In recent years, convertible pickup trucks have been commercial failures, look at the Chevrolet SSR, or the Dakota Convertible. The idea of a vehicle that can carry bigger items in its bed while offering a top-down experience seems appealing but yet, no one bought them. That didn’t stop Jeep from building one, the Gladiator; which, unlike the two other trucks, has been a tremendous success, and I will tell you why.
Firstly, the Gladiator isn’t seen as a convertible pick-up truck, it’s rather seen as simply a Wrangler with a bed, and that’s exactly what it is. Secondly, if you go for the hard top, you could drive your Gladiator for years and never take the roof off, which means you get to enjoy the open-air experience whenever you want and make absolutely no compromise when you don’t. The Gladiator I had for the week was equipped with the hard-top, which is composed of three parts. There are 2 front panels that make up what could be considered a targa top and the rear part which is everything else. I drove mostly with the front panels off, but never took off the rear part. Whereas removing the front panels takes literally 1 minute, the rear part is more cumbersome. Firstly, you can’t really do it on your own, it’s a big piece and I wouldn’t recommend it. Secondly, you can’t just put it in the bed, and so you need to put it somewhere, like a garage. If you want to drive your Gladiator as a full convertible and you don’t live in a place where it’s always sunny, you might want to get the soft top.
Looks wise, the Gladiator looks like a regular Wrangler from the front, and from the rear, it looks like a rugged, cool-looking pick-up truck. From the side… it looks a bit goofy. As mentioned above, it’s a Wrangler with a bed, and that’s what it looks like, I get that there is no real way around it, but note that you won’t be winning any Concours d’Élégance with it. The Jeep I had the chance to review is a Gladiator Willys, which takes inspiration from the first Jeeps. It features black 17-inch aluminum wheels, mud terrain tires, a black grille, a limited-slip rear differential as well as heavy-duty shocks front and rear; you also get some retro-looking stickers. The complete package definitely enhances the look of the truck, especially when combined with the Snazzberry Pearl paintwork. What makes the Gladiator what it is though, is the 5-foot bed, which is the only size available. In comparison, the Ranger is available with a 6-foot bed, and so is the Colorado. Jeep says it’s long enough to accommodate 94% of all motorcycles currently on sale, but if you absolutely need a bigger bed, Jeep can’t offer it to you. It does deliver a Best-in-Class 4×4 payload of up to 1,700 lb, though, which is great.
Opening the door of the Gladiator Willys and you will notice the interior is the exact same as the one you would find in a Wrangler. The focus is not on luxury but rather on durability. Pretty much anything you can see or touch has been designed to get dirty and to be easily cleanable, there are even drain holes in the floor! Those holes can be used to let the water out after you sprayed down the interior with a hose, which you can actually do! The infotainment screen has a big piece of rubber around it that protects it from any water that could come in, making the cleaning process way easier. Speaking of the screen, the Gladiator comes standard with a 7-inch infotainment screen and an 8-inch screen on higher trim levels. Both screens feature the latest Uconnect system, which is a pleasure to use. It’s both responsive and intuitive, truly like a cellphone. I’ve used that system in other Stellantis products and I would definitely recommend it. Both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available, even on the Sport S, which is the base model.
I got my first Jeep driving experience behind the wheel of the Gladiator and it truly was a lot of fun. Driving it, you really feel like nothing can stop you, and combined with the open roof, and the added versatility of the bed, it really is an experience that you can only get in the Gladiator. I was told by friends to prepare myself for what would probably going to be a rough ride, and it kind of was. In my mind, it feels more like a weekend toy than something I would drive every day, but it’s really not as bad as I expected it to be. It’s important to point out that the roughness of the ride comes from the capability of the truck, off-road chassis, off-road suspension, and off-road tires won’t give you the same level of comfort as a regular pick-up truck, but you have to live with it in order to have a truck you can drive pretty much everywhere. Speaking of driving the Gladiator, three different drivetrains are available, either the 285hp, 260 lb-ft of torque 3.6 Pentastar V6 with a manual transmission, the same engine with an 8-speed automatic, or the 260hp, 442 lb-ft of torque 3.0 EcoDiesel V6 with an 8-speed automatic. When properly equipped, the Pentastar can tow up to 7,650 lbs, and the EcoDiesel, 6,500. 285hp is fine, it will get you up to speed, but nothing more.
I really enjoyed my experience with the Gladiator, it really made me discover why it’s so popular. It really feels like a toy that you can drive on the street, but not in a bad way – I never felt unsafe driving it. If you want a truck that can really do it all, the Gladiator should be on your list, especially if you enjoy driving manual. Also, I had way too much fun waving back at all the other Wranglers and Gladiators I encountered, I knew it was a thing, but I wasn’t expecting it to be that popular amongst owners.
Vehicle provided by Jeep Canada
Photography by Olivier Lessard & Khalil Souilhi