ANDREW MCCREDIE, POSTMEDIA
You know that joke about if you buy a pickup be prepared to spend at least one weekend out of the month moving friends? Buy this one and your pals who live at the end of logging roads will be calling you up. And while most pickup owners get a little tired of moving friends, with the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon chances are you’ll jump every time a backcountry friend calls on their sat phone for a favour.
At first blush, this four-door Wrangler with a box bolted on the back appears the feverish dream of a rock crawling prepper. Then again, when the Wrangler Unlimited, or four-door, appeared in 2007, Jeep purists were aghast and even the casual onlooker thought there was something undiscernibly odd about long wheelbase 4×4. Clearly, Jeep execs knew better as the four-door Wranglers outsell their stubby, two-door stablemates three to one.
And while it’s safe to say the Gladiator won’t cannibalize too many Wrangler Unlimited sales, it very might take away some market share from traditional, midsize crew cab pickup truck makers. Particularly for those buyers who want to make a statement, or those who want to do some serious off-roading right out of the box. If you fall into that latter camp, this Rubicon trim is the one for you. Other Gladiator models include Sport, Sport S and Overland.
As new and wild as the all-new 2020 Gladiator might appear, it is fact not the first Jeep to wear that badge. The original Jeep Gladiator was a fairly conventional body-on-frame pickup that was produced from 1962 to 1971. The new Gladiator is Jeep’s first pickup model since the Comanche was discontinued in 1992 and comes with the inarguable tagline ‘The Most Capable Jeep Truck Ever.’
The Rubicon trim is certainly that, with a 4×4-laden feature list that will set a rock hound’s heart racing: Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4×4 systems, third-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, segment-exclusive electronic sway-bar disconnect, 33-inch off-road tires, a forward-facing off-road camera, Fox performance shocks all around, unmatched crawl ratios and up to 30 inches of water fording. Throw in a payload capacity of 770 kg (1,700 lbs.) and a towing capacity of 3,200 kg (7,000 lbs.) and there’s little a weekend warrior would want for. My tester did that towing capacity a few kilos better, with the optional heavy-duty package upping the limit to 3,470 kg (7,650 lbs.) and featuring increased engine cooling, a 240-amp alternator, a trailer hitch zoom and a Class IV hitch receiver. For just $500 that’s a no-brainer.
In fact, my tester came loaded to the gunwales, taking the base price from just over $50,000 to just under $70,000. That seems a striking number for a pickup truck, but if you’re in the market you know that’s certainly in the ballpark. And I must say the optional add-ons — from a full leather interior treatment to the removable hardtop, from the LED lighting to the Uconnect and sound system upgrade — really added value and refinement.
What wasn’t so refined was the highway ride on those beefy Falken Wildpeak Mud Terrain tires, but that’s an expected trade-off when rolling in this particular off-roader. If you’re planning to do most of your ‘Gladiating’ on paved stuff, the Sport or Sport S trims are much more suitable.
That said, the Rubicon’s cabin was a marked departure from what you expect from a gnarly 4×4. From the form-fitting seats to the full complement of creature comforts and current connectivity and media technologies, the interior was a delight. I particularly like the heritage-style centre stack, as Jeep has a rich history that needs to be celebrated.
As to what’s under the hood, my tester came with the standard engine, a 3.6-litre V6 with engine stop start mated to an optional eight-speed automatic (a six-speed manual comes standard), that provided good on-ramp acceleration and smooth power deliver up and down the gears. Power output is rated a 285 horsepower and 260 lbs.-ft of torque. There’s also an optional 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 available, though not with a manual gearbox option, but with 442 lbs.-ft of torque and 260 hp.
One of the shortcomings of the Gladiator might be the five-foot steel bed, which is fairly short in comparison to some of the competition’s bed sizes, however the flat rear seat floor does provide some extra cargo space. Also, fuel economy isn’t great, however that’s a little like complaining about storage space in a supercar.
Owning and operating the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon does present some compromises when it comes to highway ride and economy, but once you get it on a path less travelled…oh the places you can go. And that’s what this unique vehicle offers: unparalleled 4×4 capability with a surprising sense of cabin refinement, very cool features (yes, you can effortlessly take the doors off with the provided tool kit, and yes, the windscreen folds down) and an attitude unlike any of its competitors.
Copyright PostMedia Network, 2020