You might think the Jeep Gladiator won as the Best Mid-size Truck only because it’s new and novel, but that’s definitely not the case. It faced some very tough competition, and took the crown on its merits.
Our jury of more than 20 expert automotive reviewers judged it against four other finalists that they voted to shortlist after considering every single vehicle in this segment: Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, Honda Ridgeline, and Toyota Tacoma.
It’s not just a Wrangler Unlimited with a bed, either. The Gladiator rides on a unique frame and was designed as a truck from the ground up.
The Gladiator is more of a lifestyle truck than a real workhorse, but that’s often the case in this segment. The Toyota Tacoma has always been presented that way, and it and the Chevy can be beefed up into ultra-off-roaders as the Tacoma TRD Pro and Colorado ZR2, so the Gladiator already plays in familiar territory.
A 3.0-litre turbodiesel is coming and there are rumours of a hybrid model, but currently the Gladiator comes strictly with a 3.6L “Pentastar” V6 engine in all three of its trim levels – Sport S, Overland, and Rubicon – making 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Four-wheel drive is standard.
The Jeep doesn’t have the highest horsepower here – Chevrolet’s 3.6L V6 tops it at 308 hp – nor the highest torque. But we really like the Gladiator’s V6, a proven and pretty much bulletproof engine that’s been used in numerous FCA products for a long time. The Gladiator starts with a six-speed manual and can be optioned to an eight-speed automatic. In his review, autoTRADER.ca’s Jeff Wilson piloted both and said that “the more efficient eight-speed is so well-suited to the rig that you’d have to be a die-hard stick-shift fan to choose otherwise.” But there still are a lot of row-your-own folks out there, and we like that the manual’s available on all trim levels. Among the others, only the Tacoma offers a stick, and not on all trims.
At $45,495, the Gladiator’s starting price tops those of the other finalists. But it’s off-road-ready straight from the factory, with even the base Sport S including heavy-duty Dana 44 solid front and rear axles. We also think that, like the Wrangler, it’ll retain a very high resale value in future.
Standard features include tow hooks, trailer wiring, LED interior lighting, push-button start, cruise control, three-position locking tailgate, and a tire pressure monitoring system. From there, available items include a 115-volt power outlet, dual-zone climate control, leather upholstery, heated steering wheel, 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen with navigation, adaptive cruise control, and a remote starter. Uconnect is user-friendly and is one of the best infotainment systems out there.
Among its rivals, the Gladiator boasts the highest towing capacity at 7,650 lb (for the Sport S with towing package), which tops the 7,600 lb limit for the diesel-equipped Colorado, and the Ranger’s maximum 7,500 lb. Even the Rubicon with automatic transmission, the heaviest of the Gladiator models, can pull 7,000 lb, and that’s no slouch in this segment. For hauling, the Gladiator’s 1,600 lb maximum payload is topped only by the Ranger at 1,650 lb. For our truck categories, these criteria are very important.
The Gladiator’s official fuel economy figures are 12.3 L/100 km (combined city/highway) for the automatic transmission. That’s marginally higher than the Colorado V6 (12.2) and the Tacoma (11.9) 4x4 models. The Ridgeline’s V6 files at 11.3 L/100 km, helped by fuel-saving cylinder deactivation, while the Ranger’s turbocharged four-cylinder gets 10.9 L/100 km. Chevrolet’s diesel 4x4 scores the best at 10.5 L/100 km, but adds as much as $6,900 to the truck’s price.
So if it doesn’t have the most powerful engine, isn’t the most affordable mid-size truck, and doesn’t blow the roof off fuel economy, why did our jury vote the Gladiator as the best? It is a looker, inside and out; its controls are simple and intuitive, including a Uconnect infotainment system that’s top in the industry; and its seats are comfortable. But primarily it’s a winner because nothing else in this segment sets up its target and then hits it with such accuracy. It reminds us of Robin Hood getting a bull’s-eye, and then shooting a second arrow and splitting the first one in half.
The Gladiator does everything the Wrangler can do, but with a more composed ride thanks to its longer wheelbase. As Wilson points out, while that extra length gives it a slight reduction in off-road inclines in comparison to the Wrangler, “the Gladiator’s approach and departure angles are significantly better than even Toyota’s Tacoma TRD Pro, and the ground clearance, at 280 mm, is by far the best in its class.”
As with the Wrangler you can remove the roof, whether it’s the base sunroof-equipped soft top, or upper-level three-piece hardtop. You can ditch the doors and fold down the windshield. You can secure all your stuff in the locking storage compartments, and even take the removable Bluetooth speaker with you on your hike.
Not everyone wants an off-road warrior, but for those who do, we found the Gladiator to be the complete package, and that’s why it took our 2020 Best Mid-size Truck crown.