At long last, the worst-kept secret in Motown has made its official debut. The 2020 Jeep Gladiator truck was just unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, melding the unabashed ruggedness of a Wrangler with all the usefulness of a midsize pickup.
That’s right, Gladiator. Not Scrambler. The Jeep pickup has finally arrived, debuting at the Los Angeles auto show, and as you’d expect, it looks very much like a Wrangler. Indeed, it is essentially a Wrangler from the (fold-down) windshield forward. But Jeep is keen to let everyone know that it’s more than just a Wrangler with a long frame and a short top.
“Gladiator is a dedicated pickup,” says Tim Kuniskis, now head of Jeep brand North America. “[Customers] are looking for real pickup trucks.”
It’s an important distinction for Jeep, which wants to attract Wrangler-philes and go toe-to-toe in the expanding midsize truck segment.
Compared to the Wrangler Unlimited, the Gladiator’s new frame is stretched 31 inches with a wheelbase that’s 19.4 inches longer. The suspension consists of a lateral and four longitudinal control arms up front shared with the Wrangler, while the rear rides on a five-link coil suspension exclusive to the Jeep pickup for improved on-road ride comfort.
At launch, the Gladiator will be powered by a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 making 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. It comes standard with a six-speed manual transmission and four-wheel drive on all trim levels. An eight-speed automatic is optional. Jeep claims it’ll offer class-leading tow capacity of up to 7,650 pounds and 4×4 payload of up to 1,600 pounds.
Those interested in a little more grunt may want to holdout until the 2020 calendar year when a 3.0-liter turbocharged diesel is slated to join the lineup offering 260 horses and a muscular 442 pound-feet of twist. Unlike the gas engine, the diesel will only be offered with an eight-speed automatic.
Being a Jeep, the Gladiator offers all the necessary hardware to tackle off-road expeditions ranging from a pair of 4×4 systems, Dana 44 axles, electric front- and rear-axle lockers, a limited-slip and skid plates. Rubicon models dial things up a notch with 4.10 axles, improved suspension articulation and travel, Fox shocks, electronic disconnecting sway bars, steel rear bumper and protective cab and cargo bed rails and 33-inch tires.
The Rubicon can run up to 35-inch rubber with no lift, be equipped with a forward camera capable of showing anything that’s less than two feet in front of the truck and be outfitted with a front, winch-ready steel bumper.
The Gladiator features an approach angle of 43.6 degrees, breakover angle of 20.3 degrees, departure angle of 26 degrees, 11.1 inches of ground clearance and is capable of fording up to 30 inches of water.
The Gladiator is, no doubt, much brawnier than Jeep’s last two pickups: the CJ-based Scrambler of yore, which ended production with the introduction of the first Wrangler in 1987, and the Cherokee-based Comanche, which left the scene in 1992. The Gladiator name dates back to a much earlier product, Jeep’s full-size pickup that shared its frame with the Wagoneer and was built from 1962 to 1988 (though the Gladiator name was dropped after ’71).
Since the mid-’90s, Jeep has tortured us with a seemingly endless stream of pickup truck concepts. Yet the conditions for a Wrangler-based pickup have ripened only recently. Small, body-on-frame trucks dwindled in variety and overall sales through much of the early aughts as customers shifted to crossovers. Conventional industry wisdom held that the folks who truly wanted real truck capability would spring for full-sizers, which tend to reap bigger profits for automakers and be more helpful in meeting federal fuel economy standards—the larger a vehicle’s footprint, the lower its fuel economy target.