The Jeep Gladiator Girds for Battle

Jim Motavalli

Jim Motavalli | Apr 07, 2019

NEW YORK CITY—Jeep sales were up 17 percent last year. The brand sold 973,227 vehicles in the U.S., beating the previous record of 926,376 set in 2016. Jeep is a cash cow for Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Guess how many Fiats sold in the U.S. last year? It was just 15,521, barely a blip on the radar—and a sign that the brand may be in trouble here. The Jeep brand was up 17 percent, the Fiat brand down 44 percent.

The Jeep Gladiator in Rubicon trim. From this angle, it could be a regular Wrangler. (Jim Motavalli photo)

And now Jeep is launching its first pickup truck since 1992, the 2020 Gladiator, and I predict a big hit. There’s room for at least three kegs back there, and you can even get the new truck as a flip-top convertible—the only such pickup on the market. It’s about as open-air as it could possibly be, since you can flip back the roof, take off the doors (which requires some unbolting and takes three minutes) and even fold down the windshield (a feature of these vehicles since World War II, when it was necessary for them to fit into shipping containers).

The Gladiator with Jeep designer Mark Allen. It really is a pickup truck. (Jim Motavalli photo)

Scott Tallon, head of Jeep product marketing, said that his loyal brand customers have been clamoring for a pickup truck, which first entered the lineup in 1947. “If you look at it and just see a Wrangler with a pickup bed, you’re not getting the whole picture,” he said. “The Gladiator has its own unique frame, and we’ve added 19 inches to the wheelbase.”

The box is five feet long, and features an aluminum tailgate for lightness. The bed gets LED lighting standard and a 110-volt outlet to power the dorm fridge that will keep the beer cold for tailgate parties. And don’t forget the optional lockable and removable storage box, perfect for hiding the stash and the bongs. To really get the party started, there’s a removable wireless speaker (that plays through the stereo when it’s charging).

Inside the Gladiator. Note the likely rare choice of a six-speed manual. Can anyone under 30 drive a stick? (Jim Motavalli photo)

OK, enough of that. Yes, this vehicle will sell to well-heeled college students—including the “rowers” who got in because their parents hired Rick Singer. I’d be surprised if Olivia Jade didn’t have one on order, since she said she was only going to USC for the “partying.” But Tallon said the customer base is “18 to 88.”

It’s nice to see that the Gladiator comes standard with a six-speed manual, with an available eight-speed automatic. Manuals are an endangered species. I asked Mark Allen, head of Jeep exterior design, what the take rate is expected to be on the six-speed, and he said, “Low. But people still ask for manuals.”

As to engines, there’s a choice there—a 285-horsepower 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with stop-start is standard, and a 260-horsepower three-liter EcoDiesel V-6 (not available until 2020). The diesel assuredly offers better fuel economy, but the numbers (as well as pricing) haven’t been released yet—even though the Gladiator hits the production line next month, and will swamp dealerships in May and June.

In a tour conducted by Allen, we learned that the Wrangler-type grille was modified to give it a bigger opening, and that the doors and hood are aluminum, as well as the tailgate. The fender flares add two inches of clearance for Boss Rubber. The big 33-inch tires are standard, but you can also get 35s. Jeep is probably tired of losing all the big tire business to the aftermarket.

The rear seats have a nice folding option. Allen called for a volunteer who was on the shorter side to showcase the low load height by retrieving a nickel placed in the bed. She couldn’t do it, even though it had worked in rehearsal. The Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds; if your rig is bigger, you need a heavy-duty Ram, which can tow 35,000 pounds.

Well, that’s all you need to know, and I’ve dutifully reported on the new Gladiator. But, seriously, pickup trucks have never spoken to me. I’ve never owned one, and while borrowed examples occasionally come in handy for moving stuff around, I probably never will own one. What’s the point of having friends if you can’t occasionally borrow their trucks? Thanks, David and Heidi.

My problem with pickups: The smaller ones have cramped cabins, and the big ones are simply humongous and have a Hummer level of thirst. If you have an open bed, the stuff slides around, and gets wet when it rains. It’s dangerous to put your dog back there, but yahoos do it constantly. Add a cap, and the stuff doesn’t get wet, but you can’t carry anything tall. And if you’re going to buy a cap, why not get a more practical minivan instead? I know, trucks are macho, and minivans are wimpy.

But, hey, I’m a wimp. A country song I just heard on the radio opined that bar fights should be taken outside, “Because that’s what parking lots are for.” Gee, I thought they were for parking cars.

So there you have it, the Jeep Gladiator in all its sure-to-appeal glory. It’s a Jeep, and it’s a truck, and for America in 2019, what’s not to like? I won't buy one, but it's nice to know I'm in the demographic, being between 18 and 88 years of age.

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