Legions of Jeep fans’ dreams were fulfilled with the recent return of a pickup variant of their beloved Wrangler after a nearly three-decade-long hiatus.
And then the brand dropped another bombshell: the 2021 Jeep Gladiator would be offered with an optional diesel engine. If it’s torque you’re after, nothing delivers the ground-pounding wallop of twist like a diesel.
The Gladiator’s new powerplant is the same 3.0L V6 available in the Jeep Wrangler and Ram 1500, delivering a modest 260 hp to go with a respectable 440 lb-ft of torque. There is another number that matters, though, and that’s the extra $7,395 Jeep wants for it.
Let’s face it: image is a considerable part of the allure of a vehicle like this. Sure, Jeep has a legacy that goes back decades; a rugged, no-compromise off-roader with a reputation forged on the battlefield and on trail. That gives it some serious appeal for the adventurous who may not live their lives off the beaten path, but want to look like they could if they wanted.
The Gladiator has all the iconic, military-inspired design cue of the Wrangler, with the addition of a pickup bed. Square and blocky, with the traditional upright windshield and chunky fenders, it’s a statement-making lifestyle vehicle that also boasts the bona fides to back up its looks.
It’s hard to judge a truck like this on practicality. Practical for the shopping mall? Well, it’s a tall vehicle and not that easy to manoeuvre in a crowded lot. But it does boast some decent cargo room, and the rear seat bottoms lift up to reveal more space for stuff. The optional cargo cover safeguards any items in the bed, and it can be removed for larger loads. The bed offers about 1,000 L of space but only 488 kg (1,075 lb) of payload. That’s less than competitors like the Chevrolet Colorado and Ford Ranger, but comparable to the Toyota Tacoma.
Equipped with the diesel motor, the Gladiator’s towing capacity drops to 2,722 kg (6,000 lb) – a full 454 kg (1,000 lb) less than the gas-powered version of this pickup, and substantially less than some competitors. Making matters worse, this tester topped out at $74,565 before tax; for that much money, you could opt for a full-size truck that can tow and haul more.
But take it out to the country, and the Gladiator’s chock-full of thoughtful features that make it one of the unparalleled recreational vehicles of its kind. The rubber floor mats and rubberized flooring that trapped all the mud offloaded from boots was particularly appreciated after a day of fun in the forest followed by time at the horse farm. Lift the mats, and there are drain holes in the floor. Fenders and doors are removable to prevent damage during hard rock-crawling, and the roof pops off for open-air cruising.
For the price, this Gladiator Overland is woefully short on extras. We’ve come to expect a full list of comfort and technology – especially in an expensive vehicle – but a spartan interior is almost a point of pride for these rugged off-roaders.
Heated seats – standard in the most humble, entry-level commuter cars – are a $995 option here, bundled with a heated steering wheel and remote start. The seats themselves are manually operated. The options list on this vehicle comes to an eye-watering $22,320 more than its base price and includes an LED lighting package ($1,095); navigation and an upgraded stereo ($1,495); all kinds of safety stuff (two packages totalling $2,445, detailed below); and $150 for the aforementioned all-weather mats. The diesel engine is an extra $7,395 and comes with a limited-slip rear differential, but is only available with the eight-speed automatic transmission – another $1,795 upgrade.
At this trim level, the Gladiator Overland comes standard with air conditioning, a seven-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connections, Bluetooth, a government-mandated back-up camera, remote keyless entry, push-button start, power windows and locks (including the tailgate), fog lights, and a three-piece modular hardtop.
The bulk of the $52,000 base price is spent on function and technology; remember, this is a vehicle that’s fully at home on serious trails. Standard equipment includes a host of skid plates underneath, selectable four-wheel drive with high- and low-range settings, solid axles front and rear, and an upgraded alternator, among more.
As of writing, there are no crash test ratings for the Gladiator from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) or the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
The list of standard safety equipment for the Gladiator is short. Standard are ABS brakes, stability control, front impact airbags, side impact air bags, brake assist, rollover protection system, traction control, front tow hooks, and child safety locks.
There are two available safety packages, but their list of features is significantly shorter than some competitors. Safety Group ($995) includes Park-Sense Rear Park assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic detection. Advanced Safety Group ($1,450) includes automatic high-beams, advanced brake assist, forward collision assist with active braking, and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go.
The ride quality of earlier Jeep Wranglers could best be described as harsh and squirrelly at best. Damping ability has been improved considerably, although with the aerodynamic profile of a chest freezer the Gladiator is always going to experience considerable drag and wind buffeting. On the highway it does tend to wander, and wind noise is excessive. But the upright position and large, square windows provide excellent visibility. There’s limited range to the manual seat’s adjustability, but they’re comfortable enough. Running boards and grab handles are a considerable help when clambering aboard.
User Friendliness: 7/10
Operating the Gladiator is fairly straightforward. The upright dash is plain, with large, well defined knobs for most functions. While the seven-inch display is a bit on the small side by modern standards, it’s easy to use without having to scroll through numerous screens to access various functions.
Since the Gladiator’s doors are removable, the window switches are located on the centre console, which initially is a bit confusing. This particular diesel-powered version is equipped with an automatic transmission only, which is much easier than operating a gear shift and clutch on rough trails anyway. There’s a separate lever for the transfer case, which can be shifted between rear-wheel drive and four-wheel high and low settings, depending on terrain. It was much too cold to do any open-air driving during testing, but the Gladiator comes with a tool kit for door and roof removal. It’s a fiddly process and you’ll need extra hands to remove the roof.
Fuel Economy: 9/10
The gas-powered Gladiator’s official fuel consumption ratings are 13.7 L/100 km in the city, 10.7 on the highway, and 12.3 combined. But the beauty of a diesel engine lies not only in its prodigious torque, but also its frugal fuel consumption. During a week spent exploring local trails and adjacent highways, this tester’s overall combined consumption of 8.7 L/100 km bettered the official combined rating of 9.8 L/100 km. That’s an impressive number to be sure, but it will still take a lot of driving to offset the diesel’s additional price tag.
Having readily available torque down low, a hallmark of compression-ignition, sure beats hard-revving the engine, which can get pretty messy on difficult trails. Smooth inputs and a linear progression of output are key to safe and successful trail crawling. This turbo-diesel’s 440 lb-ft of torque, matched to the eight-speed auto, ensures that it works as smoothly as possible. The Gladiator can pick its way over rough ground virtually at idle, without any disruptive power surges or wheelspin. Those same characteristics give it smooth and quiet on-road manners, too, and help maximize fuel economy.
Driving Feel: 7/10
The Gladiator is an easy vehicle to operate. There’s none of the mechanical harshness or heavy steering associated with Jeeps of old, and thanks to improvements in chassis and suspension components, it has decent road manners, too. Visibility is good, and the diesel engine’s ready torque makes it a lot easier to merge with highway traffic than the regular gasoline variants. Stability on corners was impressive for what’s basically a raised brick, and its high clearance and suspension travel make it a blast to take onto the trails.
Since this truck wasn’t equipped with proper off-road tires I didn’t attempt any hardcore trail busting. But the deep snow early in the week gave way to thick greasy mud, which pulled at the tires and made for an entertaining trip down a logging road.
Starting at $47,177 for a base model, the Gladiator offers Jeep lovers a little bit of extra functionality with their off-roader. But start to add options, and the price soars accordingly. This diesel-powered Overland, at nearly $75,000, is definitely a niche vehicle that wouldn’t satisfy any average buyer looking for real pickup truck capability. But for those who live for the outdoors, it’s one of the ultimate status symbols – a vehicle that can tackle the toughest terrain, leaving lesser vehicles in its dust. Still, the diesel’s extra dough is a lot to swallow.
The diesel-powered 2021 Jeep Gladiator is an expensive vehicle in the eyes of a typical pickup driver looking for working capability. But for Jeep aficionados who want a bit of extra room and functionality, it offers a lot to like, including the ability to do anything the Wrangler can but with room for gear. The optional diesel engine, while saving fuel and improving performance, pushes the price into big-truck territory but makes it that much more aspirational.
|Engine Cylinders||V6 EcoDiesel|
|Peak Horsepower||260 hp @ 3,600 rpm|
|Peak Torque||442 lb-ft @ 1,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||10.8 / 8.5 / 9.8 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,532 mm / 60.3 in, 1,005 L box|
|Model Tested||2021 Jeep Gladiator Overland 4x4|
|Price as Tested||$74,940|
$20,325 – 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 With Start/Stop and Limited-Slip Differential, $7,395; 8-speed automatic transmission, $1,795; Hydro Blue Pearl paint, $100; Cold Weather Group, $995; Safety Group, $995; LED Lighting Group, $1,095; Uconnect 4C Nav & Sound Group, $1,495; Advanced Safety Group, $1,450; Portable Wireless Bluetooth speaker, $395; Roll-up Tonneau cover, $495; Mopar Spray-in Bedliner, $650; Body-Colour 3-Piece Modular Hardtop, $1,000; Remote Proximity Keyless Entry, $495; Leather Bucket seats With Overland Logo, Leather-Wrapped Shift Knob, and Panel Bezels, $1,095; Mopar All-Weather Mats, $150; Mopar Hardtop Headliner, $725