Review update: 2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport makes for a more useful Wrangler

The Jeep Gladiator is like a Wrangler, except it has a bed and enough towing capacity to haul a boat. And it’s only slightly less capable off-road than the Jeep Wrangler.

Set to square off with the Ford Ranger, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon, and Nissan Frontier, the Gladiator’s competitors are aimed at getting work done. The Gladiator takes a different approach by taking pickup truck capability and adding a whole lot more fun with an open-air driving experience that should appeal to those interested in a Wrangler or the upcoming 2021 Ford Bronco.

With a TCC Rating of 5.2 out of 10, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator wins over adults and kids alike with removable doors and roof, stellar off-road capability, a more manageable size than a full-size truck, and distinct style. But after a week with the 2020 Gladiator Sport hauling the kids around the lake, road-tripping to northern Minnesota, I found its handling to be atrocious, it’s expensive, and it’s loud on the highway.

Hit: Looks like a Wrangler

Featuring large fender flares, round headlights, an upright seven-slot grille and upright windshield, as well as an oversized front bumper, the Gladiator is a Wrangler with a bed. It’s classic, timeless, and cool.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Miss: Can’t have it your way

Gladiator buyers get one body configuration to choose from: four doors and a 5-foot steel bed. That’s it. There’s no two-door and no long-bed option. A two-door option would be sweet as it would likely either provide a longer bed (if it kept the wheelbase) or shorter wheelbase for better off-roading. The longer wheelbase and longer rear overhang on the Gladiator make it slightly less capable off-road (in extreme situations) than the Wrangler. The Gladiator has a breakover angle of 20.3 degrees in Rubicon trim (Wrangler Rubicon comes in at 22.6 degrees) and a departure angle of 26 degrees (Wrangler has 37 degrees).

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Hit: But, it’s a more useful Wrangler

A surfboard, water skis, wood, or anything else long can easily be thrown in the back and hauled around in the Gladiator. The Wrangler’s rear cargo area can’t carry larger objects. Point for the Gladiator for everyday usability at the lake, beach, or weekend getaway.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Hit: Doorless, roofless pickup truck

How many pickup trucks on sale in the U.S. have removable doors and roofs? The answer is one. It’s the Gladiator. I have never taken the doors and roof off of a Wrangler, but it only took me 33 minutes (20 for the doors and 13 for the roof) to strip the doors and three-piece roof off of the Gladiator in the searing Minnesota heat and humidity. It took only 22 minutes (quicker when you don’t need to read instructions to ensure you don’t break stuff) to put everything back on, and that was with the world’s tiniest ratchet, courtesy of Jeep. If I owned a Gladiator I’d use a drill or impact driver to speed up taking off those bolts in 15 minutes max. (Note: The doors and front roof panels are easy for one able-bodied person to remove. It takes two people to remove the rear roof section as you have to walk it down and over the bed.)

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Miss: It’s loud

Despite the fact that you can strip the Gladiator down, it’s still watertight, but not airtight. At highway speeds the noise of the wind whipping against the upright windshield, square side mirrors, and all those crevices where the panels come off can easily drown out the noise of two small kids in the rear seat. My tester had the optional sound deadening on the roof panels. I’m sure it helped, but it was still loud on the highway.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Hit: Kids love it

My 4- and 6-year-old kids were instantly in love with the Gladiator and suddenly I was the coolest. Both kids loved riding around the lake with the doors and roof off with the wind whipping around them. “It felt good to be in a vehicle with no doors and roof, it was interesting,” my 6-year-old said. My 4-year-old thought the exposed door hinges and big fender flares were “awesome.”

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Miss: Sloppy steering

The Gladiator is equipped with the same recirculating ball steering setup used in the Wrangler. It’s reliable and strong, great traits for off-road adventures, but a mess on the road. There is vague feedback so it’s hard to tell what’s going on with the wheels as they travel over the road, and the steering wheel would rather slop around than stay centered even on the smoothest of roads. It’s hard to keep the Gladiator laser straight and the steering isn’t precise. If there’s a crosswind while on the highway, managing the steering is like wrestling a small black bear.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Hit: Ride quality

The Gladiator is the best-riding stock Wrangler money can buy. The Gladiator has a wheelbase that is about 19 inches longer than the Wrangler. The rear suspension has upper and lower controls arms and a track bar cribbed from the Ram 1500. Between the Ram’s rear suspension parts and longer wheelbase, the Gladiator is more settled and comfortable than the Wrangler on the highway and around town.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Hit: I can touch!

In an era of high bed sides on pickup trucks the Gladiator’s low bed sides were refreshing. At 5-foot-10 I could easily reach a bag of water softener salt in the middle of the bed. That’s not possible in a Ford Ranger.

2020 Jeep Gladiator

Miss: It costs how much?

It takes at least $35,040 to Gladiate, but expect to spend more than $38,200 if you want power locks, windows, and keyless entry. My tester had a sticker price of $50,540 with a laundry list of options including everything from heated cloth seats and a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility to adaptive cruise control and automatic emergency braking. The most capable off-road Gladiators, the Rubicon and Mojave, are priced from nearly $50,000 but can cost nearly $60,000 when loaded with all the optional goodies. For reference, $50,000 buys a nice 2020 Ram 1500 Rebel (with a V-8) or a 2020 Ford F-150 Raptor.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is unlike any other truck on the road today. It’s a pickup that’s capable off-road, around the neighborhood, and at the lake. The open-air driving experience and go-anywhere capability doesn’t come cheap, but the Gladiator provides the basis for one to truly live their best adventure life.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport

Base price: $35,040

Price as tested: $50,540

EPA fuel economy: 17/22/19 mpg

The hits: It’s cool, doors and top come off, capable off-road, like nothing else

The misses: Steering is vague and sloppy, loud on the highway, expensive.

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