From the outside, it would appear that not much is different. It’s immediately recognizable as a Wrangler-based vehicle, with the front end and cabin basically identical to the four-door Wrangler JL. The Gladiator will only be available as a four-door crew-cab model, riding on an extended-length wheelbase but replacing the rear section with a 5-foot steel pickup bed. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator features a lot of aluminum construction: the doors, hinges, hood, fenders, windshield frame and tailgate are all aluminum. And like the Wrangler, the doors are removable and the windshield folds flat against the hood.
Also like the Wrangler, the top is removable. A zipperless Sunrider soft-top is standard, while two hardtop choices are optional (body color or matte black). The hardtops feature Jeep’s Freedom Top panel configuration, with two removable panels over the front passengers and a solid single piece for the rear. All hardtops feature a manually sliding rear window, but unlike the Wrangler, there’s no rear wiper, and there’s no power sliding top option like you can get on the SUV. LED headlights and taillights are optional.
The pickup bed is the news here, however, with its steel construction, under-rail bed lighting and lockable, damped tailgate that can be stopped in three different positions. Options for the pickup bed include a spray-in bedliner; a 400-watt, 115-volt, three-prong covered power outlet; and the Trail Rail cargo management system for securing cargo. A bed divider and tonneau cover are also available to help secure your payload, while the full-size spare tire is mounted under the bed, behind the rear axle, with the capacity to accommodate a tire up to 35 inches. Protective cab and bed rock rails come standard on Rubicon models.
Inside, the look will be familiar, as everything from the front seats forward is straight-up Wrangler. The new-for-2018 Wrangler saw a massive redesign of its interior, going to a more horizontally oriented layout and dramatically improving its interior quality; that all carries over intact to the Gladiator. The top luxury trim level for the Gladiator will be the Overland, not Sahara as on the Wrangler. Sport, Overland and Rubicon are the trim levels we expect to see on the new Gladiator at launch early next year.
The big news for the Gladiator’s cabin is in the backseat, where a lot more storage options and a new model-exclusive seat configuration are present. The rear bench is a 60/40 split, folds down to access rear lockable storage compartments in the cabin’s rear wall, and folds up stadium-style to expose open bins in the cabin’s floor. The seats are lockable to keep people from getting into the rear cabin wall storage if the truck’s doors have been removed, while the 60/40 floor bins are open in standard configuration or can be had with locking covers for additional protection. Jeep says that the rear seats offer the most legroom of any mid-size pickup in the category.
Up front, the latest Uconnect multimedia system will be offered. Standard is a 5-inch touchscreen, likely offering up Uconnect 3 as in the current Wrangler. Optional will be a 7-inch or 8.4-inch screen running Uconnect 4, adding in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as well as satellite radio support. Two USB ports and one USB-C port are located up front, while two more USB ports are located within reach of the backseat passengers. Premium audio is available with a subwoofer and detachable wireless speaker, which locks into place in a compartment behind the rear seats.
Under the Hood
The guts of the Gladiator are largely the same as those of the Wrangler. Two powertrains will be available: the venerable 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 will start things off, being joined in 2020 by the turbocharged 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6. Like the Wrangler, the Pentastar will make 285 horsepower and 260 pounds-feet of torque in the Gladiator, and be mated up with either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. The EcoDiesel, when it arrives, will offer up 260 hp but 442 pounds-feet of torque, paired only with the eight-speed automatic.
Two four-wheel-drive systems will be offered. The Command-Trac system will be standard on the Sport and Overland trim levels, while the robust Rubicon model gets the more serious Rock-Trac system with a more aggressive low-range crawl ratio. Heavy-duty Dana 44 axles are mounted front and rear on all trim levels, while the Rubicon gets electronic locking front and rear differentials, as well as electronic front sway bar disconnects.
Befitting its trucky intentions with the Gladiator, the maximum trailer rating is 7,650 pounds, and up to 1,600 pounds of payload capacity when equipped with the Max Towing Package … but Jeep has not specified what, exactly, the package improves or what combination of powertrain and trim level enables these abilities.
Related: What Pickups to Expect at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show
The new Gladiator shares all of the modern safety features with the Wrangler, more than 80 available active and passive safety systems, according to Jeep. Optional features include blind spot monitor, rear cross-path detection, adaptive cruise control and something that the Wrangler doesn’t have: a forward-facing camera that can be activated at low speed for off-road obstacle detection. By turning on the Rubicon-exclusive camera via the Off-Road Pages in the multimedia system, the downward-facing forward camera can see things that the driver might otherwise not be able to over the hood if the Gladiator is cresting a hill or about to descend one. We wouldn’t be surprised to see this show up on the Wrangler for 2020, as well.
The new 2020 Gladiator is set to appear in showrooms in the spring of 2019, but pricing has not yet been announced. This will be the interesting part of the Gladiator — where will it be priced? The cheapest Wrangler is already well into the $30,000 range, but the least expensive mid-size trucks from Chevy and Toyota start nearly 10 grand less than the Jeep SUV. Of course, the Gladiator is certainly more of a specialized beast than those trucks — far better equipped, loaded with off-road gear even in base trim, it’s more than a match for even the off-road packages on most of those trucks. But a fully loaded Wrangler Rubicon can easily top $55,000 — about the same price as a loaded Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison diesel.