Trust me, Jeep’s new Gladiator pickup wasn’t created to carry mulch. Of course it can. But that isn’t the point here.
What we have in this four-door, open-backed trucklet is one very cool, and very capable, fashion accessory.
Buying one is, to me, akin to spending $13,700 on a Cannondale Scalpel-SI mountain bike to cruise the Pinellas Trail. Or $3,200 on a pair of Nike Air Vapormax Flyknit sneakers for a class at Orangetheory.
With this rugged new Gladiator you’re kinda telling the world, “Hey, if I really wanted to, I could drive this puppy across the Serengeti, or up the side of Everest. But for right now, I’m just heading to Kahwa for an Aloha latte.”
Unless you’ve been living in a yurt in Toad Suck, Arkansas for the past two years, you’ll know that Jeep’s new 2020 Gladiator is the hottest set of wheels on the planet right now.
Yes, it’s pretty much a Wrangler with a 5-foot-long bed out back. But somehow Jeep has managed to ignite a feeding frenzy of lust for this crazy-rugged 4×4.
Don’t believe me? When Jeep opened the order books for the new Gladiator on April 4 with a special $62,310 Gladiator Launch Edition, they sold all 4,190 examples. In less than 24 hours.
Yep, you heard that right: 62 grand for a Jeep pickup.
And in the week I just spent piloting a new, fire-truck red, Gladiator Rubicon, not even Zac Efron in a pair of tighty-whities would have spun this many heads.
Seemingly at every stop light, some hyper-ventilating fellow commuter would wind down a window and shout, “Hey, that the new Jeep pickup?”
Just like Raymond, everybody seems to love it.
So what’s all the fuss about? Firstly, it looks terrific — a throwback to the old Jeep Comanche pickup of 30 years ago. It’s all exposed door hinges, girder-like bumpers, and wheels that could have come off a Peterbilt.
But mostly it’s about authenticity. This is the real deal, and not some front-wheel-drive wannabe on jacked-up suspension. It oozes Jeep ruggedness and has the off-road hardware to back it up.
To answer all those questions, I had to learn a whole new lexicon of off-roadery. The Rubicon I was driving came with cool stuff like a Rock-Trac 4×4 transfer case, heavy-duty Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock differentials, Fox shocks and Rubie 17-inch alloys wrapped in Falken Wildpeak rubberware.
You don’t get those on a Hyundai Accent.
But the Gladiator is also about practicality. And versatility. And the promise of loading up and heading out. That pickup bed means you can load in a couple of dirt bikes, or mountain bikes, even a couple of kayaks. And yes, endless bags of mulch from The Home Depot.
Courtesy of heavy-duty cooling, the Gladiator can also tow. Up to 7,650 pounds. That compares to a measly 2,000 pounds with a regular Wrangler.
And yes, the new Gladiator can be transformed into the ultimate open-air convertible. The windshield folds flat, the doors come off, and the entire top can be removed.
But believe me, you’ll maybe do it once — the whole process takes an hour, requires a buddy to help, and then you’ll need somewhere to stash it all because it doesn’t go with you. And check the weather because if it pours, you’re getting soaked.
As for driving, it’s a Wrangler. Same wheezy 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 up front. Same sweet eight-speed automatic (don’t even think about the standard 6-speed stick). Same loosey-goosey power steering. Same Cat-5 hurricane of wind noise at 75 on I-75.
Want refinement? Buy a Lexus.
Yes, a loaded Rubicon with all the toys, will set you back close to $60k. But a Sport S starts at $36,775, and the Overland kicks off at $40,395.
As for having the coolest ride in town? Guaranteed.
Test drive a new Gladiator at Dayton Andrews and Suncoast in St. Pete; Jerry Ulm and Jim Browne in Tampa; Fitzgerald’s in Clearwater; and Courtesy in Brandon.
Editor’s Note: St. Petersburg-based motoring writer Howard Walker has been reviewing new vehicles for national and regional publications for more than four decades. Currently the auto editor for Palm Beach Illustrated and Naples Illustrated, he writes a car column for the print edition of duPont Registry Tampa Bay, for which he also publishes “Weekend Wheels” — a weekly online review of some of the hottest new luxury models.