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2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender

Hype is a cruel master, especially when you actually deserve it.

Nelson IresonWriterWilliam WalkerPhotographer

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."

2020 Automobile All-Stars Awards: The Very Best Cars of the Year

This year's Automobile All-Stars awards saw us return to the Palmdale area for track testing at Willow Springs before spending a few days in Angeles Forest and Borrego Springs. So what are the best cars of 2020? These are.

2020 Automobile All-Stars Winners 

The new Ferrari F8 Tributo is arguably the best mid-engine car on sale today, delivering ludicrous performance and, just as important, a driving experience to match.

What makes the 2020 Chevrolet Corvette an Automobile All-Stars winner? Killer performance and unbelievable value, for starters.

2020 Bentley Continental GT Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

The third-generation 2020 Bentley Continental GT is a car so good we couldn't help but name it a 2020 Automobile All-Star.

2020 Kia Telluride SX Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

In a field of supercars, sports cars, and Europe's best, Kia's Telluride three-row SUV proved it's a great choice for anyone in need of an affordable, well-built people hauler. So great, it's an Automobile All-Star for 2020.

2020 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner

Even facing down the very best supercars of the year, this American powerhouse proves it can do finesse as well as brute force—and earns an Automobile All-Star award in the process.

With its upscale interior, great chassis, and fun-to-drive demeanor, the Mazda3 proves that a car need not be expensive to be an Automobile All-Stars winner.

2020 Toyota Supra Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

The new Toyota Supra has been a polarizing figure since it hit the market, and our test drivers found plenty to debate about it. But it proved it's one of the most-fun sports cars on the market, and easily claimed an Automobile All-Star award in the process.

2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Winner 

Reimagining a legend isn't easy, but sometimes Porsche makes it look that way. The 2020 Porsche 911 Carrera S is not just a great sports car, it's an Automobile All-Star.

2020 Automobile All-Stars Contenders

2020 Subaru Outback XT Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

Subaru's family wagon might seem a bit out of place in this company, but that's only because you haven't driven it. The 2020 Subaru Outback XT is a 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender.

It's Mercedes' smallest offering in the U.S. , and not even the hot version, but the A220 is breathing the rarified air of the 2020 Automobile All-Stars competition.

2019 Subaru WRX STI S209 Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

This limited-edition, U.S.-market-exclusive super-STI is unlike any Subaru that's come before, that's for sure. But is the WRX STI S209 an All-Star?

The Lamborghini Huracán Evo is fast, loud, and gorgeous. No wonder it's a strong 2020 Automobile All-Stars contender.

2020 Porsche 718 Spyder Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender

It's a special edition, but is the Porsche 718 Spyder really that special? We found out during our 2020 All-Stars evaluation.

We spend three days in Southern California hills and desert testing the 2020 Jeep Gladiator along with 20 other All-Stars Contenders to see which rise to the top.

2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The very fact that an affordable family hauler is rubbing shoulders with hypercars and mega-luxe cruisers should tell you the 2019 Honda Passport AWD Elite is something special. It's also a contender for the 2020 Automobile All-Stars award.

How does a car this big drive this well? We dig into what brought the 2020 Mercedes-AMG 63 S to this year's Automobile All-Stars competition.

It's McLaren's first car to put a serious emphasis on practicality and comfort over outright performance—but is the GT an Automobile All-Star?

2020 BMW Z4 M40i Test Drive: Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The 2020 BMW Z4 M40i proves it's just as much about good handling and driving fun as it is about top-down cruising.

BMW's excellent M850i xDrive luxury sport coupe does battle with 2020's best cars but falls short in this year's Automobile All-Stars competition.

2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback Test Drive: 2020 Automobile All-Stars Contender 

The 2019 Audi RS 5 Sportback is a compelling and powerful machine that's a winner in its own right.

Electric cars have many inherent advantages over the combustion-powered competition, but does the 2020 Audi E-Tron have what it takes to hang with this year's best?

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
TRANSMISSIONS 8-speed automatic
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
WHEELBASE 137.3 in
WEIGHT 4,742 lb
0-60 MPH 7.4 sec
TOP SPEED 125 mph