While I would have preferred Jeep to apply a different badge from its past—Scrambler—to its new Gladiator pickup truck, I’d build my personal version to live up to the name it’s got. I’d focus on equipping it with all the needed equipment to handle a plethora of jobs including light-duty towing and heavy-duty off-roading. As such, I’d start with the top-spec Rubicon model with the manual transmission and add a few select comforts. There’s only one engine offered at launch, a 3.6-liter V-6; a V-6 turbodiesel comes along in 2020 but only with an automatic transmission. Here’s my preferred spec:
Paint: Bright White Clearcoat. It’s simple and looks good with the standard black details. And a friend of mine in England owns a white 2015 Land Rover Defender 130 pickup, which I love. FYI, any color other than Firecracker Red, Billet Silver Metallic, Granite Crystal Metallic, black, and white are delayed availability—they can’t be ordered at launch. Whatever color you choose, make sure to remove the cheesy, large Rubicon decals adhered to the sides of the hood.
Wheels: Honestly, I think both options aren’t fantastic, so I’d stick with the standard wheels and purchase a set of simple steel wheels (and run dedicated winter tires on the stock wheels).
Etc.: The standard Jeep-spec Falken Wildpeak ATW3 all-terrain tires are a good all-around setup for my needs. Plus, the more aggressive Falken MT01 3-ply mud-terrain option (no charge) adds a 97-mph speed limiter. I like the winch-capable steel front bumper ($695)—a rear steel bumper is standard. The black plastic fenders are a good fit for the Rubicon’s off-road focus versus the extra-cost body-color option. I’m not a convertible nut and I like the look of the $2295 body-color hardtop, which still allows you to easily pull off the roof panels (and the rest of the top is fully removable, too).
Seats: I prefer cloth seats to leather and black is the only fabric option on the Rubicon. The Overland model offers tan cloth seats, which look nice. But black is probably a better choice for an off-roader.
Trim: The cloth includes unattractive red interior dash trim with many exterior colors, including white. You get a nicer grey trim across the color palette with the optional the dark-saddle leather, but that’s $1,495 so I’d try instead to figure out how to remove the unappealing red trim. Luckily, it’s only two pieces.
Trailer Tow Group ($250): The Gladiator can tow up to 7650 pounds, but that’s only the Sport with the Max Tow Package and 8-speed automatic. The Rubicon is rated at 7000 pounds, but the manual gearbox in my truck drops that number to 4500.
Premium LED Lighting Group ($995): A forced option with the steel front bumper but I’d add it anyway. With this package, all exterior lighting is LED including the headlights.
Cold Weather Group ($695): Important in Michigan—heated seats and a heated steering wheel. Remote start would also be included but it can’t be fitted on manual trucks.
Auxiliary Switch Group ($295): Handy for extras like auxiliary lights or an air compressor. Plus, the included Selectable Tire Fill Alert system should make adjusting tire pressures on the trail quick and easy.
Etc.: The hardtop headliner ($555) and engine-block heater ($95) are nice for a colder climate. I’d also add the roll-up tonneau cover ($495) and the spray-in bedliner ($495), plus all-weather mats ($150). Just keep in mind that if the Gladiator is like the Wrangler, ordering the all-weather mats means you don’t get a set of the standard carpet floor mats for the summer. So, it may be a better move for some buyers to simply purchase the all-weather mats from the parts department. I’d also plan to add the factory trailer-brake controller (something not offered by Ford on the new Ranger) but it’s not available at launch and the price has not been released. It can be added by the dealer after the fact, which is nice.
What to Skip
I’d pass on the fully loaded Gladiator Launch Edition (4190 examples offered in the U.S. for 2020) partially because I’m not a fan of its black wheels but more important, I don’t want a loaded truck that costs $62,310—$10,000 more than my build. The eight-speed automatic is a pricey $2000 option, and I’m a manual guy, so I’d go that route despite the hit to towing capacity. The larger screen that comes with the 8.4-inch Radio and Premium Audio Group would be nice, but I’d save the $1595 and stick with the Rubicon’s standard 7.0-inch infotainment system. Android Auto, Apple CarPlay, and satellite radio are standard on the Rubicon, and I don’t need all the extras that come with this package, including Alpine audio, although it’s not a bad value for those who want it. I’d also pass on both the $995 Active Safety Group and $795 Advanced Safety Group. It’s a Jeep, not a Mercedes—DaimlerChrysler died 12 years ago. Additionally, I don’t see the need for the Cargo Management Group with Trail Rail System ($895), Smokers Group ($30), keyless entry ($495), the wireless Bluetooth speaker ($295), or the noted leather option. Finally, the available Integrated Trailcam Off-Road Camera ($595) can’t be paired with the 7.0-inch infotainment system, which is fine with me.
Total Cost: $52,395 (Gladiator base price, $35,040; Gladiator Rubicon base price: $45,040)