2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender
Hype is a cruel master, especially when you actually deserve it.
Automobile's All-Stars awards are back, and this year we have one of the best fields of cars we've ever evaluated. In total, we invited 21 of our favorite new or significantly revised cars to find out which are the very best of the best. We've split them into Contenders and Winners, but let us make it clear: every car invited to our All-Stars event is one of the most special cars on sale for 2020. Each day between March 8th and March 10th, we'll bring you a new batch of Contenders, and on Wednesday, March 11, we'll announce our 2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners.
No matter whether you're a new recruit to the world of automotive enthusiasm or a grizzled veteran, driving a much-hyped car is always a fraught proposition. Even if the car is quite good, it may end up getting panned because expectations are so high. But when a car is hyped, and then it lives up to the expectations of the press and the public, you have the Jeep Gladiator.
Or, in our case, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland, which we brought along for our week of 2020 Automobile All-Stars testing. No, it didn't hit the track at Willow Springs, and no, sadly, we didn't do any serious off-roading in it, either, but let's be honest— that's how most people will use their Gladiators in the real world, and that's why we brought the soundly middle-tier Gladiator Overland to our 2020 All-Stars evaluation.
A base price of $41,890 means the Gladiator Overland is about $7,000 more expensive than the base Gladiator, but it's also nearly $4,000 cheaper than the top Rubicon variant. Of course, the entry price doesn't tell the whole story.
The Gladiator Overland we tested was loaded up with about $15,000 of extras, including $1,495 for leather-trimmed bucket seats, $995 for heated seats and steering wheel plus remote start, another $1,045 for LED exterior lights, $1,695 for the upgrade to the 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment/navigation system, $2,000 for the optional eight-speed automatic transmission (a six-speed manual is standard), $2,295 for the body-color three-piece hardtop roof, and another several-thousand dollars worth of miscellaneous cargo management and convenience upgrades. Total price? A cool $56,785.
But what happens when a vehicle, like the Jeep Gladiator, lives up to its hype when in its native, specialist environment (i.e. tackling the Rubicon trail) and then underwhelms in more general test drives? That's the predicament we found ourselves in with the Jeep at All-Stars. Race driver and Automobile contributor Andy Pilgrim summed up many of our thoughts, saying, "Very soft suspension with damping that felt a little disconnected to the chassis. It got flustered too easily over bumpy/rippled roads."
Pilgrim did soften the blow, noting the Gladiator's "looks are eye catching indeed." Social media editor Billy Rehbock, one of the youngest members of our All-Stars crew, wasn't much impressed, either. "This was one of the cars I was most meh about. It doesn't quite capture the Wrangler's charm, and I'm not the biggest fan of its ride quality, either."
The ride quality and damping issues noted by Rehbock and Pilgrim were pronounced; with the Gladiator at rest in the hotel parking lot, a light shove to the bed set the whole truck rocking and swaying for several seconds. The same behavior on the road leads to a feeling of disconnectedness that's somewhat disconcerting when driven back-to-back with modern crossovers like the Kia Telluride, with the Gladiator's side-to-side body motions keeping its driver's head in constant motion, much like riding a horse.
Features editor Rory Jurnecka gave voice to a concern of some who seemed to think the Gladiator was a fish out of water amongst the mostly luxurious, mostly performance-oriented 2020 All-Stars cars. "Not sure our testing really emphasizes this vehicle's strengths," he said. "Did we really expect this to be a contender?" Yes, actually, we did—and it is.
As for our testing not highlighting the Gladiator's strengths, well, that's true, but that's because the Gladiator's strengths don't lie in its pickup-truck form factor or on-road abilities, as there are much better pickup trucks for use on paved surfaces, and much better crossovers for comfortable commuting—even though few or none of those alternatives can comfortably cross the Rubicon. Our aim was to see if the Gladiator was the sort of rare specialist that somehow still not only succeeds but excels in most other areas, too.
In fact, contributor Brett Berk's ode to the Gladiator may have most accurately captured the average attitude of Automobile All-Stars attendees several months in advance of the event in his article Everyone Loves the Jeep Gladiator More Than I Do when he wrote, "Unfortunately, on an objective level, the Gladiator has all of the disadvantages of a Wrangler and none of the advantages of a real pickup."
Not everyone had a problem with it, however, seeing the Gladiator for the lifestyle it represents rather than the compromises made for the 1-percent use case. "Being a Wrangler JL owner, I'm admittedly partial to this one. And, indeed, the Gladiator drives with all the polish of the latest-gen Unlimited," said contributor Arthur St. Antoine. "Yes, the five-foot bed might not measure up when it's time for really serious cargo-hauling, but it's perfect for a pile of sandy wet suits and scuba gear, and the Jeep's proven off-road capabilities are all there—as is an impressive 6,000-pound max tow rating [in Overland trim]." And despite his early questions, Jurnecka ultimately agreed, saying, "Cool truck! Strong, smooth power from the six-cylinder engine, shifts well. Very composed for a vehicle of this size, even on Spunky Canyon Road."
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|2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Specifications|
|PRICE||$35,040 (base)/$56,785 (as tested)|
|ENGINE||3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|LAYOUT||4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup|
|EPA MILEAGE||16/23 mpg (city/hwy)|
|L x W x H||218.0 x 73.8 x 73.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.4 sec|
|TOP SPEED||125 mph|