When word got out that Jeep was working on a pick-up truck version on the Wrangler, Jeep and pickup fans alike were excited. Actually, us too. 

The first spy shots that started going around 2016 lit up the rumor mill, and the supposed name 'Scrambler' was definitely interesting. Jeep was quite good at keeping secrets that it wasn’t until two weeks to its reveal that the Gladiator name came out.

Despite being more associated with the Wrangler or the classic Willys model, the Jeep brand is no stranger to pick-ups. Neither are the names ‘Scrambler’ or ‘Gladiator’ alien to Jeep; these names were actually used by Jeep for models they sold from ’81-’85 and ’63-’87, respectively. But the last truck they rolled out in 1992 was the Cherokee-based Comanche.

So, can they deliver on the promise after such a long hiatus?

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

The new Gladiator has a lot to carry on its bed, and so Jeep wanted to show us what the Gladiator can do. And so we went to Queenstown, New Zealand, a city famously known for adventure sports to take their Gladiator out for an adventure of our own.

The specifics are easy to understand: the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is a one-ton pickup truck, meaning it won't go up against American-market trucks like the Chevrolet Silverado, Ford F-150, Nissan Titan, or Toyota Tacoma. Technically this should be in the same class as the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger, Isuzu D-Max, Mitsubishi Strada, Nissan Navara, and Toyota Hilux, but that’s if it was actually a work truck.

This Gladiator is a lifestyle truck, better positioned against Ford’s dune-jumping Ranger Raptor or the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2. The Gladiator is a truck where you load your 500,000 Peso mountain bike, or if you feel like entertaining yourself out on the sea with your boat or jet skis. This isn't really for carting your construction supplies or produce from your farm, though it shouldn't have a problem if you're loading stuff within reason.

Jeep did not fail to remind us enough that the Gladiator is not merely a four-door Wrangler with a bed. While the cab and the front-end are definitely Wrangler, it’s a totally different thing at the back and underneath.

The Gladiator measures 691 mm longer than the Wrangler four-door, and its wheelbase has also been extended by 479 mm. The longer wheelbase and size do penalize you with less departure angle when it comes to off-road performance. While the bed measures 1,500 mm long, it can only carry 620 kg; significantly less than that of the Raptor’s 750kg. It can tow a bit more at 2,721 kg against the latter’s 2,500 kg rating. The five-link rear suspension has been adapted from the Ram 1500 to make it more forgiving on-road.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

Let's face it: we live in a connected world, and even if we're venturing out to the great outdoors you'd still want to connect your device to something. Jeep offers Uconnect in three options 5-inch, 7-inch, and 8.4-inch. There's also a higher-specced 8.4-inch screen that comes with navigation. The interface is quite fast and fuss-free. It comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto capability, as well.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

It is available in either soft and hardtop, with the soft-top version making it the only convertible pickup. The hardtop panels can also be removed, so going ‘topless’ with this pickup is no problem at all.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

The Drive

The full-on two-day drive from Queenstown out to the Rob Roy Valley took us through a mix of on- and natural off-road terrain with a backdrop of the most scenic view I have driven with so far. It was a bit weird driving a left-hand drive vehicle on a right-hand drive road though.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

If that wasn’t enough, they also showed the Gladiator Wayout concept, which they developed for the 2019 Easter Safari in Moab, Utah. Jeep designer Taylor Langhals drove it and actually slept in the vehicle during our overnight camp by Avalanche Glacier.

Under the hood, the Gladiator is powered by the familiar 3.6-liter V6 Pentastar engine mated with a new 8-speed auto tranny. Power delivery and distribution are much better thanks to the eight-speed transmission. We would’ve wanted to feel the pull of the 600 Nm, 3.0-liter EcoDiesel power unit, but it has been restricted to Europe and the US for the meantime, so we didn’t get to try it.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

Our drive took us Northwest through the townships of Cardrona, Wanaka, and other places around the Rob Roy Valley. It gave a good impression of the Gladiator’s rather civilized on-road performance despite having the appearance of a hardcore off-road warrior. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a softie despite being labeled a lifestyle truck; it is, after all, a Jeep.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

Jeep let us try both Rubicon and Overland versions, with the former having all of the factory-installed off-road goodies and better-looking kit. Hands down, I felt at home with the Rubicon despite the Overland having better on-road characteristics. Besides, if I wanted on-road comfort, I’d drive a car instead.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

While we did go through streams and rocky terrain, I was not at all impressed as I felt any four-wheel-drive pickup should be able to handle those. It was not until we reached the highlight obstacle of the drive, a rock-laden pass where we had to maneuver through boulders with the aid of spotters and the front trail camera. Sure, we’ve seen a similar application on the Nissan Terra, but this one also comes with its own integrated washer that can spray off mud and dirt.

First Drive: 2020 Jeep Gladiator image

The strategically mounted rock rails also make sure you don’t break anything if you take it off-roading in factory stock form. We were going through hard rocks with cringe-worthy scraping sounds and it went through with ease.

Yes, we were definitely entertained.

The Gladiator is expected to be priced attractively as pick-ups, regardless of purpose, enjoy an exemption from excise taxes in the Philippines. Jeep Philippines has yet to confirm pricing, variants, and specs but said that the Gladiator will enter the market middle of this year.