2021 Jeep Gladiator
2021 Jeep Gladiator
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck is more than a Wrangler with a bed. it comes standard with attitude and style that can’t be matched by competitors. And now it’s available with diesel, too.
The 2021 Gladiator makes waves with its newly available 3.0-liter turbodiesel V-6. With 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque, it promises to rumble over boulders and easily tow small or moderately-sized trailers. It mates up to an 8-speed automatic and either a part- or full-time four-wheel-drive system.
The familiar 3.6-liter V-6 remains base powertrain. It generates the same 260 horsepower as the diesel, but its torque is a much more modest 280 lb-ft. While a 6-speed manual is standard across the board on every trim, we imagine the optional 8-speed automatic will be the more common transmission. As with the diesel, all but Rubicon buyers can choose the intensity of their four-wheel-drive system.
The Gladiator hasn’t been crash-tested yet, and automatic emergency braking is an option along with blind-spot monitors, rear parking sensors, and adaptive cruise control.
The base model is known as the Sport, which begins at $35,060 after destination charge. That money buys a 6-speed manual-transmission truck with manual windows and locks and the V-6 engine. Cloth seats, a 5.0-inch touchscreen with Bluetooth, and a removable canvas roof round out the notable standard features.
The Sport S costs $39,595. The extra coin buys power windows and locks, a 7.0-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry, and an alarm.
Moving into the Rubicon or Mohave trims requires $45,635. While both cost the same, they buy different capability. With either model, expect locking axles, upgraded shocks, 33-inch all-terrain tires, and 17-inch wheels.
At the top of the pecking order is the luxury-minded $53,260 High Altitude. It features leather upholstery, 20-inch wheels on all-season rubber, an 8.4-inch touchscreen with smartphone integration, a hard-top roof, and blind-spot monitors with rear cross-traffic alert.
If you’ve appreciated any Jeep design in the last 75 or so years, you’ll like the Gladiator, which adheres to the classic Jeep idiom: separate fenders, round headlights, a seven-slot grille, and bodyside stampings that look they may have came from the Maytag facility. Even its silhouette is purely Jeep. There is no truck whose design is this distinctive or this rich in heritage.
Rubicon and Mohave trim bring the truck into its own with their fatter all-terrain tires, black trim, and mild lifts. These trucks look so cool because they exude real capability, but even the base Sport is far from a poseur. Jeep styling has long been equated with backcountry adventures and extreme ability, and the Gladiator exploits that seriously well.
Rugged design with thoughtful touches is the mantra behind the Gladiator’s cabin. The throwback design is—besides being inherently cool—rooted in practicality: all the buttons and controls are waterproof, so hosing out the interior or getting caught in a deluge while the roof is cozy in the garage won’t mean an untimely end for your radio. Everything feels well-sealed and durable.
The trio of touchscreen options help keep the Gladiator’s price down, but we would have to splurge for the top-shelf 8.4-inch touchscreen. The biggest screen in the house brings more than bragging rights: it also has the best interface, fastest response speeds, and generally is the easiest to use and most comprehensive in feature count. The base 5.0-inch screen hardly feels worthy of a government fleet by comparison.
With the flat dash and steep windshield, the Gladiator feels especially commanding from the driver’s seat. You sit close to the glass and high off the ground in comfortable seats with just enough bolstering. Power seats, heated cushions, and leather upholstery are all optional, but we think the base cloth-wrapped seats fit best with the Gladiator’s narrative.
The wheelbase of the Gladiator is stretched over a foot longer versus the Wrangler, and all that extra length goes to the bed and back seats. Compared to a four-door Wrangler, rear passengers in the Gladiator will have some extra stretch-out room, though neither back seat is exactly sumptuous.
Unlike competing mid-size trucks, the Gladiator only features one build combination. That means no choice of bed or cab; all models get four full doors and a five-foot bed. This inherently hampers the Gladiator compared to its competition, which—save for the very-philosophically-different Honda Ridgeline—offer at least one other bed and cab combo.
The 3.6-liter V-6 that comes standard on the Gladiator has been serving Chrysler and its affiliated brands for a good decade at this point. We’ve come to expect from it a certain affability, an ease of use that turns this engine all but invisible. That’s the case here, where we found the V-6 to be a fine match to the big Gladiator.
The 260 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque helps win our hearts. From behind the wheel the Gladiator feels just as eager and able as its competitors. The 8-speed automatic paired up to the Gladiator’s V-6 delivers glassy shifts almost every time; Chrysler was somewhat early to the 8-speed game, and it shows in the gearbox tuning.
The new 3.0-liter turbodiesel is an expensive but interesting new addition to the lineup. Its main calling card is torque, and a lot of it: 442 lb-ft, to be precise. And available in its entirety by 1,400 rpm. That should make it a tempting choice for the rock-crawling crowd, where the mighty low-rev pulling power will have the Gladiator practically idling itself up trails.
While we’re on the subject, off-roading is the Gladiator’s forte. It feels confident and sure-footed in the rough stuff, especially in Rubicon or Mohave trim. This isn’t quite the case on asphalt, where the truck has a tendency to wander and float. Long-distance highway trips will be more tiring.
For those planning on towing and hauling substantial weight, the Gladiator has a 7,650-pound towing capacity and a maximum 1,700-pound payload rating.
The Gladiator isn’t the best small truck to commute daily with, but it oozes attitude, character, and rugged bravado. If you want to go hunting remote trails on the weekend with a few mountain bikes in the bed, this is about as good as it gets. Ultimately, it’s a more practical Wrangler for those who require the cargo space of a truck. We would shop the Sport S trim if we weren’t serious off-roaders.
—by Anthony Sophinos, with driving impressions from The Car Connection