In the early 1990s, Jeep introduced the automotive world to its all-new Grand Cherokee model, which gave customers Jeep off-road capabilities in a modern, mid-size package. It was more than just the right vehicle at the right time, though. It was the template for the successful model line Jeep continues to produce today.
Unfortunately, that period also marked the end of a couple of significant Jeep models. The 1991 model year was the last for the legendary Grand Wagoneer, which had given off-road enthusiasts and luxury SUV buyers both style and substance for nearly 30 years. The year after that, Jeep discontinued the Cherokee-based Comanche pickup, and left a hole in its lineup which only grew more noticeable over the next 17 years.
Various aftermarket companies have tried to fill that hole by converting Jeep Wranglers into pickups. Without an official Jeep truck to contend with, Toyota, Nissan, Chevrolet, and GMC got all of the action. Even when demand for mid-sizers started to rise a few years ago, Jeep sat back and watched the Tacoma, Frontier, Colorado, and Canyon gladly satisfy it. But behind the scenes, it was planning its return to that segment of the market. Earlier this year, Jeep revealed the 2020 Gladiator (to read my coverage of the launch event, click here). It had taken nearly 20 years, but Jeep had finally produced a new pickup truck with the unpaved-road prowess that Jeeps are known for.
AutoNation Drive‘s own Jeffrey N. Ross put the top back on a Gladiator Overland and experienced its off-road abilities at the 2019 Jeep Beach Jam in Panama City, Florida back in August (read his review here). I spent a week in a Gladiator Overland in Austin, Texas and got a better idea of just how useful its truck bed can be.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Exterior
It’s easy to see the Gladiator shares a lot of design DNA with the Wrangler. It has a similar front end and cab, but there are key differences. Jeep designed the Gladiator to be a real truck, not just to look like one. It widened the slots in the grille to allow more air to pass through and cool the engine while it’s under load. Jeep engineers stretched the Wrangler Unlimited’s high-strength steel frame by 31 inches to add nearly 20 inches of wheelbase and centered the Gladiator’s five-foot steel bed just behind the rear axle to give the truck better weight distribution and ride quality while it’s moving heavy cargo.
My test vehicle’s bed was protected by a spray-in liner and equipped with LED lighting, several tie-down points, movable cleats in the top side rails, and a 115-volt wall-style power outlet. According to Jeep, you can fit nine sheets of drywall in the Gladiator’s cargo box. My girlfriend had a different home improvement project in mind. We needed more seating options in our apartment and she got a great deal on a studded and tufted wingback chair. We used the Gladiator to carry it home. Once we got the store, I lowered the Gladiator’s soft-drop tailgate and we gently placed our plastic-wrapped new purchase in the bed. Luckily, its own weight was enough to keep it from sliding around so I didn’t even need to strap it into place.
It only took me a few seconds to unlatch the Gladiator’s fabric top and fold it back into its fully open position. I didn’t have to drive around that way to get people’s attention, though. My press loaner had the low-key combination of black paint, dark 18-inch wheels, black leather seats, and a black fabric roof, but it might as well have been covered in chrome and spinning beacons. Everywhere I went, I saw people turning their heads to look at it. It got more attention than some pricey sports cars I’ve driven.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Interior
My press loaner’s dark and serious color scheme gave it a no-frills military look. Inside, it was a different story. Leather covered the heated front seats and heated steering wheel, shifter, and parking brake handle. The display between the tachometer and speedometer showed me everything I needed to know, from which SiriusXM satellite radio station was playing on the Alpine audio system to how many degrees of pitch and roll the Gladiator was handling.
The 8.4-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash gave me access to FCA’s user-friendly Uconnect infotainment system. The slick, modern, and fast-reacting interface allowed me to enter a destination into the navigation module, check the text messages on my iPhone XR through Apple CarPlay, adjust the Gladiator’s various safety feature settings, and more.
I wouldn’t call the amount of backseat legroom generous, but it was enough to comfortably fit all 5’10” of me. Better yet, the rear seating area offered four cupholders – a pair between the two front seats and another in the fold-down center armrest. If my girlfriend had found another gotta-have piece for our place that just had to be carried inside of the Gladiator, I could’ve folded down the rear seats to form a flat load floor for it.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Performance
The Gladiator’s Wrangler DNA goes beyond its styling. Like its SUV sibling, the Gladiator is available with a naturally aspirated 3.6-liter V6 with Engine Stop-Start and an eight-speed automatic, both which my tester had. The Pentastar engine generates 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Given the Gladiator’s abundance of aluminum parts, those figures (and a 3.73 rear axle ratio) were more than enough to get the warrior truck charging ahead from a stop quickly. That lightweight material also contributes to the Gladiator’s EPA fuel economy ratings of 17 city, 22 highway, and 19 combined mpg*; I averaged 18.3 mpg over the course of 310 miles.
Jeep is well aware that many Gladiator owners are going to use their trucks to tow so it offers a trailer tow package with features designed to help, such as a 240-amp alternator, heavy-duty cooling system, class IV receiver hitch, and a trailer hitch zoom feature built into the backup camera. As equipped, my Gladiator loaner was capable of hauling 1,120 pounds in its bed and bumper-pulling up to 6,000 pounds.
Creating a vehicle that can successfully take on and defeat Mother Nature requires a combination of smart design and effective hardware. Just a few degrees can make the difference between finishing a trail and having to turn around (or getting winched out). The Gladiator is ready to crawl up, down, and around obstacles with 10 inches of ground clearance, an approach angle of 40.8 degrees, a breakover angle of 18.4 degrees, and a departure angle of 25 degrees. Overland models use Jeep’s Command-Trac 4×4 system with a two-speed transfer case and 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio to transform the engine’s grunt into forward movement on rough terrain.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Safety
An all-black vehicle can be hard to see at night. Luckily, my Gladiator was fitted with an LED lighting package that upgraded the exterior lighting from front to back. The Jeep Active Safety Group added the ParkSense rear parking assistance system and blind-spot and cross-path detection. Thanks to the Adaptive Cruise Control/Forward Collision Warning+ bundle, I had the convenience of adaptive cruise control with the ability to bring the Gladiator to a stop and the peace of mind of full-speed collision warning with automatic braking to prevent frontal impacts.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Overall
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator has been a long time coming. The good news is that it was worth the wait. It combines handsome styling with useful interior tech and the ability to turn parts of the wilderness that other vehicles have to treat as stop signs into green lights. To experience the long-awaited Jeep truck for yourself, visit your local AutoNation Jeep dealership. Prices for the 2020 Gladiator Overland start at $40,395**; one configured like the one you see here will have a price tag of $57,230.
*Based on EPA mileage ratings. Your mileage will vary depending on specific vehicle trim, how you drive and maintain your vehicle, driving conditions, and other factors.
**MSRP excludes tax, license, registration, destination charge and options. Dealer prices may vary.