The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is a midsized pickup with the character...

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is a midsized pickup with the character of a Jeep Wrangler. Credit: FCA US LLC

Armed with a unique combination of the features people love about pickups and Jeeps, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is primed to win fans in both camps when it goes on sale in May.

Comfortable, capable and engineered to combine the best characteristics of a Jeep and a midsize pickup, the Gladiator checked every box in a day’s drive from Sacramento into the rugged hills where the legend of the California gold rush was born.

It negotiated deep, gluey mud that would devour many small SUVs, towed more than competing midsize pickups and was at home in downtown traffic, on the highway and twisting country roads.

And every mile of the way, it was immediately and uniquely recognizable as a Jeep.

The Gladiator is Jeep’s first pickup since 1992 and it is much more than a Wrangler with a bed. At 218 inches, it’s the longest Jeep, a full 28 inches longer than a Grand Cherokee. It can tow 7,650 pounds and carry 1,600 pounds, more than competing midsize pickups like the Chevrolet Colorado, Ford Ranger and Toyota Tacoma.

The Gladiator’s standard V-6 engine provides plenty of power for highway driving and towing. The steering is surprisingly direct and firm for a vehicle with serious off-road chops.

The cabin is roomy, with loads of headroom. I drove a pair of Gladiators with removable hardtops. There was surprisingly little road noise in town and on rough country roads. On the highway, tire and wind noise were more noticeable.

The ride is smooth, even when the bed is empty, a condition under which some pickups feel bouncy.

The Gladiator is extremely capable off-road. The suspension has plenty of power to negotiate rocks and ruts. The truck pulled through deep mud with ease. Snow storms and other conditions most drivers can expect to encounter won’t faze it, and the Gladiator will be right at home when Jeep enthusiasts hit backcountry trails.

Jeep will only build four-wheel-drive Gladiators with four-door crew cabs and 3.6L V-6 engines initially. A 3.0L diesel V-6 will be available sometime in 2020.

Prices start at $33,545. The most expensive model, a Rubicon loaded with offroad gear, starts at $43,545. Add every option and you’re looking at around $60,000.

I spent most of my drive in a loaded Gladiator Overland, one step below the top Rubicon model. It had heated front seats and steering wheel; leather upholstery; voice recognition; navigation; a removable Bluetooth speaker that charges in its cradle behind the rear seat; front collision warning; adaptive cruise control; push button start; spray-in bedliner and lots more. It stickered at $49,590, excluding destination charges, which are a hefty $1,495.

While the frame — the pickup’s foundation and basic structure — is unique to the Gladiator, the cab is very similar to the Wrangler. The biggest difference is more rear headroom.

Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator offers a variety of options for open-air driving. The hard and soft tops and doors are fairly easy to remove. The windscreen folds flat. Jeep even provides a set of Allen wrenches to open the top, and a bin to store the bolts and help you remember which one fits where.

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2020 Jeep Gladiator

Base price: 33,545

Price as tested: $49,590

Engine: 3.6L V-6 engine, 8-speed automatic transmission

Power: 285 hp, 260 pound-feet of torque

Towing capacity: 7,650 pounds

Payload: 1,600 pounds

EPA fuel estimates: 17 mpg city, 22 highway

Assembly location: Toledo, Ohio

Price as tested: $49,590

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