2020 Jeep Gladiator First Look: This is No Scrambler

How do you make MotorTrend’s 2019 SUV of the Year-winning Jeep Wrangler even better? Give it a matching pickup. Into the forum enters the Gladiator.

They may look like bookends but Jeep executives are clear: this is no Scrambler. Past Scramblers were Wranglers with a small bed whereas the original Gladiator in 1963 was a true pickup, and that is the model for the 2020 truck.

Jeep loyalists have clamored for a resurrection of the pickup since the ’86-’92 Comanche. The product team’s mission was to develop a competitive midsize pickup with the look and capability of a Wrangler. It took longer to bring a crew cab to fruition, but the end result was deserving of the Gladiator name, said Tim Kuniskis, head of the Jeep brand in North America. The Scrambler is not coming back.

Built in the same Toledo complex as the Wrangler, the Gladiator’s unique frame is 31 inches longer than a Wrangler four-door, and the wheelbase is 19.4 inches longer. It has a full five-foot bed and is 400 pounds heavier.

The 2020 Gladiator goes on sale in the second quarter of 2019, entering a midsize pickup segment that had all but been squeezed out by its full-size cousins. But the Chevrolet Colorado and GMC Canyon injected new life into the segment long dominated by the Toyota Tacoma, and now Ford is bringing back the Ranger in the U.S. in January, so this should be fun.

Gladiator muscles its way into a segment approaching 500,000 annual sales and FCA still plans to give Ram a midsize pickup as part of the latest five-year plan that calls for the truck by 2022.

Success is never guaranteed for a latecomer, but Jeep has years of pent-up demand, crazy-strong brand loyalty, a known nameplate for Jeep geeks (the Gladiator name was used from 1963-1971), and styling cribbed from the most recognized vehicle in the world. Wrangler dates back to 1941 and the first Jeep pickup was in 1947.

Like Wrangler, Gladiator can cross the Rubicon; the roof and doors come off and the windshield folds down. Freedom reigns. This is the case for all four trim levels: Sport, Sport S, Overland, and Rubicon.

It shares almost half its parts with the Wrangler, including hood, doors, fenders, and powertrains. It goes on sale with the 285-hp, 260-lb-ft 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 with start/stop and a six-speed manual. At least 90 percent of buyers will opt for the 8-speed automatic transmission. The next-generation 3.0-liter EcoDiesel turbocharged V-6 engine with start/stop will be available in 2020 with the 8-speed, throwing 260 hp and a mighty 442 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter turbo-four won’t be available at launch and the plug-in hybrid is expected in 2020.

Capability? This truck can tow 7,650 pounds and has a payload of 1,600 pounds with widened grille slots for greater air intake and an upgraded cooling module to haul a full load at 110 degrees up the Davis Dam in Arizona. The truck comes with a class 4 hitch, 2-inch receiver and 4- and 7-pin connectors. The five-foot steel bed has lower sides to reach in and out, and is fully equipped with tie-downs.

There are two 4×4 systems: Command-Trac is standard on Sport and Overland with a two-speed transfer case. Rubicon models come with the Rock-Trac 4×4 system with heavy duty axles and locking differentials. The truck has Dana heavy-duty axles, front and rear axle lockers, limited-slip differential, sway-bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires. There are steel bumpers, tow hook in back, winch in front, lights to see what you’re doing.

The Gladiator Rubicon adds a forward-facing roof camera—and washer—to see obstacles less than two feet in front of the bumper on the trail. Off-road pages show real time data on the status of the vehicle on the touchscreen.

Short overhangs give the truck a 43.6-degree approach angle and departure angle of 26-degrees. The truck has 11.1 inches of ground clearance and can ford 30 inches of water on its 33-inch tires.

Engineers think five-link coil suspensions at the front and rear, with strategic placement of the shocks and control arms, will mitigate any shake and provide a comfortable ride. No rear torsion beams here.

The back seat is roomy with seats that fold, lock in place (with a key for secure storage behind them), or fold up to access lockable storage bins. A separate removable bin holds the bolts for the body panels when removed. A wireless speaker behind the seat is also removable and has smart charging to ensure the music never stops.

There are two hardtops to choose from (black and body color) and a soft top that folds like an accordion and has retainers that slide into a track to make it easier to remove the windows. For the bed, an optional tonneau cover rolls tightly so it does not have to be removed.

Inside are blank switches to run accessories, slots to hold your phone, Uconnect infotainment that is Apple CarPlay/Android Auto compatible, and touchscreens as large as 8.4 inches. The Gladiator has an integrated radar camera necessary for automatic emergency braking and adaptive cruise control.

There will be more than 200 Mopar parts and accessories available in the second quarter of 2019 including 35-inch tires, LED lights, tube doors, bikini top and storage drawers that pull out of the back.

This Gladiator is ready to fight for pickup supremacy.

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