Trucks & SUVs

A Jeep In Wolf’s Clothing: The Jeep Gladiator Pulled a Fast One on Us

While the Gladiator used to be totally different, the Wrangler with a truck-bed layout (CJ8 Scrambler) has been around for a long time in Jeep land. That being said, the 2020 Gladiator made quite the splash in the motoring world. Many were excited, and some were too cool to like it; either way, everyone had an opinion and prediction for how/what the Gladiator would be/do. I’m not sure about y’all, but I was pretty wrong on my assumptions of what it would be, and I’m kind of glad I was. 

What we expected from the Jeep Gladiator 

Starting with the JK series Jeep Wranglers and culminating with the JLs, the Wrangler identity and customers have changed pretty dramatically over the last 10 years. As Wranglers started getting fancier interiors and growing extra doors, the price tag has grown along with them.

Noah Galloway helps launch Jeep Gladiator Launch Edition truck
Jeep Gladiator | Duane Prokop/Getty Images for JEEP

So, when Jeep announced they were going to reintroduce the Gladiator, many assumed it would fall in line with these plush new Wranglers that moved on from the bouncy, loud, uncomfortable joys of the earlier (better) models. We took the bait. 

The reality of the Jeep truck

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator got ripped pretty hard across the board on reviews and sales. People were excited about the looks, of course, but when the rubber hit the (anything but perfectly smooth) road, the new batch of Jeep owners was less than pleased.

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Consumer Reports gives the Gladiator a rough review. Scoring a 46 out of 100, the Jeep pick-up is said to have great towing capacity, powertrain, and character. The parts that really hurt the Jeep’s score is handling, wind noise, rough ride, and fuel economy. Look me in the eye (screen), and tell me that doesn’t sound like a classic CJ, YJ, or TJ Wrangler.

The Jeep Gladiator also didn’t sell very well because its kind of niche and only certain types of people want to drive something like this. Still sounds Jeepy to me. 

The two camps of Jeep

The JK Wrangler has been selling like ice water in Hell. Similarly, the last time Jeep offered a Wrangler with a truck bed was at the end of the CJ8 Scrambler run in 1986. At the time, those were a commercial flop as well. People didn’t really understand what they were supposed to do with them. Fast-forward 30 years and the sales numbers would suggest that people still don’t know exactly what to do with them.

As with the modern Gladiator, the longer wheelbase of the CJ8s made the truck slightly worse off-road and a much rougher ride on the road. Lastly, because it was an old, tub-bodied Jeep, it was loud and uncomfortable. That was what Jeeps were, and people knew about and expected these things from a Jeep. 

So, where does that leave us with the Jeep Gladiator?

The Jeep Wrangler has so thoroughly changed its place in the market by offering better driver technology, creature comforts, way better audio systems, leather seats, and a quieter cabin, that we expected the Gladiator to follow suit.

According to MotorTrend’s review and the rating from Consumer Reports, this just wasn’t the case. The same interior options are available in the Gladiator as the JL Wranglers, but the longer wheelbase, as well as a variety of other factors, make the Gladiator much more similar to the old, loud, rough, uncomfortable, niche, pain-in-the-ass Jeeps from simpler times than any of us could have ever expected. 

Honestly, aside from the price still matching the newer, more comfortable Jeeps, I kinda love that Gladiator is landing like this. At this rate, the Gladiator is on pace to be collectible in 30 years like the CJ8 Scramblers are now.