Jim Bray's Car & Tech rants - publishing online exclusively since 1995
Jeep Gladiator

Jeep pickup picks up diesel power and off-road sportiness

By Jim Bray
May 20, 2021

The most legendary off-road brand in North America is back with a CJ-based pickup truck the company hopes will take its legendary off-road reputation even farther off road.

It's the Jeep Gladiator, wearing its High Altitude 4x4 livery (that's "altitude", not "attitude" so if you find the vehicle gets in your face, that's probably just its default position). And if you're into this type of vehicle, chances are you'll love this new version of the pickup first introduced a couple of years ago.

Jeep's Gladiator take the classic Jeep Wrangler – the old army-type thingy – and turns it not only into a pickup truck, but a convertible pickup truck! I don't know of any other pickups from which you can pry the roof, so there's one marketing point already.

Click on the image to open a slideshow.

You can also remove the doors and fold down the windshield to create what I imagine would be a lovely open-air experience as long as all those onboard remember to hook up their seatbelts lest they be tossed out at the first big rut. Being a complete oaf when it comes to such things, I didn't try removing the roof and doors, mostly because I figured if I succeeded in getting them off, I'd never succeed in getting them back on again.

Besides, it was cold during my Jeep week. Yeah, that's my excuse!

The Gladiator would be classified as a mid-size truck – more Tacoma than Tundra or more Ranger than F-150. I like this, because I find the big trucks just too darn big to be any fun. Oh, sure, I understand the practicalities of having something large and/or robust with which to haul stuff, but my life is such that if I ever need to haul something that big, I'll rent a truck for a couple of hours, then go back happily to my sportwagon.

Obviously, your mileage may (and, if you're a truck fan, probably will) vary.

The Gladiator starts at $47,743, but one tricked out like Jeep's High Altitude one adds to that substantially. Jeep's sample tipped the fiscal scale at $76,210 (including destination, etc.). Talk about High Altitude!

One of the big selling points for the 2021 model year is the availability of an optional diesel engine for about $7,400. This three-liter V6 cranks out a reasonable 260 horsepower and a heady 442 lb-ft of torque. That's the engine Jeep's sample had and I really liked all that torque. It comes on at low revs, too, making this beastie bounce along with abandon.

It also rattles like a dying Tauntaun, which is a diesel thing – although this one was a lot more in one's face than other diesels I've driven. Still, it lets people know you're coming – and to get out of the way! That gives it a leg up on electric vehicles, which are hard to hear.

All that torque gets to all four 20-inch wheels via an eight speed "TorqueFlite" automatic transmission that shifts well. There are no paddles, but one upside is that Jeep has eschewed sticking even more gears into the tranny to save fuel, but thereby hamstringing performance. I hope their rationale is that you'd have to be some kind of nut to buy one of these for its fuel mileage, though of course the diesel helps here anyway.

Instead of paddles, Jeep and its corporate siblings put audio control back there. They work fine, but they'd work just as well or better on the front of the steering wheel, where there are cruise-and-cursor-controls instead.

Even better, the Uconnect system, operated via the centre stack's LCD screen, works really well. There's a lot of info there and the screen gets a mite crowded, but the system is one of the better ones I've driven with recently – especially since you don't have to wrestle with a track pad or knobby thing on the console.

The Gladiator drives like a Jeep should, which means it's bouncy and brawny, but that's why we're here, no? I'm not sure if all Jeeps are like this, but I also found the front seats rather hard and couldn't find a perfect driving position from the manual adjustments.

Making it worse was the complete lack of a drivers' left foot rest. That seems odd; you'd think a vehicle that brags about its off-road prowess would give the driver a way to brace him/her/itself for those bouncy and rutty and potentially dangerous spaces. I don't get it.

You do gets lots of stuff, though. Here's just a partial list of the standard equipment:

  • Supplemental front seat–mounted side air bags
  • Push–button start
  • ParkView Rear Back–Up Camera
  • Remote keyless entry
  • Fuel tank skid plate
  • Transfer case skid plate
  • Selectable tire fill alert
  • 2.72:1 Command–Trac part–time 4WD system
  • Torx tool kit for top and door removal
  • 3.73 rear axle ratio Dana M210 front axle Dana M220 rear axle
  • 4– and 7–pin wiring harness Class II hitch receiver 400–watt inverter
  • 220–amp alternator
  • 650–amp maintenance–free AGM battery

That's on the outside. The interior is hardly ignored:

  • Leather–wrapped steering wheel
  • Tilt/telescoping steering column
  • Manual six–way adjustable driver seat
  • Air conditioning with automatic temperature control
  • Speed–sensitive power locks
  • Power windows with front one–touch down
  • Uconnect 4 with seven–inch display
  • Google Android Auto
  • Apple CarPlay capable
  • Hands–free communication with Bluetooth streaming
  • SiriusXM satellite radio with 1–year subscription
  • Rear 60/40 split–folding bench seat
  • Behind the seat storage bin
  • Seven inch in–cluster colour display
  • Freedom panel storage bag

That's generic Gladiator stuff. Pay the extra 10 grand or so of Jeep's High Altitude sample and you get such goodie as Preferred Package 26N, with such stuff as:

  • Leather–faced bucket seats
  • Premium wrapped IP bezels with Caramel stitching
  • Sport suspension
  • Sport front shock absorbers
  • Sport rear shock absorbers
  • 275/55R20 BSW All–Season tires
  • Dana M210 wide front axle
  • Dana M220 wide rear axle
  • LED park turn lamps
  • Hands–free communication with Bluetooth streaming
  • Uconnect 4C NAV & Sound Group
  • Safety Group
  • Leather–wrapped park brake handle
  • Leather–wrapped shift knob
  • Auto–dimming rearview mirror
  • Remote proximity keyless entry
  • Body–colour Freedom Top 3–piece modular hardtop
  • LED taillamps

Obviously, all this stuff in it means this is a pretty modern vehicle despite its "ancient" or "classic" mien. And that's good.

Jeep's sample also came with these extras:

Advanced Safety Group ($1,450)

  • Automatic high–beam headlamp control
  • Advanced Brake Assist
  • Forward Collision Warning Plus with Active Braking
  • Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop
  • Auxiliary Switch Group ($295)
  • 700–amp maintenance–free battery
  • four auxiliary switches
  • Roll–up tonneau cover ($495)
  • Mopar all–weather slush mats ($150)
  • 8–speed TorqueFlite automatic transmission ($1,795)
  • 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 engine with Stop/Start ($7,395)
  • Trac–Lok limited–slip rear differential
  • Portable wireless Bluetooth speaker ($395, though you could just bring your own…)
  • Spray–in bedliner ($650)
  • Jeep Trail Rated kit ($250)

And that's how you take a 50 grand vehicle and turn it into a nearly 80 grand one!

I would be remiss not to mention that all the interior stuff works well, from a decent audio system and efficient HVAC, to interfaces that overall work as they should. The dashboard, with its multitude of buttons, switches, and the touch screen, comes off as a tad busy, but it's all easy to figure out and it won't take long to get up to speed.

Jeep claims the Gladiator offers "Best-in-Class 4x4 payload" of up to 726 kg and the tailgate opens three ways for your convenience.

Jeep and I obviously have different definitions of "sport," at least when it comes to the Gladiator's suspension, which they label as "sport." To me, sport means lower and more powerful, but obviously we're talking apples and oranges. And Jeep isn't unique here: Toyota has been beating the off-road sport drum for years with its TRD packages. And it can be argued the Jeep is just as sporty as the TRD's when it comes to off-road goodies.

So, while Jeep and I will probably never agree on many things when it comes to sportiness and on-versus-off road joy, they certainly appear to have pulled out all the stops when it comes to the Gladiator and its many permutations.

And I must admit that this Gladiator, and the Overland model I drove when the model first came out, garnered more stares and comments from passersby than most of the vehicles I drive. And doesn't that just figure?

So, if you like this kind of vehicle, you might want to check this one out. It certainly as a lot going for it!

Copyright 2021 Jim Bray
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