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2021 Jeep Gladiator Trail Rated - Review by Larry Nutson

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Trail Rated

By Larry Nutson
Executive Editor and Bureau Chief
Chicago Bureau

A whopping 2.9 million pickups were sold in the U.S. last year, making up roughly 20% of the entire auto market, according to Cox Automotive.

Full size and midsize pickups are offered by eight different brands. Soon we’ll see some compact pickups coming back into the market. And, we’ll also see new brands entering the scene with battery-powered electric pickups.

The Jeep Gladiator is the newest model in the pickup truck segment having been introduced for the 2020 model year. The Gladiator is somewhat unique among pickups with its strong Jeep heritage and off-road, rock-crawling ability. The Gladiator is offered only in a 4-door crew-cab, 5-seat configuration and with only a 5ft.-long bed.

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The standard engine is a 285-hp, 3.6-L V6 mated to either a six-speed manual or an eight-speed automatic transmission. New for 2021 is the availability of a 260-hp 3.0-L EcoDiesel V6 with a 442 lb.ft. torque rating. It’s mated to an eight-speed automatic that is calibrated for low RPM shifts.

EPA-cycle fuel economy ratings for the EcoDiesel are 24 combined mpg with 22 city mpg and 28 highway mpg. For comparison, the 3.6-L gasoline engine with automatic is EPA-rated at 19 combined mpg with 17 city mpg and 22 highway mpg. The manual transmission 3.6-L is also rated at 19 combined mpg, with 16 city mpg and 23 highway mpg.

Trailer tow rating ranges from 4,000lb. to 7,650lb. depending on model, engine and transmission combination.

2021 brings two new models to the Gladiator lineup, an 80th Anniversary Edition and a Willys model. Gladiator 80th Anniversary Edition features 18-inch wheels with Granite Crystal finish, Neutral Grey Metallic exterior accents, 8.4-inch touchscreen, berber floor mats and commemorative exterior badging. Gladiator Willys features a limited-slip rear differential, rock rails and aggressive 32-inch Mud-Terrain tires.

Full-time four-wheel drive is now equipped on all Gladiator models. On Sport, Overland and Mojave models, the Selec-Trac two-speed transfer case with full-time four-wheel drive delivers a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio. On Rubicon, the Rock-Trac full-time two-speed transfer case provides a 4:1 low-range gear ratio.

Gladiator Overland models now offer a TrailCam forward-facing off-road camera that can be accessed through the available Off-road Pages. Gladiator Sport now offers LED headlamps and fog lamps as optional equipment.

In the heritage of Jeep the Gladiator is body-on-frame architecture using a ladder-type frame and a steel and aluminum body. Lightweight, high-strength aluminum doors, hinges, hood, fenders, windshield frame and tailgate help reduce weight and correspondingly improve fuel economy.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Along with its ruggedness the Gladiator is equipped with the fourth-gen Uconnect that includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and has various screen sizes. On the safety front, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross path detection, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning are available.

For this most recent drive experience I drove an Overland 4X4 with the new 3.0-L Diesel. The fuel gauge hardly budged during my driving stints near my Chicago home. There’s plenty of acceleration coming from the Diesel engine with all its torque. And Jeep has done a nice job of making things reasonably quiet in the cabin.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

I’ve had a few other drives in the Gladiator. These all were back in 2019 when the Gladiator was being launched. Unfortunately, as we all have experienced, Covid-19 forced 2020 to be less active. Two of these drives took place at events produced by the Midwest Automotive Media Association (MAMA), of which I am a member. Spring and fall drive programs include off-road driving allowing the Gladiator’s creds to be put to the test.

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PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)

Another off-road drive experience was on the invite of Jeep to Badlands Off-Road Park in Attica, Indiana. Sand, rocks, mud, and deep-water terrains let the Gladiator show its stuff.

The Gladiator Overland I drove had a base price of $40,395. The Diesel engine added $4,000 plus the automatic is another $2,000. This particular Gladiator was quite loaded with leather interior trim, trailer-tow package, cold weather group, Premium LED lighting, upgraded audio and navigation, driver-assist safety features, 3-piece hardtop, bed tonneau, plus a few others bringing the total to $61,435.

Gladiator prices start at $33,565. The wide model range along with the many options allows for lots of personalization as well as getting the right truck for your needs. A rancher or farmer needs functionality. Other folk may want more comfort and convenience combined with the iconic Jeep’s capabilities. Go to for more details, specs, and prices.

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If you can’t get enough personalization right off the showroom floor Jeep and Mopar offers a wide range of Jeep Performance Parts and Genuine Jeep Brand Accessories. Bike racks, tube doors, off-road LED lights, rock rails and more make for more fun on the road and on the trails.

© 2021 Larry Nutson, the Chicago Car Guy