Not since Jeep ended production of the Comanche in 1992 has the rugged brand offered a dedicated pickup truck in the U.S.
In the second quarter of 2019, the ’20 Jeep Gladiator – a sibling of the Wrangler that launched last March – arrives to fill that void, which grew to gaping proportions when Ram stopped selling the Dakota midsize pickup in 2012. The Gladiator debuted this week at the Los Angeles auto show.
But FCA US officials are quick to note the Gladiator (codename JT) is much more than a Wrangler (codename JL) with a 5-ft. (1.5-m) bed bolted on. The unique frame, supplied by Metalsa, is 31 ins. (787 mm) longer than that of the Wrangler, resulting in a wheelbase that is stretched 19.4 ins. (493 mm).
The Gladiator’s second-row seats (see photo, below left) are more comfortable and flexible than the fixed seats in the Wrangler, and clever in-floor storage bins in the Gladiator can be secured by locking the seats in place. The body is billed as a crew cab.
Other features that debut on the Gladiator (but are not offered on the Wrangler, for now) include:
- Sprayer to clean dust and grime from the forward-facing camera that helps with serious rock crawling and steep grades in the Rubicon edition of the Gladiator.
- Driver-controlled tire deflation, which is useful, once again, in off-road situations to improve traction.
- Wireless Bluetooth audio speaker that can be removed from a charging port behind second-row seats – handy for camping.
The vehicles rely on different powertrains: Wrangler gets the 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. as well as 3.6L Pentastar V-6, while the Gladiator only comes available with the Pentastar. In 2020, a 3.0L diesel V-6 rated at 216 hp and 442 lb.-ft. (599 Nm) of torque will be offered in both the Wrangler and Gladiator. While the Pentastar can be paired with an 8-speed automatic or 6-speed manual transmission in the Gladiator, the diesel V-6 will be mated only with the 8-speed automatic.
In all, FCA officials say the Wrangler and Gladiator have different doors, fenders and hood, and that the body-on-frame vehicles share 15% of their parts. The instrument panel and front seats are virtually identical to the Wrangler.
FCA may have opted not to offer the 4-cyl. engine because many Gladiator customers are expected to tow boats, campers, snowmobiles and other recreational vehicles. FCA says the Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 lbs. (3,470 kg) and accommodate 1,600 lbs. (726 kg) of payload, while fording up to 30 ins. (762 mm) of water.
The 5-ft. steel bed can be treated with an optional spray-in liner, and a bed divider and tonneau cover also are available.
The tailgate can be tilted and locked at a 45-degree angle (by propping the support cables behind locking posts in the jamb), allowing an 8-ft. (2.4 m) sheet of plywood to lay flat across the gate and wheel wells. The aluminum tailgate can hold 1,800 lbs. (816 kg).
Jeep is marketing the Gladiator as the only true open-air 4x4 pickup truck that can come with a soft top or an available three-piece hardtop in body color or black. The “Freedom panels” were designed for fast removal and installation.
At launch, the Gladiator will be offered in Sport and Sport S trim, as well as a Rubicon variant for devout off-roaders and Overland dress for more comfortable on-road driving. Overland and Rubicon models share a manual rear-sliding window.
Off-road technology includes Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems, third-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, segment-exclusive sway-bar disconnect and 33-in. off-road tires.
Despite Jeep’s rugged reputation, designers incorporated a number of luxurious options, such as leather-contoured seats with adjustable lumbar support; heated front seats and steering wheel; an 8.4-in. (213-mm) touchscreen with fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment; adaptive cruise control; blindspot monitoring; and multiple USB charging ports.
The front suspension consists of a five-link coil configuration using a lateral control arm and four longitudinal control arms. The rear five-link coil suspension design, exclusive to Gladiator, uses two upper and two lower forged steel control arms for longitudinal control and a track bar for lateral axle control.
The Gladiator will roll out of FCA’s Toledo South plant in Ohio, while the Wrangler comes from the nearby Toledo North plant.
Brand officials decline to estimate anticipated sales volumes for the Gladiator. For comparison, Jeep has sold 204,269 Wranglers this year through October, up 24.9% from like-2017, according to Wards Intelligence data.