Apr
08
2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

by Don Sikora II

Note: The following story was excerpted from the April 2020 issue of Collectible Automobile magazine.

Elaine Joyce

Jeep began building pickups in 1947, but the streak ended when the Cherokee-based Comanche ceased production in 1992. For 2020, Jeep jumps back into this important market with the Gladiator. Though its name comes from the Wagoneer-derived Gladiator (later J-Series) pickups the brand sold between 1963 and 1987, it was arguably inspired more by the CJ-7-like 1981-85 Scrambler.

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2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

The 2020 Gladiator enters the rebounding field of compact pickups that just a few years ago seemed moribund. It has styling and components from the latest version of the brand’s signature Wrangler SUV. Gladiator is sold in base Sport, Sport S, well-equipped Overland, and off-road-oriented Rubicon models. (A limited-run “First Edition” model was available for early buyers.) Jeep says all are “Trail Rated” for off-road use, but the Rubicon is the one best suited to doing Wrangler-type things but with the utility of a pickup. 

Like the two- and four-door Wranglers, Gladiator is a convertible with removable doors and a windshield that can fold forward. But the pickup only comes as a four-door crew cab paired with a five-foot bed. A folding soft top comes standard, while a “Premium” ragtop and black or body-color removable hardtops are available. 

Chrysler’s 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is standard, rated at 285 horsepower and 260 pound-foot of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard with an eight-speed automatic as an option. A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel turbocharged V-6 with mandatory eight-speed automatic was scheduled to join the options list in early 2020. It’s rated at 260 ponies and a substantial 442 pound-feet of torque.

The body-on-frame Gladiator runs a 137-inch wheelbase and is 218 inches long—which makes it feel more midsize than compact. Compared to a four-door Wrangler, wheelbase is 19 inches longer and overall length is up by 30 inches. 

The body itself is steel, but components including the doors and hinges, hood, windshield frame, tailgate, and fender flares are made from lighter-weight aluminum. Still, Rubicon curb weight is 5050 pounds with the manual transmission and 5072 with the automatic. Maximum trailer weight is 4500 pounds with the six-speed, but increases to a useful 7000 pounds with the automatic.

Rubicons have part-time “Rock-Trac” four-wheel drive with third-generation Dana 44 axles spinning 4.10:1 gear ratios and fitted with “Tru-Lock” electronic locking differentials. Front and rear suspensions are five-link designs with coil springs. Rubicons wear 33-inch tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels. There are four skid plates underneath the truck to help protect vital components off road, and Rubicons also have steel rock rails to help protect vulnerable cab and bed sheetmetal.

The big rubber has the added benefit of raising the Gladiator enough to make it less likely to bottom out on rocks and rugged trails. You’ll pay to play, though: Rubicon prices from $45,040, or $10,000 more than a base Sport.

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Pros: 

  • Gladiator carries signature Wrangler design details and unique features like the fold-down windshield and removable roof and doors.
  • There really is nothing else quite like it.

Cons:

  • Prices are steep, even before adding tempting options—but Wranglers have a good reputation for resale value, and we’d expect that to be true here too.
  • Your scribe has childhood memories of the striking Jeep Honcho pickup thanks to Revell’s 1⁄25-scale plastic model kit and a battery-powered Stomper 4×4 toy. He’s more than a little disappointed the Gladiator isn’t available in throw-back Honcho trim, with all the bright-colored tape-stripe goodness that implies.

Final Drive:

Though huge compared to Jeep’s old-school CJ-5, CJ-7, or even the Scrambler of the Eighties, the 2020 Gladiator Rubicon maintains the unmistakable style and go-anywhere qualities of those earlier Jeeps with the added utility of a midsize pickup.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

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2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon