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2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Review: America’s Best Mid-sized Vehicle

by Patrick Rall on

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator combines the look and feel of the legendary Wrangler with the added functionality of a pickup, creating the most-capable vehicle of its size. To be clear, I am not just calling the Gladiator the most-capable mid-sized pickup – I am calling it the most-capable mid-sized vehicle in general, besting everything in the truck and SUV world when it comes to all-around capabilities.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

My first seat time in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator came at the media launch in California, where I spent the better part of a day tooling around Sacramento in a few different Trail Rated pickups along with spending a few hours playing in some serious mud. We also had a chance to pull a few different trailers while in Cali, all of which came together to show that the Gladiator is the Wrangler pickup that we have all been asking for over the past few years.

However, experiencing a new vehicle in an area chosen by the automaker in tasks that have been laid out to best exhibit the best aspects of the model in question is very different from living with that same vehicle in my driveway at home. With that in mind, I was very excited to take delivery of the bright red 2020 Gladiator Overland shown here, allowing me to live with this new pickup on my rough local roads while using the Jeep truck to perform tasks around the grounds of our horse stable.

Not surprisingly, living with the Gladiator left me even more impressed than my first drive out west, showing that the Jeep pickup really is that good – offering more overall functionality than any mid-sized truck or SUV on sale today.

Real World Driving on Paved Roads

When I first drove the Gladiator, it was on a route designed by FCA in California that took us from the location of the presentation which preceded every media drive to the off-road location. That route covered a great many picturesque roads and the off-road area proved that the Jeep pickup is practically unstoppable, but I don’t live in Sacramento and off-roading isn’t my key concern. I live in Michigan and my key concern was how well the Gladiator drives on my rough local highways and the rougher unpaved roads that are far-too-common in my county.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

Like most people, the majority of my driving takes placed on paved roads, but if you are familiar with Metro Detroit, you know that the paved roads aren’t always the nicest. While the paved roads in my little town are great, it doesn’t take long to find a road that is much rougher than anything that Sacramento had to offer. When cruising in Cali, I found that the longer wheelbase of the Gladiator cushioned many of the smoother bumps in the road compared to a Wrangler and that was the case for the most part on my local roads, but I found that on harsher bumps – such as poorly repaired potholes on the highway – the lightweight rear end of the pickup does take the hit a little harder than less capable trucks.

In fact, I find that the Gladiator in general, regardless of the trim level, is stiffer than many other mid-sized trucks, but anyone who is considering a Wrangler-based pickup should expect a stiffer ride. As I said in my first drive review, the Gladiator feels a great deal like the Wrangler on the road and if you find one to be too rough, the odds are good that you will feel that way about both of them. On the other hand, if you go into your Gladiator-buying experience with some familiarity with the feel of the Wrangler, you shouldn’t be surprised at all with how the Jeep pickup feels on paved roads. It is noticeably smoother than a similarly-equipped Wrangler, but it is not quite as smooth as many of the softer, less-capable mid-sized trucks. This trade-off comes with the addition of the incredible off-road capabilities, so if you truly care more about a smooth ride on the road than about your truck’s ability to handle unpaved roads or the local ORV park, this might not be the truck for you.

Ultimately, the Gladiator rides exactly how I expected on paved roads and as someone who isn’t all that concerned about a smooth-as-glass feel, I really enjoyed the overall driving dynamics of the new Jeep pickup on my local roads. While it is slightly stiffer than the competition, that stiffness will be expected (in a good way) by anyone who is familiar with the Wrangler, so that stiffness should play a big role in attracting “Jeepers” to the new pickup.

Tacking the Dirt Roads

As some of you know, I am a drag racer and my daily driver is a 2017 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat. In the winter, my daily driver is a rear-drive Hemi Ram, so it should come as no surprise that I literally never go off-roading unless I am at a test drive event for a new model. I enjoy playing in the mud and I enjoy learning the ins and outs of the off-roading hobby, but in my normal life, the closest thing that I get to off-roading is dealing with the rough, unpaved local roads.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

The State of Michigan calls them “Natural Beauty Roads”, but they are anything but beautiful. I am occasionally forced by a road closure to take these rough roads with my own truck and thanks to the upgraded Bilstein suspension, the deep ruts and holes in the road are no problem for my half-ton Ram, but I would never consider taking my Hellcat onto these roads. I am quite sure that the front splitter would be ripped off at the first deep groove and at times, these roads are nearly impassable for a small car or anything that doesn’t have four-wheel-drive and loads of ground clearance. During the winter, I have used 4WD test trucks to pull smaller trucks out of the ditches that run across these rough roads and most locals know to avoid these crude paths unless they have a big truck or something with four-wheel-drive.

I find that these roads make for fantastic testing areas, as they incorporate many of the obstacles of an off-road course onto a public thoroughfare. I take many four-wheel-drive test trucks and SUVs down these roads and in some cases, I have to travel at well below the 35 mile-per-hour speed limit because the chassis and suspension systems of softer SUVs and pickups just can’t take the abuse. In many cases, the rough driving surface causes the vehicles to begin bouncing, often kicking the back end out and forcing me to slow down in order to regain control.

With the Gladiator, even in the middle-of-the-road Overland trim level that is not optimized for off-road fun, I had no issues covering all of these roads at the posted speed limit. In the occasion that the Jeep pickup did get to bouncing, it is far more controllable even on the roughest sections. Of course, when I got into other sections where the road was washed away or flooded with muddy water, the Gladiator had no problems handling these areas which would force other motorists to turn around and find a different route.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

The Gladiator Overland was so good on the unpaved roads that in some desolate areas, I was able to put the hammer down and have some rally-racing-type fun, cruising across the bumps and through the mud at speeds that would likely destroy many mid-sized trucks and SUVs.

Working Like a Truck

During the week that I had the 2020 Gladiator Overland, I was working on a building project in our horse stable and rather than using my Ram 1500 to haul wood from the store, I used the Jeep pickup. Some people insist that due the small bed of most mid-sized pickups, they aren’t as useful as a half-ton, but the engineers keep that in mind when building these smaller trucks. Just like my Ram, the Gladiator will hold 4×8 sheets of plywood in the bed with the key difference being that they stick out over the back end a bit further than they do in the bigger trucks.

To help combat this issue, the Jeep designers added interesting components that hold the tailgate at a 60-degree angle or so, cradling the wood and preventing it from sliding out while the vehicle is in motion. I made a few trips to the store to buy 2x4s and on those trips, I used the angled tailgate. However, when I bought the sheets of plywood, I was concerned that I would exceed the 500-pound limit of the tailgate cables, so I loaded the sheets of wood into the bed with the tailgate all of the way up and this allowed me to haul the wood without any problem.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

In that week with the Jeep pickup, I hauled thousands of pounds of lumber of all different sizes and the Gladiator performed just as well as my Hemi Ram 1500 in terms of carrying the heavy loads. Mind you, I drove carefully and conservatively with the wood out back, but in performing these tasks, it became clear that the Gladiator will comfortably serve as a great work truck or weekend project hauler.

Finally, I am happy to say that there were no emergencies at the stable during my week with the Gladiator that forced me to hook up the horse trailer for a trip to the vet’s office, but I did hook up my 4,500-pound trailer for a ride around town. At the media launch, we towed a boat and a travel trailer, but with horse trailers being what I’ve always used for testing, I wanted to get a feel for the Gladiator with my normal trailer.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

The power of the 3.6-liter Pentastar engine had no issue moving the added weight and while I was driving carefully with a living animal in the trailer, the Gladiator handled the local curves better than other mid-sized pickups I have tested in the past. Both in terms of handling the curves and handling the rough roads, the Jeep pickup performed flawlessly. The only thing that I would recommend for any Gladiator owners who plan to regularly tow 5,000+ pounds is a trailer brake controller. The Gladiator does not come with one, so while towing my horse trailer, I was stopping purely on the truck’s brakes. I had no problems slowing or stopping the combo, but the help of the trailer brakes would reduce stopping times and distances quite a bit. In other words, the Gladiator stopped well enough with the 4,500-pound horse trailer out back that I wouldn’t think twice about relying on it for a regular towing vehicle, but for anyone who plans to tow often, the trailer brake controller is a great piece of added security.

Having spent time in just about every truck and SUV that can fit into the mid-sized classification, I am confident that there is no vehicle in either group that offers the combination of off-road abilities, daily driving comforts, the ability to tow 6,000+ pounds and the hauling functionality of the Jeep Gladiator. If you want a vehicle that offers the comfort needed for daily driving, but which can also tow upwards of 6,000 pounds, haul thousands of pounds and conquer an off-road park as well as many modified trucks and SUVs, there is truly no rival to the new Jeep pickup.

Jeep Gladiator Overland

Oh, and I didn’t mention above that every new Jeep Gladiator is a convertible. The test truck that I had was equipped with the color-matched hard top. I admit that removing the rear portion is a bit daunting for me, mostly because I don’t know what to do with the top once if it off, but I spent plenty of time with the front portions removed. It takes about 30 seconds to remove the front panels, with four simple latches on each panel quickly easily unclip, allowing you to lift the panels up off of the roof framework. The convertible aspect is another one that is unique in both the SUV and truck segment, so if you want a drop-top mid-sized truck that does everything mentioned above, there is truly no other option on the market today.

Patrick Rall was raised a Mopar boy, spending years racing a Dodge Mirada while working his way through college. After spending a few years post-college in the tax accounting field, Patrick made the jump to the world of journalism and his work has been published in magazines and websites around the world.

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