By James Raia
Tesla and pending electric competition from Byton, Rivian, Lucid and Nikola are non-conformists among pickup trucks. Hummers stand alone in gaudiness in whatever truck category they may fit.
And now there’s another truck first – a convertible, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. It’s a midsize vehicle that resembles its sibling, the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, but simultaneously looks nothing like its relative.
Beyond its signature spindle grille, an extended wheelbase and a five-foot cargo bed, the Gladiator is unlike any other mainstream vehicle. When it literally gets unhinged (the doors and top are removable), the now no-door, no-top truck is ready for a safari or any off-road adventure.
When a safari isn’t in the plans, the Gladiator has other surprises. The four-door, five-passenger truck is available in Sport, Sport S, Overland and Rubicon. All trims are equipped with a 24-valve, 3.6-liter V6 engine with 285 horsepower. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, an eight-speed automatic is optional. When appropriately equipped, the Gladiator can tow a class-leading 7,650 pounds, up from its standard 4,500-pound capacity.
All trims can also be fitted with a roll-up but durable tonneau cover. The tailgate opens when the cover is extended, exposing the protected bed and its spray-in bed liner. But if more open-air space is needed, the cover can quickly be unlatched and rolled to the back of the cabin and secured. The function is not too dissimilar from opening a large can of sardines on wheels.
Technology is also a strong point. The Overland trim, one below the top-end, includes 18-inch alloy wheels, body-color wheel arches, side steps, and tinted rear side and rear windows. Automatic headlights, LED ambient footwell lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, the 7-inch infotainment system, USB ports for rear passengers and a 110-volt outlet in the center console are also included.
With its off-road leanings, the Gladiator isn’t polished and poised on the road. With its high clearance and big tires, the ride can be rough, a traditional Jeep personality trait. It’s a welcomed quality for some Jeep buyers, not so much for others.
Beyond its ruggedness, the Gladiator has supportive and roomy front and back seating. Considering its designation, the cabin is quiet. The interior also gets high marks for its attractive, straightforward and intuitive infotainment design and function.
But not everything is right with the Gladiator. With all of its options packages, the new truck crosses the $50,000 plateau by a few thousand dollars ($54,145). The Gladiator also achieves disappointing gas mileage – 17 miles per gallon in-city driving, 22 miles per gallon on the highway.
The Gladiator has a few other nifty features. In its minimalist state, the front windshield folds downs, further enhancing the truck’s versatility when jungle expeditions are in order. There are also front and rear tow hooks, and 11.1 inches of ground clearance which can ford 30 inches of water. The top-level Rubicon trim has an optional front steel bumper, good for installing a winch. Imagine all that fun. When properly equipped, the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator can tow a trailer weighing up to 7,650 pounds.
Consider also: A portable, removable, Bluetooth-connected speaker, about the size of a car battery, rests behind the rear seat. It’s promoted with a several-hour time frame before recharging is required.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Trucks sales are doing well while other segments of the industry aren’t. The Gladiator has a polarizing look, and its uniqueness is refreshing and gimmicky. But it’s a well-conceived, sturdy addition to the sometimes staid industry.
James Raia, a syndicated columnist in Sacramento, California, publishes a free weekly automotive podcast and electronic newsletter. Sign-ups are available on his website, www.theweeklydriver.com. He can be reached via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.