Engine: 3.6-liter V6, 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque / Transmission: Six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic / Fuel economy: 19 mpg EPA combined, manual or automatic /Transfer case: part-time four-wheel-drive / Base curb weight: 4,650 pounds / Ground clearance: 10 inches (11.1 on Rubicon) / Tow rating: 7,650 pounds / Base price: $35,040
Ostensibly, the Jeep Gladiator is a midsize pickup truck and thus peer to the Ford Ranger, Chevy Colorado, and Toyota Tacoma. It has four doors and a bed and it can tow stuff. But those four doors are removable. The standard roof is a convertible soft top. You can fold the damn windshield down. Wrangler drivers give you the Jeep Wave, recognizing a fellow patron of solid axles. People walk up and ask if you built it yourself. That doesn't happen with a Honda Ridgeline.
And yes, the Gladiator is new and thus a curiosity. That will change. But what won't change is the Gladiator's unassailable position as the Most Fun Truck. On a graph of fun versus refinement, Jeep's pickup is way out on the goofy side, intentionally not-slick. It's noisy and the solid-axle front end wanders like a loose beagle. The standard V6's peaky, high-rpm power delivery is comically out of sync with the Gladiator's otherwise brutish persona (peak horsepower at 6,400 rpm, peak torque at 4,400 rpm).
And I might be alone on this, but I think the Gladiator's kind of gawky-looking, vaguely homemade—it's not entirely surprising that somebody asked whether I, rather than Fiat Chrysler Corporation, built it. Here's the key stat: The bed is 60.3 inches long and rear overhang is 51.0 inches. This has to be the only truck on the market where most of the bed is behind the rear axle.
So naturally, I want one. That's because, dynamic and aesthetic offenses aside, the Gladiator is a damn riot. It's useful and entertaining at the same time—hey, I've got the top down and... I'm going to the dump! OK, maybe you leave the top up for that one. But how about towing a boat or hauling a bunch of bikes to the trail? Those are normally chores. But when your work truck has no doors, the trip becomes part of the fun.
Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator is an unlikely vehicle, the kind of rig that seems like a SEMA concept that would never see production from any sober company. Luckily, FCA is the outfit that gives us Hellcats and Alfa 4Cs and Power Wagons, so of course they're crazy enough to build the first convertible truck since the droptop Dodge Dakota. Which, of course, was also a Mopar jam.
I used a Gladiator to tow a 2019 Yamaha 242 Limited S boat—more to come on that—and that experience informed my subsequent online Gladiator-configuring. While every Gladiator will tow at least 4,000 pounds (and the Overland I tested is rated for 6,000), I'd go for a Sport with the Max Tow Package. Because the Overland towed the Yamaha all right, but it wasn't particularly happy about it, spending a lot of time at high rpm in the lower gears, which was a formula for about 8 mpg on the highway.
A bargain at $995, the Max Tow package bumps the tow rating to 7,650 pounds and gives you 4.10 gears, heavy-duty cooling, a 240-amp alternator and "heavy duty Dana 44 wide axles with molded-in-color fender flares".
Say what? Is the Max Tow package a sneaky widebody Gladiator? I consulted the specs and saw that, yes, a Sport Max Tow has an inch-and-a-half wider track than a regular Gladiator, a number that matches the Rubicon. Which leads to an obvious conclusion: The Max Tow must give you Rubicon axles but without the locking diffs.
I asked Jeep if that was the case and they confirmed that, yes, the Sport Max Tow has Rubicon axles (sans lockers) and flared fenders. Even if you don't care about towing, I firmly believe that you should opt for the widebody fender-flared option wherever available. If the grocery store had widebody shopping carts, there's no question I'd be raking boxes of Frosted Flakes onto the floor and clipping oncoming shins with my sick flares.
My Gladiator build came in at $39,125 for a Sport Max Tow with tinted glass ($495), the ZF eight-speed automatic (mandatory with Max Tow, $2,000) and the Trak-Lok limited slip rear end ($595). I'd go with a desert motif, Gobi paint and Heritage Tan interior. What more do you need?
In a vehicle where the whole point is elementalism, I don't think I'd miss a heated leather steering wheel. OK, yes, I would. But my better self would go for this setup, if not an even simpler six-speed manual model. But that one wouldn't have delicious wide axles.
I probably won't act on my Gladiator infatuation, but who knows? I always did like that Dakota Convertible.
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