2021 Jeep Gladiator: First Drive Review

Part Wrangler, part pickup, all badass.

Jeep

They took a Jeep Wrangler and made a pickup truck out of it.

That concept alone was enough for gearheads and car writers across America to cross their legs in the desperate hope of hiding evident non-biblical arousal. Jeep teased the media with the simple idea along the Auto Show circuit while the Jeep truck (Juck? Teep? Jickup? None of the above?) went into production circa 2019. When it arrived in showrooms in 2020, the demand was so hot buyers had to preorder well in advance of receipt.

We’ll have to forgive all the trucking freaks who have it bad for the Gladiator. The original version of the truck from 1960s did pass between manufacturers, but it remained the original Jeep truck and a fringe collectible. This 21st century version was both a novelty and a rebirth.

Jeep

Now that’s the Gladiator has been fighting its way along America’s roads for a couple years, the question is how well the freshest face in the Jeep line holds up and whether the guys writing about cars had reason to calm down yet.

If we pull this vehicle out of the off-roading Jeep world and pit it against other small pickups, the Gladiator settles in comfortably enough into that class in both size and price. 

With an MSRP starting around $33,500, the Jeep sits at the high-end of the small pickup scale. At 18 feet long and weighing about 5,300 pounds, it’s a tick to the larger end of those dimensions. Considering the size of the Jeep Wrangler passenger cabin tacked to the truck bed, the actual cargo capacity of this Gladiator is restricted with a payload limit of 1,700 pounds.

Jeep

Depending on the trim level, the pickup is powered by a 3.6 or 3.0 liter V6 engine. In a wonderful surprise, it is possible to take delivery with a six-speed manual transmission in place of the more common eight-speed automatic. Long live the six on the floor. It’s inclusion here is another strong inducement for hardcore Jeep and/or truck lovers to buy this hybrid.

The driving experience is very similar to that of the Wrangler the Gladiator tries not to be. It’s stable enough on the pavement, but noisy and slightly unsure of its feet off-road. It has ample power for a small pickup and will execute the jobs it’s asked to perform.

All summed up, the main attraction about this Jeep pickup is the fact that it’s a Jeep pickup. If you’re the kind of buyer who likes Jeeps and pickups, you can split the difference and have a little bit of both.

Jeep

So, if you’re looking for a Jeep that’s a pickup, this’ll do you. If you’re looking for a better off-roading Jeep, the Wrangler has plenty of useful trim levels. If you’re looking for a small pickup, I’ll leave it to you to look up your scores of options there. They just won’t be Jeeps. You get the idea.

Meanwhile, I’m going to skip checking up to see if those car writers’ uncomfortable reproductive excitement has subsided yet.

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John Scott Lewinski