When I look at the Jeep Gladiator I see opportunity – opportunity that, at the time of this writing, remains unfulfilled.
It’s not a question of capability or even on-road manners, although the latter could certainly use some work. Instead, it’s the absence of plug-in hybrid (PHEV) power that’s the biggest problem. Worse still, the Wrangler this rig is based on has been offered in a so-called 4xe variant for three years now. Not only that, but it quietly became the best-selling PHEV in the United States last year – no small feat considering the heady competition it’s up against in that category of gas-electric offerings.
Alas, opting for what’s effectively a four-door Wrangler with a bed bolted to the back reduces the engine choices to just a pair of six-cylinders to pick between. And bellyaching aside, they both happen to be very well suited to the typical truck stuff this atypical truck is good at. Of course, it’s also packing all kinds of extra abilities off the beaten path thanks to its rugged roots. But buyer be warned: this truck’s talents don’t come cheap.
Of course, a strong argument can be made that affordability is a fleeting term these days – especially in the auto industry. But that does exactly nothing to lessen the blow of this pickup’s eye-popping price tag. This tester in particular, a 2023 Jeep Gladiator Mojave brushed up with a few options and extras, rings in at $80,660 before tax.
Skipping some of those add-ons would help get this Gladiator at least a little closer to its $60,995 starting price (freight adds a further $2,095, and it’s not negotiable); however, this being The Great White North and all, it would be understandable if heated front seats and a steering wheel to match happen to make your list of must-haves. The product planners at Jeep know this as well as anyone, which is why both are bundled with remote engine start as a $1,095 option.
Likewise, even the headliner in this tester’s optional hardtop is a standalone upgrade that adds another $725 on top of the three-piece roof’s $2,450. Ditto the LED exterior lighting ($1,595), blind-spot monitoring and rear parking sensors ($945), adaptive cruise control bundle ($1,450), and the list goes on.
Getting past those gripes, the Mojave trim is on just about an equal plane as the Rubicon – their sticker prices are identical – but is geared towards desert-like conditions (hence the name) rather than rock-crawling. It builds on the Gladiator’s inherent capability with the addition of Fox Factory suspension at all four corners with hydraulic bump stops, along with 33-inch all-terrain tires, a locking rear differential, and a dedicated off-road drive mode.
In terms of everyday essentials, there’s a small digital display in the instrument cluster that can call up everything from audio information to pitch and roll angles; an 8.4-inch touchscreen; wired Android Auto and Apple CarPlay connections; subscription-based satellite radio and a built-in Wi-Fi hotspot; and a nine-speaker stereo. There’s also dual-zone automatic climate control, and power windows and locks.
Dubbed Uconnect, the infotainment interface used by Jeep – as well as sister brands Dodge, Ram, and Chrysler – has long been among the industry’s best for ease of use. And while that remains true, the version used in the Gladiator is a generation old and feels that way next to the updated system in the refreshed 2024 Jeep Wrangler.
Even so, the system itself will feel familiar even to those who have never used it thanks to its smartphone-like tiles, while the customizable bar that runs along the bottom of the screen can be used to store your favourite features for quick and easy access. And below that is a whole collection of physical controls for climate and audio that’s refreshingly simple in an era of over-reliance on touchscreen integration. (The lone standout is the centralized location of the window switches due to the removable doors, which takes some getting used to.)
Driving Feel: 6/10
Less praise-worthy is the user-friendliness of the drive experience. There’s truth to the adage that the Wrangler – and, by virtue, the Gladiator that’s based on it – can go anywhere but a straight line, with the solid front axle causing it to drift and wander on the open road. Expect busy hands during your daily drive.
Where the Gladiator does at least a little better than the Wrangler in terms of road manners is in the way it doesn’t buck and bounce quite as wildly over potholes and other imperfections. Credit goes to the longer wheelbase that keeps ride quality more controlled, while the Mojave trim’s squishy all-terrain tires make it feel a bit like an exercise ball on wheels in the best way possible. Even the fabric-wrapped seats are reasonably comfortable and supportive, although they’re manually adjustable.
Of course, when it comes to rugged capability, the Gladiator is an entirely unique proposition. OK, not quite; there’s the Toyota Tacoma TRD Pro that’s pretty capable in its own right. Owners of the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 might have a bone to pick with that claim, too – particularly when it comes to the Gladiator Mojave that’s more about bashing through sand dunes than it is climbing over rocks and other oversized obstacles.
Make no mistake, though: this version can still hold its own on your typical trail. It can also handle typical truck stuff in spite of being something of an atypical truck. Payload for this particular version is rated at 544 kg (1,200 lb), while it’s good to pull 2,721 kg (6,000 lb) with the optional automatic transmission ($1,995). Of course, that’s after you spring for the $695 tow package to replace the Class II hitch that’s standard.
Just like the proper hitch, headliner, and heated seats (and so much more), the advanced safety and driver-assist offerings here are optional – all of them. That means features like blind-spot monitoring ($995), as well as a combined package of forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control ($1,595), add to the asking price quite considerably. Oh, and forget about lane-keeping due to the solid front axle design and the way the Gladiator wanders as a result – that’s not even available.
While other trims are offered with the choice of diesel- or gas-powered six-cylinder engines, the Gladiator Mojave is equipped only with the latter. It’s the same 3.6L V6 Jeep and its compatriot brands have been using for years, and it generates 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque in this application. No, those numbers won’t knock your socks off, but they make this truck about as strong as it needs to be, whether traversing trails, towing a trailer, or taking the kids to soccer.
Fuel Economy: 4/10
No matter what you plan to do with your Gladiator, don’t expect it to be done efficiently. Another of this truck’s trouble spots is how thirsty it is, with an official combined rating of 12.3 L/100 km that’s downright elusive in real-world driving. Even with the vast majority of this test week spent with the transfer case set to rear-wheel drive and much of the cruising done at highway speeds, the best I could muster was a paltry 13.7 L/100 km across a total of about 520 km.
On one hand, expecting efficiency from a vehicle with the aerodynamic principles of a block of cheese is more than a little unreasonable. But it also makes the case that much stronger for the Wrangler’s PHEV powertrain to make its way under the Gladiator’s hood.
Either way, what makes this truck slice through the air like the broad side of a rusty ax is also what makes it such an aesthetic icon. The open-ended bumper up front and the seven-slot grille bookended by a pair of round headlights provides a presence unlike anything else out there. Moving away from the front end, the Wrangler’s rugged styling cues work well with the proportions of this pickup, while the array of cool colours – Hydro Blue, Sarge Green, Firecracker Red, and this tester’s High Velocity – accentuate it all to perfection.
But then don’t think the styling department will provide any sort of refuge from the endless upcharges. The colour-matched fender flares seen here are an extra $695, while the optional hardtop with the same treatment adds another $2,450 (the same roof in black is $1,695). Likewise, opting for these wheels with mild machining instead of the Mojave’s standard all-black ones is another $695.
Of course, a whole bunch of this truck’s appeal comes from the way it looks, not to mention the image it projects. And in that way, not even those decked out versions of rivals like the Tacoma and Colorado can compete with the 2024 Jeep Gladiator – especially in this tricked out Mojave trim. The marks against it for me are that it’s inefficient, overpriced, and a bit of a chore to drive every day; but then you might just call those the cost of doing business with a truck that’s unlike anything else out there.
|Peak Horsepower||285 hp @ 6,400 rpm|
|Peak Torque||260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm|
|Fuel Economy||13.7 / 10.7 / 12.3 L/100 km cty/hwy/cmb|
|Cargo Space||1,005 L|
|Model Tested||2023 Jeep Gladiator Mojave|
|Price as Tested||$80,660|
$17,470 – Body-colour three-piece hardtop, $2,450; Automatic transmission, $1,995; LED Lighting Group, $1,595; Advanced Safety Group, $1,450; Heavy-duty rock sliders, $1,375; Cold Weather Group, $1,095; Gloss-black machined wheels, $995; Safety Group, $945; Full-time 4WD, $795; Hardtop headliner, $725; Trailer Tow Package, $695; Roll-up tonneau cover, $695; Body-colour fender flares, $695; Forward-facing camera, $695; Spray-in bedliner, $650; Portable wireless speaker, $395; All-weather floor mats, $225