Life entails many choices. Chocolate over vanilla ice cream, thick-dough pizza instead of thin-crust and certainly football over baseball are but some of the most important decisions. Later in your years, you might select oceanfront over lakeside camp (if lucky, both), heated cloth instead of sticky leather or just any dessert versus none. Furthermore, I prefer open windows instead of A/C, and this week’s Gladiator over the Wrangler upon which it is based.
The Jeep Gladiator fills a new niche in my mind — MV2. It is better than the Wrangler because it retains the five-passenger cabin, while adding a 5-foot bed out back. It can do virtually anything off-road that the Wrangler can do, with both Rubicon and new Mojave trim (desert-rated, not just trail-rated), plus it has a higher tow rating as well as an optional catalog of accessories for camping, off-roading and exploring that would embarrass even Cabela’s.
The Gladiator, sporting over an extra foot in wheelbase length, also rides better than the Wrangler. This elongated wheelbase means that break-over angles off-road are not as good, but seeing as how even Jeep owners use their vehicles predominantly on-road, the longer wheelbase increases highway path accuracy (less tending of the steering wheel) while soaking up rural road imperfections with greater ease.
The pickup bed, easily accessed with a light tailgate and a working height that fits real lifestyles, worked great with the roll-up tonneau cover and multiple tie-down anchors as numerous propane tanks got the refill treatment. The bike rack slipped into the receiver hitch like butter on a hot ear of corn, making the Gladiator a great recreational tool too.
So, from this corner of rural Maine, where the roads are bumpy, dusty, and virtually imperceptible from desert trails, the Gladiator is more versatile and more valuable — hence, MV2.
This isn’t to say that the Wrangler still isn’t the top-seller in this segment, by a long shot, yet the Gladiator has a growing list of fans that want the best Swiss army knife of vehicles they can get — like the navigator sharing my toothbrush rack. Every day during the Gladiator’s visit, there was a plan on using one of the truck’s virtues. At one point she wanted to see if the local Grindle boys could get it fitted for a snowplow — an obvious take-off of an idea gleaned from fellow Mainer Ezra Dyer and similar exploits with a Mercedes Galendewagon and a plow, which he didn’t own, and got stuck on an airport runway that wasn’t open to the public, and well, it’s a long story.
Mojave trim, borrowed from the famous California desert region, gives Jeep lovers one more model to lust for. Essentially a Rubicon, but with even bigger tires, special black-out paint with reddish orange accents, yet the same powertrain, the Gladiator looks sharp, purposeful. As with our recent orange Gladiator Rubicon, the Mojave received a lot of second glance rubbernecking.
Power delivery is more than ample, with the 3.6-liter V-6’s 285-hp working in concert with the eight-speed automatic to deliver crisp responses and a strong mid-range punch. The feds predict up to 22 mpg, which is conceivable in Iowa. We saw a consistent 19 mpg — the predicted average rating.
Gladiators start at just under $34,000. Mojave trim moves the needle to almost $44,000 and includes the good off-roading stuff: heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles, Fox performance shocks (twins in the rear), Tru-Lok rear axle with 4.10 gears, 17-inch Gloss-black wheels adorned with heavy-lug Falken tires, skid plates all around, off-road mode, tow package, plus rear camera.
Then you start ladling on the options, because you have to customize your Jeep — everyone does. Cold weather package, heated seats and steering wheel, Premium LED light group, 8.4-inch U-Connect screen with navigation, Alpine Audio, auto-dimming mirror, Active Safety Group, body-colored three-piece removable roof panels, body-color fenders, spray-in bedliner, forward facing camera, red tow hooks front and rear, and on and on it goes until the sticker says $61,000 and the other side of the toothbrush rack says stop, so I can still get the plow.
I wish the Sirius reception was better — someone needs to figure out a better antenna — and it would be good to sample this layout with the new turbo-diesel to see if the fuel economy could get to the mid-20s range, but everything else here creates a pleasing experience. That diesel could even make the Gladiator an MV3.
Jeep sold over 268,000 Wranglers and Gladiators last year. While not everyone is a true Jeep-er, for those folks who understand Jeep, admire Jeeps, lust for Jeeps, the Gladiator is the decision that you shouldn’t regret.