By John Faulkner Clean Fleet Report
Jeep® is part of a portfolio of brands from Stellantis, as are Dodge, Chrysler and Ram. These brands have a history of giving their cars, trucks and SUVs names that evoke strength, power, and even intimidation. If Demon, Hellcat, Charger, Challenger, Viper, Avenger, Stealth, Rampage and Prowler don’t raise the hair on the back of your neck, along comes Gladiator – a person willing to engage in a fight to the end.
Let’s hope the 2021 Jeep Gladiator Sport 4WD with the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel never needs to be put to that challenge, and can be a true adventure truck sans any battles.
Flashback – Flash Forward
The Jeep Gladiator had its first run from 1962-’88, developing a loyal owner base. Then, it went away for a few decades until it was reintroduced in 2020. Clean Fleet Report had the opportunity to drive the 2021 Jeep Gladiator 4WD Sport with the EcoDiesel V6, bringing us up to speed on what Jeep had been doing over the years.
The Gladiator is more than a four-door Wrangler with a pickup bed, even though both vehicles share the same cab and front end. The underpinnings and bed are what differentiate the two, making their use and driving attributes very individual.
Designed as a lifestyle truck, the Gladiator wasn’t necessarily meant to haul construction supplies or be a farm or ranch truck. However, the Gladiator Sport 4X4 with the EcoDiesel is able to handle up to 1,325 pounds of payload and tow up to 6,500 pounds when equipped with the available Max Towing Package. Where the Gladiator will be found is driving through forests and on beaches, pulling a travel trailer or stacked high with kayaks and snow skis. In other words, if you are an adventurer and want/need a pickup that is an extension of you, then check out the Gladiator.
With two engine and three transmission choices, the 2021 Gladiator offers a range of performance choices. The base engine is the 3.6-liter V6 delivering 285 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque and comes standard with a 6-speed manual transmission (an 8-speed automatic is optional). Clean Fleet Report’s Gladiator had the optional 3.0L 6-cylinder diesel engine, producing 260 hp and 442 lb.-ft. of torque, mated to an 8-speed automatic that is different from the one that can be ordered for the 3.6L V6.
Clean Fleet Report’s Gladiator, with the 3.0L EcoDiesel, has EPA fuel economy estimates of 22 mpg city/28 highway/24 combined. We averaged 28.4 mpg over 410 miles driving throughout Southern California. But in a 90-mile all-freeway run where the adaptive cruise control was set at 65 mph, we achieved a stout 32.5 mpg. Our takeaway is that diesel is the way to go in the Gladiator if torque and fuel economy are your pacing items.
Driving Experience: On the Road
In comparison to the Wrangler Rubicon 4WD, the longer wheelbase on the Gladiator made on-road driving far more pleasant. The Gladiator tracks down the highway with minor steering wheel input, and it absorbed most road imperfections without the jolts that could be expected from a suspension that also needs to be tough for off-roading. The biggest issue we have with the Gladiator, at highways speeds, is the cabin noise.
Our Gladiator Sport came with the black Sunrider soft-top. When closed, it provided little respite from the outside world with noises seeming to be amplified, especially sirens. Cranking-up the sound system only aggravated the situation. There is a three-piece hardtop alternative to the soft-top that probably makes the cabin far quieter. While we did not review it; we have heard it is heavy; a two-person job to remove.
So, what is the point of having a top that can be removed? Simple, if you are going under 40 mph, especially off-roading on the beach or through a forest and want to be part of the elements, then removing the top and even the sides provides a unique and fun driving experience. The up and down processes for the soft-top are not too difficult, especially the roof, which is made easier with an extra set of hands. The doors require a bit more mechanical dexterity, but they aren’t difficult to remove and replace.
The electro-hydraulic steering was nicely neutral, delivering good road feel through the 245/75 Bridgestone Dueler A/T on/off-road tires mounted on 17-inch wheels. Cornering was flat for a midsize pickup with little body roll or drifting through turns. The rear end did not suffer from being too light as is often the case with many empty bed pickup trucks. That may be because the bed on the Gladiator is only 60.3-inches long.
The Gladiator Sport 4WD, with 10 inches of ground clearance, is designed to take on severe off-road conditions, but due to the long wheelbase, it isn’t as suitable as the Wrangler Rubicon for driving tight trails or rock crawling. The Gladiator weighs-in at 4,988 pounds and has the shift-on-the-fly Command-Trac part-time 4WD transfer case and Dana 44 heavy-duty solid front and rear axles. Clean Fleet Report’s off-roading in the Gladiator was on river washes with loose sand and gravel and plenty of dip-dee-dos and ruts. We immediately felt the extra wheel grip when placed into 4X4 mode, as tire spin was completely eliminated and the wheels digging in at a higher speed was a blast.
Driving Experience: Interior
The Gladiator interior is nicely appointed, considering at some point it will be exposed to the elements. The seating position is high, giving a commanding feel on the road. As noted earlier, with the soft top and sides in place the interior noise level is high. Remove those pieces and you won’t care about the noise because the fun level just pegged the meter.
Clean Fleet Report’s Gladiator Sport had cloth seats with the fronts manually adjustable. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has audio, telephone, and cruise control buttons or toggles. A nice feature on the rear of the steering wheel is where the volume (right side) and channel selection (left) buttons are located. It is such a natural place for them that it is a wonder more manufacturers don’t go to this placement. Another shout-out to Jeep for having volume and channel knobs for the sound system.
Everything for the driver is laid-out in logical, easy-to-read locations. The optional 7.0-inch color touch screen (5.0-inch is standard) is the command center for the easy-to-use Uconnect® operating system. Sounds come through the nine-speaker (with an all-weather subwoofer) Alpine® audio system with AM/FM radio, SiriusXM®, Apple CarPlay® and Google Android Auto™. Voice command via Bluetooth® for hands-free phone and streaming audio are prompted by steering wheel controls.
Safety and Convenience
The Gladiator Sport had standard and optional convenience features such as a tilt-and-telescope steering column, all-weather floor mats, lockable storage behind the rear seat, trailer tow package with a Class IV receiver hitch and seven- and four-pin wiring harness, LED fog lights, reflector headlights and taillights, power door locks, heated power exterior mirrors, automatic temperature control, remote keyless entry, push button start, 12V power outlets (front and rear), AUX ports and multiple cupholders.
The Gladiator Sport was equipped with the Jeep Advanced Active Safety group, with front and side airbags. Additional items are a rear backup camera with guidelines and trailer hitch zoom, full speed forward collision warning, blind spot and cross path detection, four-wheel ABS, a tire pressure monitoring system, fuel tank and transfer case skid-plates, and electronic stability control and roll mitigation with trailer sway control.
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator comes in five basic models – Sport, Sport S, Overland, Mojave and Rubicon – with base prices (including the $1,495 destination charge) ranging from $35,060 to $45,390. (A few other models have recently been added, though they may not be available everywhere – Willys, Willys Sport, California Edition, 80th Anniversary and High Altitude.) Clean Fleet Report’s 2021 Gladiator Sport 4WD with the EcoDiesel engine, additional options adding $15,480, and the $1,495 destination charge, came to $50,520.
Observations: 2021 Jeep Gladiator Sport 4WD with EcoDiesel V6
Jeep has been around for more than 80 years and is universally recognized as building hardcore off-road vehicles, but also more recently for conventional SUVs for everyday driving. The Jeep lineup of Renegade, Compass, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee and Wrangler, all SUVs, are now joined by the Gladiator midsize pickup. Clean Fleet Report has reviewed several Jeep models, but have been eagerly waiting for the Gladiator to be fitted with the EcoDiesel engine.
What we found is a very capable lifestyle midsize pickup. Offering good payload and towing ratings (but not as good as the Gladiator with the 3.6L V6 gasoline engine), seating for five, an iconic design, good on-road but better-than-good off-road driving capabilities and, when you’re ever-so gentle on the accelerator, fuel economy that can reach the low-30 mpg range.
Available in 10 exterior colors, including Billet Silver, Sarge, Snazzberry, Nacho and the color of our test Gladiator, Firecracker Red, making a statement will not be a problem when driving a Gladiator.
The challenge is to sort out which Gladiator to buy out of the five models, and which engine, gasoline or diesel (a $4,000 option). If towing is your thing, then you will go with the 3.6L V6 as it has a tow rating about 1,000 pounds higher than the diesel. But if towing isn’t your thing, or you will be towing a bit lighter trailer, the advantages of faster acceleration, torque that comes in at a lower rpm, and higher fuel economy, then go with the EcoDiesel. The extra low-end grunt of the EcoDiesel will be appreciated if you ever do serious off-roading.
Even with a base price around $34,000, it is easy to spend more than $60,000 on one of the Gladiator models. Find a Jeep dealer that will let you have more than a one-mile test drive to see if the Gladiator is right for your lifestyle.
About The Author
John Faulkner is Road Test Editor at Clean Fleet Report. He has more than 30 years of experience branding, launching and marketing automobiles. He is a journalist member of the Motor Press Guild.
Gladiator press fleet vehicle provided by Stellantis North America. Prices and vehicle information applies to U.S. market models, not including taxes, license, etc. All product information, including prices, features, and specifications, is subject to change without notice.
Photos (as noted) © 2021 John Faulkner, © 2020 Lex Adams. Additional photos courtesy of Jeep and Stellantis NA
Story © 2021 Clean Fleet Report – This review is reposted with permission on CarNichiWa.com