Preview: 2020 Jeep Gladiator

LOS ANGELES – When most automakers debut a vehicle at an auto show, they drive it out from behind a wall or a curtain into the display.

Jeep Gladiator? Nope. That puppy came right in between the audience and climbed the three stairs up onto the stage.

Possibility the most-anticipated new vehicle at the Los Angeles Auto Show, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is, at its heart, a four-door Wrangler with a bed on the back – but that will be just fine with Jeep fans. Every model will come with four-wheel drive, a soft or hard top, and with the company’s Trail-Rated designation for off-road use.

It’ll debut next year with a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 engine, with six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic, making 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. Calendar year 2020 will see a 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 with eight-speed automatic, turning out 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft of torque.

It will come in Sport, Overland, and Rubicon trim; and like the Wrangler, will offer Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems – the latter adding Dana 44 front and rear axles, Tru-Lok locking differentials, and 4:1 crawl ratio in four-low. Gladiator will also offer Wrangler’s electronic sway-bar disconnect and 33-inch off-road tires, and have the ability to ford up to 30 inches (76 cm) of water.

Jeep hasn’t made a pickup truck since 1992 – after turning out its first one in 1947 – and with the company’s enviable brand loyalty, it’s poised to make its mark with buyers. While the segment runs a relatively distant second to the full-size truck market in Canada, it’s a popular one in the US, where the Toyota Tacoma is popular with off-roaders and surfers.

The Gladiator will also offer high-speed off-road driving with locking rear for the first time in a Jeep – and since Ford has announced it won’t be bringing the Ranger Raptor to the United States, Jeep might get a crack at that side of the market as well.

Looks-wise, the pickup styling suits it: it’s a Wrangler from the rear doors forward, including its interior, which matches that of the redesigned Wrangler. Jeep’s fascination with “Easter Egg” styling cues continues: there’s a little red Jeep in the wheels, and no doubt more for fans to find. As with the Wrangler, the doors are removable, the top comes off, and the windshield swings down for open-air driving. The five-foot bed has a covered power outlet and integrated tie-downs, and available options will include a spray-in bedliner and tonneau cover. The tailgate can stop in three positions and can be locked.

The Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 lb and has a payload of up to 1,600 lb, and with the tailgate dropped, can handle dirt bikes and other toys. As with the Wrangler, it’ll be built in Toledo, Ohio. It’ll go on sale in 2019, with pricing announced closer to launch.

Toy hauler 11/28/2018 2:30:00 PM