bottoms fold up. When both are utilized to make a seat, there’s more rear legroom than in any other mid-size truck. It’s also the only truck that turns into a convertible. I love top-down days.

Mile per fun over MPG

When my wife and I bought our first Wrangler Unlimited in 2011,

Me after run. Good muddy fun!

we didn’t care much about fuel economy. If we had we would have ended up buying a Compass or Patriot. The Gladiator gets OK mileage. With the automatic, it is rated for 17 mpg in the city, 22 mpg on the highway, and 19 mpg combined. The manual version gets 16 mpg in the city, 23 mpg on the highway, and the same 19 mpg combined.

So here’s what all the fun will cost you:

Base Sport: $33,545

Sport S: $36,745

Overland: $40,395

Rubicon: $44,545

If you really have to be one of the first to order one of these bad boys, there will be a Rubicon Launch Edition available for $60,815. Deliveries of the other editions will begin to show up on dealer lots sometime in May. Go build you own Gladiator here.

The Gladiator’s great grandpa

On display with the Gladiators, Jeep dusted off this 1987 Comanche (MJ) that had only ten miles on it. A total of 190,446 Comanches were made during its production run from 1985 to 1992. Not great build numbers. Analysts and union officials said the Gladiator plant in Toledo can produce nearly 125,000 vehicles annually.








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