This is the long-awaited Jeep pickup named Gladiator, the first since 1992’s Comanche. While based on the Wrangler Unlimited four-door model, this is much more than a Wrangler with a pickup bed wedded to the back.

Not since the Dodge Hellcat’s debut four years ago have so many people stopped to inspect, ride alongside and take pictures, or chase me down the road for cell phone photos, as occurred during the Gladiator’s seven-day visit. The double-takes from oncoming Wrangler drivers (after the wave, of course) was a constant source of amusement.

While the Jeep brand has been populated by many lifestyle selection vehicles, the Gladiator adds another dimension to the enthusiasm surrounding Wrangler and the whole marquee. And boy, are people excited about the Gladiator.

From the front seats forward, the Gladiator is essentially a version of the redesigned Wrangler. Great touch-points, enhanced controls, more features, more comfort, more safety – all the recent advances are baked into the Gladiator.

Behind the front seats, the rear cabin is larger. Current Wrangler owners remarked how roomy the Gladiator felt compared to their trucks. There is some underseat storage, plus a compartment for saving all of your hardware when you remove the doors, lower the windshield, remove the top(s) and otherwise make your four-door mid-size pickup into a convertible.

Key to the Gladiator is the longer chassis – a whopping 19.4 inches longer wheelbase than the four-door Wrangler, giving the Gladiator the longest wheelbase among rivals Chevy Colorado, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline, and Toyota Tacoma. The Gladiator is also 31 inches longer than a Wrangler Unlimited.

Employing an innovative coil suspension at each corner, controlling Dana solid axles front and rear, the Gladiator clobbers its rivals with more than 11 inches of ground clearance, while offering two distinct 4WD systems. Sport, Sport S, and Overland trims use Command Trac 4WD with a shiftable transfer case; the top Rubicon, along with its front and rear lockers, electronic disconnecting front sway bar, and larger tires, uses the Rock Trac 4WD system with lower gear ratios. All Gladiators are 4WD-only trucks.

Power is supplied by the corporate 3.6-liter V-6 spinning out 285 hp and 260 pound/feet of peak torque running through a six-speed manual gearbox, or, a new eight-speed automatic transmission. EPA ratings are 17/22 for the latter, of which we saw a realized 20.2 mpg for our 1,200 miles together, 75 percent of them at elevated highway speeds.

By fall, a new 3.0-turbodiesel engine will be available, with 260 hp and a mind-bending 442 pound/feet of peak torque – a healthy 42 percent increase over the gas engine. Peak tow ratings for the Gladiator have raced past all mid-size rivals at 7,650 pounds.

Every observer was immediately drawn to the steel pickup bed. It is a full 60 inches long and 50 inches wide at the rear. Between the inner wheel-tubs, space narrows to 44 inches; but Jeep has cleverly created “pockets” behind the wheelwells to slide 2X6s so you can create a flat load deck for hauling 4 X 8 sheets of building materials.

The two-stage aluminum tailgate also aids with this “created” load deck. LED lites are included, several tie-down hooks, plus a spray-on bedliner is optional.

Soft or hard tonneau covers are on the extensive options list, which is growing daily with racks, tent packages, and other creative accessories. The Gladiator promises to be one of the most customizable vehicles ever produced by Detroit.

Try on these current options: black three-piece hardtop, $1,195; body color three-piece hardtops, $2,295; front winch bumper, $695; hard rear tonneau cover, $495; body-color fender flares, $495; forward-facing trail camera, $595; keyless entry, $495; leather seating, $1,495; Alpine stereo with rear wireless Bluetooth speaker, $1,590. And on the list goes.

Pricing starts at $33,545 for Sport trim with the manual transmission. Add $2,000 for the automatic. Sport S, like our silver sample, starts at $36,745. Overland trim begins at $40,395, and the big-dog Rubicon starts at $43,545. Don’t expect to find any discounts, because waiting lists await perspective buyers.

Buyers will find much to like. Power is ample, and the Jeep cruises easily. In fact, our Sport S had both conventional cruise control plus radar-guided dynamic cruise, so it really cruised effortlessly.

The truck rides impressively well, the longer wheelbase lending stability and comfort to the chassis. The Gladiator also tracks better than a Wrangler (that wheelbase again) so you are minding the steering wheel less.

At speeds below 65 mph, the soft-top is relatively quiet. It doesn’t flutter or move at all, but highway speeds greater than 65 create more wind noise, making conversation harder.

The Gladiator is an impressive package, a modern pickup that Jeep fans will quickly embrace. Pricing reflects the premium that Jeep has been able to command for its Wrangler. Gladiator will continue that trend, while offering buyers lots of versatility.


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