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The Jeep Gladiator concept car (2005)

gladiator nameplate

The Jeep® Gladiator converted the Wrangler into a pickup truck, bringing up memories of Comanches past. It featured the historic box side-mounted spare of past models as well as an open-air canvas top, an expandable truck bed and a stowaway rear seat cushion, had a rugged functionality only found in Jeep.

Jeep Gladiator photo

The engine was a 2.8 liter diesel (we've been told a highly efficient VM model, a good choice - better than similar Mercedes models), ideal for off-roading thanks to the ruggedness and torque of diesel engines - yet environmentally friendly, since gas mileage of diesels is better and modern diesels don't pollute like those of years past. (It could presumably also be run on biodiesel, which both reduces the amount of energy spent on processing and avoids toxic spills). The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited got a mere 14 mpg city, 18 highway, with manual transmission; the diesel got that up into the 20s. The engine had an abundant 295 foot-pounds of torque and 163 horsepower.

inside the jeep gladiator concept car

The short rear overhang allowed a good departure angle for off-roading. There was a solid front axle, and in the rear, a trailing arm system with coil-within-a-coil to handle both laden and unladen conditions. There were a front winch, front and rear locking differentials, and skid plates. On the driver's side, there was a cabin storage access panel, and a lockable storage box in front of the rear wheel where the jack was stowed.

As befits a Jeep, the transmission was a six-speed manual (the original specifications said it was five-speed), hooked up to all four wheels via part-time four wheel drive. Eighteen inch wheels were used all around. The weight was heavy for the size, as was the case for the Wrangler - 4,150 pounds.

Like the successful if overpriced Chevrolet Avalanche, the Gladiator included a midgate to make use of interior space when loads longer than 5 feet, 8 inches were needed. The midgate brought an extra foot of length; bringing the tailgate down brought an added two feet.

The design was credited to Mark Moushegian and Steve Ferrerio.

Jeep Gladiator rumors and speculation

jeep center - wrangler replacement?jeep gladiator doorsThe Gladiator looked like the shape of Wranglers to come, and rumor had it that's exactly what it was: a first try at getting the dimensions and shape of the next-generation Wrangler, due around 2006 (partly to meet safety standards). We were told that the Gladiator retained the classic Jeep live axles, with a similar 4x4 system and length, but with more width for better stability and comfort (the Gladiator was ten inches wider, but we suspected the actual increase would be half that).

The suspension was updated for additional capacity and safety, and we suspected some electronics would be thrown into the mix.

If the Gladiator was any indication, ground clearance of the next Wrangler would also be considerably better - which would be helpful given the new competition from Hummers, Porsches, and the like. As noted in the chart near the bottom of this page, in fact, the Gladiator did better than the Wrangler Unlimited in every off-road measure provided by Jeep, while it did better in all but one than the standard Wrangler.

The most clever feature for the "average car buyer" (rather than the hard core Jeep buyers who would be more thrilled by the diesel engine and greater width) was a new take on the midgate concept pioneered in the Chevrolet Avalanche. The cab's rear window rolled down into its divider, but, according to credible rumor, the seats then folded and tumbled under the pickup bed, so that the bed itself was effectively six feet, eight inches long, extending into the cab. This was rather different from the Avalanche/Sport Trak setup. We only hoped such a device didn't add too much to the cost.

We also heard that there would be four doors, but the two rear doors would be partial-width - a suicide door on the passenger side for easier entry into the back seats, and, cleverly, a smaller door on the driver's side, to allow people to toss in their briefcase, backpack, gear, or dog.

The Gladiator was being publicly discussed as an exploration of whether Jeep could re-enter the pickup truck market again. The Comanche, Jeep's last entry, did not work out as well as AMC could have hoped - yes, it was fielded that long ago.

If this was the shape of Wranglers to come, we suspected a big sales spike in one of the world's most fun-to-drive cars.

Design and test-drive notes

Jeep's Director of Design, John Sgalia, said that the Gladiator was "just testing the waters on whether or not it's OK to bring a pickup truck back to the brand." Like the Dakar, though, the Gladiator seemed more like a production car than a concept; its refined interior looked more like a standard Jeep, and was not far from the current Wrangler, though the gauges were much bigger. The doors appeared to be removeable; they were attached using Jeep's standard pin hinge with a cloth limiter. It turned and handled normally, and had good, conventional seating and a conventional stick-shift that worked well and was easy to use. In general, the Gladiator felt more car-like than the current Wrangler, despite the loud diesel engine that gave it quite a bit of torque. Keeping in mind that the concept-car course was a section of parking lot, and that normal speeds were generally not reached, the Gladiator seemed ready for production - driving like a more civilized Wrangler.

The Gladiator, like the Wrangler, was designed to be produced with either right or left hand drive; the spare was on the side rather than the gate or underneath to help keep a high departure angle for off-roading. Sgalia said the Gladiator was not based on any other vehicle.

Specifications (preliminary)

The front and rear suspension were multi-link designs for a smooth ride over all surfaces with plenty of suspension travel for capable off roading. Coilover shocks were used at all four corners for superb control. The rear incorporated dual, concentric springs for a comfortable ride while offering a 1,500-pound payload. Key off-roading specifications included a ground clearance of 13.7 inches (348 mm), break-over angle of 23.2 degrees and an approach/departure angle of 47.6 /38.0 degrees, respectively. Tires in the front and rear were 34 inches in diameter (265/75R18) mounted on 18x8 inch wheels.

In all available off-roading measures other than breakover angle, the Gladiator was superior to the Wrangler; in breakover, it was superior to the Wrangler Unlimited. A shorter-wheelbase version would most likely be far better on the trail than the current Wrangler.

On the interior, Gladiator was contemporary with a utility theme. The color palate included green with dark gray accents. The seats were weatherproof and the interior was designed for hose-out ease of care.

Off-Road Measure Jeep Wrangler Wrangler Unlimited Jeep Gladiator
Ground Clearance 7.9 7.9 13.7
Breakover Angle 28 21 23.2
Approach/Departure Angle 25.5/30.5 Not Available 47.6/38.0
  • jeep gladiator pixLength: 205" (5,207 mm) [the current Wrangler: 152"]
  • Wheelbase: 138.4" (3,515 mm) [the current Wrangler: 93"]
  • Front Overhang: 28.3" (718 mm)
  • Rear Overhang: 38.3" (974 mm)
  • Width (max): 76.6" (1,947 mm) [the current Wrangler: 66.7"]
  • Height: 74.8" (1,900 mm)
  • Track, Frt/Rr: 65.6"/66.2"
  • Bed Length: 5’ 8" (1,725 mm)
    • (midgate expanded) — 6’ 8" (2,026 mm)
    • (expanded w/ tailgate down - minimum) - 8’ 11" (2,723 mm)
  • Suspension:
    • Front - Solid Axle w/ 5 bar links, single coil springs
    • Rear - Solid Axle w/ 5 bar links, dual coilover springs
  • Ground Clearance - 13.7" (348 mm) [the current Wrangler: 7.9" min, 9.6" max]
  • Front/Rear Tire Size: 265/75R18"

Photos (other than the two Jeep-provided images) taken in March 2005 by Allpar's David Zatz.

See our main concept cars page.

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