Jeep hasn't offered a model with a cargo bed since the early '90s, but the 2021 Gladiator finally gives the brand's fans a cool and useful tool. The mid-size pickup truck is basically a more versatile version of the popular Jeep Wrangler. It tows more (up to 7760 pounds versus 3500) than its SUV counterpart, and its longer wheelbase helps it ride better, too. Still, the truck requires regular steering inputs when cruising on the highway to keep it from straying, and it's not as easy to maneuver on the trails as the smaller Wrangler. Along with a strong V-6 and a standard stick-shift transmission, the Gladiator offers a torquey diesel engine option with 442 lb-ft. While the 2021 Gladiator can get pricey in a hurry, its removable body panels and rugged persona make it one of the best pickups around.
What's New for 2021?
Jeep hasn't announced the full roster of changes to the 2021 Gladiator lineup, but it has confirmed what we've known for a while: the truck with a seven-slot grille will add a diesel engine option. The oil-burning 3.0-liter V-6 will develop 260 horsepower and a substantial 442 lb-ft of torque. Although we're still waiting on pricing and EPA fuel-economy figures, we're told the diesel will be offered on the Sport, Overland, and Rubicon models.
Pricing and Which One to Buy
- Sport: $36,000 (est.)
- Sport S: $39,000 (est.)
- Altitude: $42,000 (est.)
- Overland: $42,000 (est.)
- Rubicon: $46,000 (est.)
- Mojave: $46,000 (est.)
- North Edition: $48,000 (est.)
We think the Sport S is the perfect canvas to create our ideal Gladiator. It comes standard with the 285-hp V-6 and a manual transmission. Ours would wear flashy Hydro Blue paint with the optional color-matched fenders. We'd also choose the all-terrain tires and anti-spin rear differential for improved traction when the blacktop ends, and we'd add the side steps to make getting in out and easier. We'd also select the three-piece hard top for its ability to quickly open up the roof. Inside, we'd add the headliner for better noise and temperature insulation and upgrade to the larger 8.4-inch touchscreen, because it adds navigation and is more sophisticated than the standard 5.0-inch unit. Our other preferred options include the Cargo Management pack (400-watt power inverter, an under-seat storage bin, and a bed-mounted 115-volt outlet) and the auxiliary switches and upgraded charging system for any lightbars or accessories that we'll surely add for maximum Jeepness.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Gladiator is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque routed through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic. We tested an Overland model with the automatic, which needed 7.2 seconds to scoot to 60 mph. In other words, it's slightly slower than most competitors. The Jeep adds a diesel 3.0-liter V-6, which develops 260 ponies and a mighty 442 lb-ft of twist. Compared with the regular Wrangler, the Gladiator has an extra 19.4 inches between the front and rear wheels. Jeep says this helps improve the pickup's ride and handling. Now that we've driven several examples, we can confirm that it drives much like the Wrangler. The truck's steering isn't extremely precise and the ride can be busy on uneven surfaces. Still, these characteristics are part of the formula that make the Gladiator both a legitimate pickup truck and a trail-ready tool. Most enthusiasts care about the truck's off-road equipment anyways, which includes everything from copious skid plates to rock-crawling axle ratios to the ability to ford up to 30 inches of water. Generous ground clearance and approach/departure angles further help the Gladiator conquer parts unknown.
Towing and Payload Capacity
When properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow an impressive 7650 pounds. Even the weakest version can pull a 4000-pound trailer. For comparison, the Wrangler is only rated to tow up to 3500 pounds. Those looking to load up the Gladiators cargo bed can carry between 1105 and 1700 pounds of payload.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA lists two separate city and highway estimates for the Gladiator. Models equipped with the standard manual transmission are rated at 16 mpg city and 23 highway. The automatic gearbox increases its estimated city mpg to 16 and drops its highway figure to 22 mpg. We've only tested Gladiators with the automatic transmission on our 75-mph highway route that helps us better evaluate real-world fuel economy. The Overland model was the most efficient version, returning 21 mpg on the highway, but the Mojave returned a much lower 15 mpg. However, the latter was equipped with bigger tires and a higher rear axle ratio than the Overland (4.10 versus 3.73).
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
Inside, the Gladiator has an upright dashboard that imitates the Wrangler's and supports user-friendly controls. Durable details include a waterproof push-button start, and there are optional convenience features such as a heated steering wheel and heated front seats. Jeep says the truck's stretched wheelbase improves back-seat legroom versus the four-door Wrangler. The Gladiator also has body and roof panels that can be easily removed to create an open-air cabin. Along with its five-foot cargo bed, the Gladiator is filled with ingenious interior storage options. Its cabin has a handful of spots to stick a smartphone and a handy compartment hidden under the back seat. The seats themselves can be stowed in multiple ways and then securely locked in place for when the trail turns treacherous.
Infotainment and Connectivity
Every model has a standard touchscreen, but only the larger 7.0- and 8.4-inch displays come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The stereo system can also be upgraded with an optional subwoofer and portable wireless speaker behind the back seat. Front-seat passengers will be privy to several power points, which include two USBs and a USB-C port; a 115-volt outlet is also available.
Safety and Driver-Assistance Features
The Gladiator hasn't been fully crash tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and it hasn't been evaluated at all by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Although it's available with a handful of driver-assistance technology, its roster is significantly smaller than some competitors. The Rubicon model has a useful front-facing camera that comes in handy when blazing trails or crawling over rocks. Key safety features include:
- Available adaptive cruise control with forward-collision warning
- Available blind-spot monitoring
- Available rear parking sensors
Warranty and Maintenance Coverage
The Gladiator has a warranty that's similar to the rest of the Jeep lineup, which includes competitive limited and powertrain coverages. The pickup also includes the company's Wave ownership program that provides two complimentary oil-change and tire-rotation services from the dealer per year for the first two years.
- Limited warranty covers three years or 36,000 miles
- Powertrain warranty covers five years or 60,000 miles
- Complimentary maintenance is covered for the first two years