This spring, Jeep is offering its first pickup truck in 27 years, the all-new Gladiator, and it’s much more than a Wrangler SUV with a bed attached.
From the interior standpoint, the Gladiator is a well-appointed, competitively priced lifestyle truck that is a lot more stylish and functional than other midsize trucks and is deserving of a 2019 Wards 10 Best Interiors trophy.
Pricing starts at $34,000, and the top-of-the line Gladiator Rubicon model we tested ($51,245) came with bright, satin-red trim that punctuated the entire instrument panel, from the left side of the steering wheel to the passenger-side front door.
It’s a unique interior aesthethic – more expressive, more purposeful – that sets apart both the Gladiator and its Wrangler platform mate from other trucks or utilities.
The Gladiator’s instrument panel and center-stack controls (pictured below) with big, chunky knobs and dials are much more vertical than in most vehicles, perhaps reflecting the upright orientation of the windshield, which puts the base of the windshield closer to the driver.
Without apologies, this has been the design language of multiple generations of the Wrangler and earlier Jeeps dating to World War II, and now the Gladiator carries on the tradition and advances it.
Jeep interior design can be polarizing and not everyone wants a Jeep. Because of the unique packaging, ergonomics in a Jeep are challenging. I’m not a Jeep loyalist, never have been.
But I spent a lot of time in the Gladiator and came away fully impressed with its level of comfort, utility and design. This interior layout is exactly what Jeep brand loyalists want, and the additional storage inherent with a pickup bed rated for 1,600 lbs. (726 kg) of payload makes the Gladiator all the more appealing.
Relative to the Wrangler, the Gladiator’s second row is completely redesigned, with new seats that fold up or down and have flexible storage underneath and behind. The Wrangler’s second-row seats are fixed and cannot be adjusted.
Optional storage bins below the second-row seats can be locked, and the second-row seatbacks also can be locked to secure items stashed behind them, such as the detachable Bluetooth audio speaker that charges in a port behind the seat.
One might wonder, why have so many lockable storage bins? That’s because every Gladiator is a convertible, further setting it apart from other midsize trucks. Either the softtop rolls all the way back, or the three-piece hard-top “Freedom Panels” pull off for the ultimate outdoor adventure. The doors also can be removed.
Those locking bins provide peace of mind deep in the wilderness for those who will leave their vehicles unattended perhaps for days, perhaps with no doors or top.
Not everyone who buys a Gladiator will take the pickup to Moab, the Rubicon Trail or other extreme rocky destination, but it’s good to know your vehicle is up for the challenge mechanically.
Enhancing the off-road user experience are brilliant, colorful graphics in the instrument cluster, gauges to track vehicle pitch and roll and a forward-facing camera for rock crawling.
On-road, drivers will appreciate the impressive array of driver-assistance features, the user-friendly Uconnect infotainment system and a cabin that is surprisingly quiet on the highway, even with knobby all-terrain Rubicon-spec Falken tires.
Fiat Chrysler Automobiles U.S. no longer sells its Dodge Dakota midsize pickup truck, so the Gladiator fills an important void in the corporate lineup.
Outstanding inside and out, we wouldn’t be surprised if people wanting a midsize truck who have never owned a Jeep give the Gladiator a serious look.