The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon stretches out the Wrangler’s looks and capabilities to deliver pickup utility with a familiar face. From behind the wheel, however, the differences are apparent – and might turn you off of parking one in your driveway.
I’m of two minds on the looks of the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon. I’d much rather see the truck offered in a single-cab format, as I think it would remove some of the awkwardness associated with its extended wheelbase compared to the four-door Wrangler Unlimited with which it shares many of its styling cues.
Conversely, there’s no question that the general public disagrees with me. The Gladiator is the current darling of the pickup set – and let’s be honest, there are a huge number of people who would never buy a truck yet are enamoured with the Jeep’s rugged image. Especially when seen in Rubicon trim, what with its aggressive off-road suspension and big knobby tires, the Gladiator’s image is its primary selling point. It garnered significant attention during our week together.
The Jeep Gladiator can be had with a decent level of active safety gear – forward collision warning with emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and a blind-spot monitoring system – but the catch is that you have to pay extra if you want any of it. Given that the vehicle retails for north of $50,000, however, it’s a little weird that these items aren’t included by the time you get to Rubicon country.
Remember earlier when I was lamenting the lack of a single-cab Gladiator? That’s because I’d love a box that’s longer than the mere five feet offered by the four-door truck. Sure, short boxes are the current king of the crew cab world, regardless of whether you’re shopping in the full-size or mid-size segment. But when you look at the Jeep’s rivals you at least get a choice between short and, um, less short cargo beds. I realize that this would likely mean shortening the cab of the Gladiator, which is something I’d welcome.
Fortunately, the Gladiator’s cabin delivers a fair amount of versatility in case you need to carry more with you than the bed allows. The rear seats flip up to reveal covered storage compartments, but even when stacking boxes of engine parts (and one fairly heavy cast-iron crank) on top of them, I was able to load up the back of the truck with ease and not trouble myself with the tonneau-covered box at all.
It’s also worth noting that the Jeep’s tow rating is competitive with many other mid-size trucks.
User Friendliness: 8/10
For the most part, the Jeep Gladiator’s simplicity works in its favour. The truck is very much a get-in-and-drive proposition, with no secret handshakes required to get familiar with any of its equipment. There are a few exceptions – the centre stack houses a set of outrigger switches designed to interact with aftermarket accessories you may want to add to the Gladiator – but if you’re going down that route, you’re already involved enough in your ownership to understand how they’ll work.
Things get a little tricky when evaluating the Rubicon trim level’s feature set. On one hand, it delivers an exceptional level of off-road gear, including a remote disconnect for the front sway bar, Fox shocks at all four corners, unique exterior styling that includes taller fenders to accommodate its 33-inch all-terrain tires, a more aggressive low gear setting for its four-wheel drive system, and, of course, all the tow hooks and skid plates you could ever need. In a further nod to serious trail driving, where other manufacturers would have installed running boards, the Rubicon gets rock rails instead.
The rest of the vehicle’s equipment doesn’t quite match its (previously mentioned) sticker shock. Yes, the infotainment system is excellent (Chrysler’s Uconnect is an industry-leader), but unless you pay extra you’re stuck with the seven-inch unit rather than the nicer 8.4-inch display. In fact, you’ll be stacking options to try and approach anything like what should already be included in such an expensive vehicle, because leather upholstery, heated seats, a heated steering wheel, navigation, top-tier audio, keyless entry, and even a headliner for the vehicle’s removable hardtop will cost you more cash on top of the MSRP.
How much more? My tester retailed for an astounding $68,250, thanks to the nearly $14,000 in optional equipment that was added to the bottom line.
I’m a fan of the standard 3.6L V6 that comes with all versions of the Gladiator. You can either stick with the base six-speed manual gearbox or swap in an eight-speed automatic. Either one is a solid match for the six-cylinder’s 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. I’d love to see the turbocharged four-cylinder found in the Wrangler move over to the Gladiator, as its low-end grunt is a thing to behold, and, of course, diesel fans are likely salivating at the prospect of the turbocharged oil-burner that’s also currently exclusive to the SUV but making its way to the Gladiator later this year.
The Jeep Gladiator shares much of its platform with the Wrangler, for good and for bad. The latter applies if you’re expecting to use the Rubicon model on a daily basis, as its suspension tune that’s made for rocks and mud translates into a ride that is occasionally rough, frequently floaty, and always noisy. Having a conversation at highway speeds requires raising your voice, and you’ll want to spring for the loudest stereo you can afford in order to enjoy your tunes on a road trip.
The seats in the Gladiator are reasonably comfortable front and rear, but I continue to lament the lack of a dead pedal for the driver, as one’s foot has to sit flat on the floor while the door’s fabric-covered hinge (required as part of the vehicle’s “doors off” driving mode) continually brushes against the calf. It’s grating as the kilometres add up.
Driving Feel: 5/10
Those expecting the Gladiator to offer a driving experience similar to that of the four-door Wrangler are in for a surprise. I’m not sure what it is about the pickup’s hybridized platform – the extra wheelbase, the lightness in the rear – but it’s one of the few vehicles I’ve driven in recent memory that legitimately frightened me on the highway.
During a road trip at frigid temperatures and in a constant rain that would occasionally switch to snow depending on elevation, the Gladiator Rubicon felt incredibly nervous. Its big tires required constant course corrections as I micro-managed the steering wheel in a bid to maintain a straight line at speeds of just over 100 km/h. All of this even while riding on climate-appropriate winter rubber. It was a somewhat harrowing 350-kilometre haul, and one I would not care to repeat.
I’ve driven the two- and four-door versions of the Wrangler through similar circumstances and never approached this level of discomfort with the Jeep’s dynamics. Is it the extra 540 millimetres of wheelbase baked into the Gladiator raising the hackles on the back of my neck as it shimmies its way from one side of the lane to the next? Or is the addition of the Rubicon’s rough-and-tumble suspension tune and oversized tires upsetting the mix?
Either way, I was stunned by how different the experience was compared to past – and closely related – Jeep products. Even on dry pavement the truck is a handful, and on slower city streets it bumps and bounces its way through traffic with a minimum of grace. Anyone coming from a Wrangler needs to take a test drive before assuming they’re ready for what the Gladiator has in store.
Fuel Economy: 7/10
The Jeep Gladiator is rated at 13.7 L/100 km city and 10.7 L/100 km highway when found with its automatic transmission (it’s somewhat thirstier with the manual). That’s a fairly close match for what I encountered in a mix of city and highway driving, and not all that bad considering the weight, size, and mission profile of the pickup.
The Gladiator isn’t a great pickup, what with its lack of box options and sketchy driving experience in Rubicon trim, nor is it the ultimate trail tool due to its ponderous length and large rear overhang. It sits somewhere in the middle in both categories, and that makes it hard to swallow the whopping $68,000 window sticker on my well-optioned model.
There are more comfortable mid-size trucks that offer similar off-road performance in a mid-size package, and come in closer to – or even below – the Rubicon’s $52,000 starting price, such as the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 and Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road. They don’t look like the Wrangler, however, nor do they ride on its reputation, which is the X-factor driving the Gladiator’s phenomenal pricing.
A compromise both on- and off-road, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon looks the business but can’t match its Wrangler sibling in terms of performance, comfort or capability. It’s also outmatched in many areas by other mid-size pickup rivals. How much are you willing to forgive for class-leading looks and significant cred from the Jeep badge?
|Peak Horsepower||285 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Peak Torque||260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.7/10.7/12.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||5-foot box/727 kg|
|Model Tested||2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon|
|Price as Tested||$68,250|
$13,760 – Leather seats, $995; Tow package, $500; Cold weather package, $895; LED lighting, $895; Uconnect navigation and audio package, $1,395; Safety package, $845; Hardtop headliner, $725; Trail Rail cargo management system, $995; Tonneau cover, $495; 8-speed automatic transmission, $1,795; Remote starter, $300; Hardtop, $1,195; Steel front bumper, $795; Portable Bluetooth speaker, $395; Auxiliary switches, $295; Spray-in bedliner, $650; Forward-facing off-road Trailcam, $595