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Remember the Jeep brand’s last cargo-bed-carrying model in the early ’90s? It’s back and it’s now the 2020 Jeep Gladiator. The new Gladiator isn’t your average midsize pickup truck. It’s rugged and stylish with body panels you can remove for great versatility. 

But when it comes to reliability and emergency handling, should buyers beware?

About the new Jeep Gladiator

The truck version of the legendary Wrangler combines a four-door cab and a longer wheelbase with a five-foot box and a collection of off-road equipment. The off-road equipment? The new Jeep Gladiator includes a hardy suspension, an advanced all-wheel-drive system, and large tires designed for off-roading.

While only a gas-powered version of the vehicle will be available when it goes on sale, eventually a diesel-powered V-6 engine will be an option.

The new Gladiator shares the same strengths and weaknesses as the Wrangler that inspired it. In the plus column, the new Gladiator has a tough rear suspension that’s derived from that of its cousin, the RAM 1500. That suspension gives Gladiator a better ride than the Wrangler and significant rivals like Toyota’s Tacoma and Ford Ranger. Plus, Gladiator offers all the off-road skills Jeep fans want and expect.

The available engine is a 3.6-liter V-6 combined with either a six-speed manual transmission that offers good towing capacity and moderate power. There’s also an eight-speed manual transmission available. The fuel economy isn’t great but is about the same as the rest of the field.

The cabin is roomy with an upright driver’s seat that’s not low to the floor like the compact trucks offered by GM or Toyota. Consumer reports found the driver’s seat problematic due to constant friction against the door’s hinges and a lack of footrest on the left. There are also no power controls on the flat, overly soft seat.

While the infotainment system is pretty easy to use, the rest of the controls are hit or miss. The window controls are weirdly positioned under the center screen and you need those if you want to pull the doors off.

The road test

Consumer Reports gave the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator an overall rating of 45 on a range of compact pickup trucks with a top score being 74 based on their road test.

Why did the new Gladiator get just a 45?

The predicted customer satisfaction rating was a perfect 5 out of 5, because Jeep fans are among the most loyal when it comes to vehicle consumers. However, it only received a rating of 2 out of 5 for predicted reliability and a 52 out of 100 for its road test.

Consumer Reports found several issues with the new Gladiator in significant areas. They found that getting in and out of the vehicle was not unlike an Olympic event but that’s not as big an issue as everyday and emergency handling.

The handling was ungainly with sluggish steering that requires some elbow grease to navigate turns. On the Consumer Reports track, it stayed under control but it wasn’t exactly in its element.

When it comes to routine handling, Consumer Reports gave the new Gladiator 2 out of 5. They gave the same rating for emergency handling, which should get the potential buyer’s attention.

They set the maximum avoidance speed at 50 mph. The crucial emergency-driving test conducted by Consumer Reports uses an avoidance maneuver among others to evaluate how secure, controllable, and forgiving the vehicle would be in the case of an emergency.

A poor score when it comes to emergency handling is something that consumers should be aware of no matter the popularity of the vehicle they’re interested in.

As the Wrangler before it, Gladiator offers a soft-top or a removable hardtop option. Regardless of the configuration, there’s a lot of wind noise at highway speeds that some might find objectionable. For some, driving in short, local trips is best. They also gave the headlights a 2 out of 5 rating.

While the Jeep brand with its ruggedness and versatility is enough for some fans, the price is high and it costs more to get the optional safety features you’ll want to get with the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator.

The good news for the Gladiator

It’s not all bad news. Fans of off-roading might find the Gladiator more affordable than the Rubicon. All Gladiator trim packages are fit for off-roading even if they don’t offer anything above and beyond that of the competition.

You’ll pay extra for the many advanced driver-assist and safety features available in some of the trim packages. If you can swing it, you’ll have access to adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, forward collision warning, rear cross-traffic alert, and more.

Still, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator with its unmistakable Jeep character, authentic trail-rated abilities, and good towing capacity will make fans of the brand happy. Particularly if they have the coin to get a higher trim level with good safety features.