Will the Jeep Gladiator Unseat the Toyota Tacoma?

It’s been more than a quarter century since Jeep last offered a pickup. The Jeep Comanche, if I remember correctly, was a stout little truck back when “little truck” was actually a thing. Jeep halted production of the poor-selling vehicle in 1992. You can still find them on Craigslist occasionally; they’ve developed a bit of a cult following.

Jeep owners are a very enthusiastic bunch about their brand, and since the Comanche waved bye-bye there’s been a demand for a Jeep truck building and building and building, especially as Americans have increasingly bought trucks and big SUVs.

Fiat Chrysler heard the message loud and clear and at the recent LA Auto Show, they debuted the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, a Wrangler/pickup mashup that looks exactly like you’d think a Jeep truck would.

The front half and cab seem to basically be from the Wrangler, but unlike the old Jeep Scrambler, which was just a Wrangler with a tacked-on bed for cargo and looks, this is a dedicated pickup truck with the payload and towing capabilities that term entails. Pricing hasn’t been announced, but KBB expects base trim levels to start around $30k.

The Gladiator is 31 inches longer than the largest Wrangler and has a wheelbase just over 19 inches longer too. It ships with a 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 that makes 285 ponies and 260 lb-ft of torque. Towing is rated at 7,600 pounds—more than the Tacoma, Chevy Colorado, or Nissan Frontier. Payload is reportedly 1,600 pounds. All trim levels come standard with 4 wheel drive too, unique among midsize pickups, as well as robust Dana 44 front and rear axles.

Spend a bit extra for the Rubicon edition and you get massive 33-inch tires, lockers, Fox shocks, electronically controlled front sway bar (very cool), and even a front-mounted camera to help with off-road navigation.

And, being a Jeep, the top does all kinds of cool stuff, like, come off, for example. It’s the only convertible truck on the market, and I can’t remember the last truck that offered a removable top. Maybe the last-gen Bronco? The windshield folds flat too and the doors, of course, come off, for true safari mode.

The bed is five feet, undoubtedly to make room for the four doors, so forget being able to stretch out back there.

In head-to-head matchups, the Gladiator is far superior to the Tacoma, Colorado, Frontier, and even the forthcoming Ford Ranger in all the important off-road categories. Ground clearance for the Gladiator is 10 inches, with approach, departure, and breakover angles listed at 40.8, 25, and 18.4 degrees, respectively.

So, will the Jeep significantly eat into the midsize truck segment, currently, and for many years now, dominated by the Tacoma?

Well, on paper, this beast is about as adventure-ready as vehicles get, let alone pickup trucks. It smokes the Tacoma in most off-road measurables, the doors come off, and it’s a freaking convertible, so it has that going for it. Plus, it will soon be offered with a diesel engine, something many overlanding enthusiasts have demanded for years.

The Tacoma, of course, has the Jeep beat in aftermarket mods (for now), including camper shells, suspension toys, and off-road accessories. Plus, the Tacoma simply looks better. There’s something a bit clunky about Jeep committing so strongly to the Wrangler face that they bolted it onto their new truck bed. It’s definitely a love it or hate it look. Something about the blockiness of this rig reminds me of the early 2000s, “try anything” mantra of cluttered vehicle design.

Whether their owners want to admit it or not, buying a midsize truck has a lot to do with image, and the refined Tacoma, Colorado, and Ranger are much more elegant-looking rigs than the Gladiator. The Gladiator is likely the better buy though. At only (ha) $30K for a trail-ready 4×4, that’s a strong selling point.

Plus man, a convertible truck is very cool.

If I had to guess, I’d say the Jeep will sell a ton when it first becomes available next year, but will then slot in behind the Tacoma, Ranger, and the Colorado, with a much smaller, but very dedicated fan base. The Tacoma has smacked down all challengers thus far (admittedly, there haven’t been that many), so hard to see this extremely unique design knocking it from the midsize truck throne.



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