A Jeep or a Truck? Decoding the 2021 Jeep Gladiator

2021 Jeep Gladiator at a glance

Seating Five
Engine 3.0L turbodiesel V6 EcoDiesel
Horsepower/Torque 260/442
GVWR 5985 pounds (estimated)
GCWR (Max trailer + truck weight) 11,800 pounds (5,352 kg)
Tech highlights 8.4-inch Uconnect 4C Nav with off-road information pages, adaptive cruise control, forward pre-collision warning.
Price as tested (estimated Canadian) $74,565

Stallantis Canada provided a 2021 Jeep Gladiator and a full tank of gas for this review

What happens when you combine an off-road legend with a pickup truck? The 2021 Jeep Gladiator is what you get, the brand’s entry into the mid-sized pickup truck market. The results are as mixed as the impressions the Jeep Gladiator receives on the street. Now, there’s a 3.0L turbodiesel available for buyers, which puts the 2021 Jeep Gladiator EcoDiesel in rare company for this segment. Admittedly, I’ve never driven a wrangler before, nor do I have much experience with the kind of offroading these vehicles find themselves doing. However, I do know trucks and what makes a good one.

The 2021 Jeep Gladiator doesn’t seem like it combines Wrangler and pickup truck roles well on the first pass. It looks the part, and it has many of the technical features and mechanical bits you’d expect from either of those vehicles. But, we were in for a surprise when we put the Jeep Gladiator to use doing the kind of heavy lifting you expect from a pickup. At the end of the week, I wasn’t convinced the 2021 Jeep Gladiator was for me, but it did convince me that it is a competent truck and shows the potential to be fun on the trails. Our test truck was the 2021 Jeep Gladiator Overland, equipped with the delightful 3.0L turbodiesel engine.

Part pickup truck

It may not be fair to strip the 2021 Jeep Gladiator into two distinct functional areas, but that’s how it presents itself. Purely as a truck, with either the 3.6L V6 or the EcoDiesel as tested, the Jeep Gladiator looks good on paper. Payload capacity capped out on our test vehicle at just over 1,200 pounds – around the same number we’ve seen on other test half tons this year. Max towing capacity on diesel models caps out at 6,500 pounds, assuming there’s just a driver in the truck. Any 2021 Jeep Gladiators are the body-on-frame, which gives extra stiffness when you’ve got to pick up a pile of patio bricks your spouse bought from Kijiji.

Under an actual load, the diesel in the 2021 Jeep Gladiator shines. The EcoDiesel is the same engine you’ll find in the Ram 1500 lineup, so it’s no surprise it pulls effortlessly even while the Jeep Gladiator is at capacity. Regardless of how often we review it, the EcoDiesel and eight-speed transmission remain a dream combination. A subtle diesel clatter makes the Jeep Gladiator feel more like a truck. Where the Jeep Gladiator falls short is the bed. Functionally smaller than a pickup and lacking any usable lowered entry, it’s missing out on the innovations of the great tailgate wars from the half-ton segment.

Part Jeep Wrangler

Here’s where the author’s knowledge and experience get stretched a little. Does the 2021 Jeep Gladiator tick the boxes for a Wrangler fan who wants the next level in functionality? Well, for one, the doors and roof are removable; a Wrangler must. However, they’re not easily removed, aside from the roof panels over the driver and front passenger seats. Taking the Overland trim with a solid roof topless requires removing nearly a dozen bolts and following an Ikea-style disassembly guide. Make sure there’s no chance of rain on days the Jeep Gladiator Overland goes open-air since there’s no such thing as quickly popping on the doors and roof. Having a pickup bed to store the panels and doors on the road is helpful, although it leaves you without room for anything else.

2021 Jeep Gladiator

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Driving the 2021 Jeep Gladiator initiated me with a tradition I thought was only for motorcyclists. We quickly dubbed the “Wrangler wave.” Other Wrangler owners would acknowledge the Jeep Gladiator with a wave as we passed. The wave confirmed that maybe the 2021 Jeep Gladiator is enough to find a home in the Wrangler/Jeep enthusiast community. Or, perhaps they didn’t know it was a Gladiator until it was too late, and the driver had done the wave. Our Overland trim is geared more for the urban jungle, with smooth all-season tires and a toned-down off-road kit. There are rescue hooks, a manual shift-on-the-fly 4×4 system, and a locking rear differential. These make even the city-friendly version more off-road capable than most SUVs.

All 2021 Jeep Gladiator

After a week with the 2021 Jeep Gladiator, it’s clear this is more than a truck for the Jeep Wrangler community. Despite the looks, It’s very much a mid-sized pickup that stacks up well against others in the segment. For offroading, the diesel engine has gobs of low-end torque, making it perfect for low-gear crawling. The EcoDiesel also pairs nicely with a midsized pickup, hitting the sweet spot where fuel economy and workhorse power collide. The diesel engine is priced high enough it may be out of reach for many Jeep Gladiator buyers, but the base 3.6L V6 engine is no less capable.  While the money saved on fuel costs isn’t going to justify the hefty EcoDiesel price tag, its off-road potential doesn’t hurt.

As a mid-sized truck, the Jeep Gladiator stands out with a personality few others in the segment have. It goes toe to toe in the numbers that matter and provides the truly unique experience of doorless driving. No other vehicle had people stopping to tell stories, take pictures, or just smiling than the 2021 Jeep Gladiator did in my driveway. While the 2021 Jeep Gladiator wouldn’t be what I’d spend hard-earned money on, that’s not a reflection of how good or bad the Jeep Gladiator is. Ultimately, the Jeep Gladiator is a Wrangler truck, and that both limits and expands who may be interested in it. Regardless, driving the Jeep Gladiator is an experience I’m glad to have had. A taste of the fun life could offer if I weren’t so gosh darn dull.

Dan Croutch
the authorDan Croutch
Dan is a freelance automotive and technology writer. He enjoys all things pickup trucks, classic cars, and minivans (really). The intersection of vehicles and technology fascinate him.

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