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Split Personality

Jeep’s all-new 2020 Gladiator pickup is sophisticated on the streets, and a beast in the mud.

When you look at the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, there’s no doubt it’s a Jeep. From the front, it looks like the current Wrangler Unlimited. But this is more than just a long wheelbase Wrangler with a pickup bed. It’s a whole new breed of Jeep.

Civilized on the Road

As soon as you wheel the Gladiator onto the street, you’ll know something’s changed. The ride is smooth, the steering is responsive, and believe this if you can: it’s quiet in the cabin. We had the removable hardtop Overland edition riding on all-season light truck tires, so we’d expect the soft-top Rubicon on big off-road tires to be noisier, but the fact that any body-on-frame Jeep could be described as quiet inside is a big deal.

The main reason for the great ride is the rear suspension. To make the Gladiator work as a pickup, the Jeep engineers borrowed the 5-link rear suspension from the new Ram 1500 and stuck some progressive coil springs in the back. That rear suspension is silky smooth on pavement, and also gives the Gladiator its best-in-class payload rating of 1,600 pounds, and towing capacity up to 7,650 pounds. The Gladiator suspension is controlled with 2-inch Fox aluminum shocks all around.

The Gladiator’s 3.6-liter V6 is impressive, offering you 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The engine pulls strongly from idle to a 6,000 RPM redline, and Jeep’s MOPAR accessories folks told us a cold air intake and cat-back exhaust will be available. Jeep also says the 3.0-liter turbo-diesel from Ram will be available in the Gladiator next year.

Behind the engine, you can choose between a smooth 8-speed automatic transmission or a 6-speed manual. With the automatic, you’ve got plenty of power and you can shift it yourself if you want. The manual transmission is quite truck-like, offering plenty of clamping force through the clutch, but a long throw on the stick. The Gladiator is many things, but not a sports car. Still, Jeep deserves mad props for offering a stick at all these days.

Barbarian in the Dirt

All Gladiators include 4WD as standard equipment. You can choose between the standard CommandTrac Hi-Lo system that can be shifted on the fly, or the Rock-Trac system on the Rubicon with locking differentials at both ends and a sway bar disconnect.

We took the base Sport and mid-level Overland trims with the CommandTrac system on some light trail following, and they motored right through the muddy and rutted parts on the all-season tires. All Gladiators can ford through 30 inches of water, whether that’s a stream or just that place in town that fills up when it rains.

Just for fun, we got in the Gladiator Rubicon edition and took it on a real Jeep trail. Naturally, the Rubicon went up and down over a bunch of tough terrain that only a Jeep can manage, and did it all like a drive to church.

The bottom line is this: You won’t get stuck in any Gladiator unless you have a serious unintelligence incident.

Unexpected Greatness

There are some things you get with Gladiator that no other mid-size, hell, no other truck on the market can offer. The most obvious is that all Gladiators are convertibles. You can get your Jeep with removable hardtop panels or an innovative soft top system that comes off in stages, or both. You can also pop the doors off and fold the windshield down onto the hood.

Jeep’s engineers even made it so you can put the gate halfway down. That allows you to support a full 4×8 sheet of plywood across the top of the rear wheel wells and the gate.

One really great option to mention is the forward-looking camera that eliminates the blind spot right in front of the truck. The view looking down over the front bumper can be displayed on the infotainment screen with the touch of a button. There’s a rear camera, too.  The system is designed for off-road use, but will also come in handy in parking lots and in your garage.

Jeep is proud of the new Gladiator, but when you consider that all Gladiators are full crew cabs with 4WD, pricing is about on par with any other mid-size pickup. The base Sport trim starts at $33,545, and Overland trim runs to $40,395. If you plan to do serious off-roading, the Rubicon trim is $43,545. There’s also going to be a limited production Launch Edition at $60,815 with everything on it. All trims carry a $1,495 destination fee, and most goodies are optional. That’s great because you can trick out your Jeep the way you like it. Heated seats, 8.4-inch touchscreen, LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, and a tow package are all available.

The Street Trucks Hot Take

If you love the look of a real Jeep, but you also want a real truck, you need to check out the Gladiator. This truck can haul your stuff, tow your trailer, and go pretty much anywhere. If the last Jeep you drove was some creaky old CJ5, you’re in for a surprise. There’s absolutely zero sacrifices in comfort or utility with the Gladiator. In fact, the biggest danger is that your spouse will love it and steal your keys.

INFO BOX

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Engine: 3.6-liter V6 (285 hp/260 tq)

Transmission: 6-speed manual or 8-speed automatic

4X4 System: Two-speed transfer case, Dana front and rear axles

Fuel Economy: 17/22/19 (AT) or 16/23/19 (MT)

Manufactured in: Toledo, Ohio

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