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The Jeep® Gladiator converted the Wrangler into a pickup truck, bringing up memories of Scramblers and Comanches past. It featured the side-mounted spare of past models, an open-air canvas top, an expandable truck bed, and a stowaway rear seat cushion.
The engine was an efficient VM 2.8 liter diesel, torque-heavy for off-roading and fuel economy. The Jeep Wrangler Unlimited contemporary was rated at just 14 mpg city, 18 highway, with manual transmission; the European diesel brought that up into the 20s, albeit under the generous European rating system. The engine had an abundant 295 foot-pounds of torque and 163 horsepower.
The short rear overhang allowed for a good departure angle. 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.
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.
The design was credited to Mark Moushegian and Steve Ferrerio.
The Gladiator looked like the shape of Wranglers to come, and rumor is that’s exactly what it was: a first try at getting the dimensions and shape of the next-generation Wrangler.
We were told that the Gladiator retained the classic Jeep live axles, with a similar 4x4 system and length, but with ten inches more width for better stability and comfort.
If the Gladiator was any indication, ground clearance of the next Wrangler would also be better. 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” was a new take on the midgate concept. The cab's rear window rolled down into its divider, but 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.
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.
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.
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.
Inside, 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-outs.
See our main concept cars page.
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