Behind The Wheel

2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon — Rugged Civility

2021 Jeep GladiatorModel tested: 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 4×4

Engine: 3.0 V6 EcoDiesel turbo

Transmission: 8-speed automatic

Horsepower: 260

Torque: 442 lb.-ft.

EPA rating: 21/city, 27/highway, 24/combined

Base price: $43,875

As tested: $67,130

Overview: The 2021 Jeep Gladiator looks like a four-door Wrangler with a short pickup-truck bed attached — because that’s exactly what it is. There are three versions of the Gladiator: the base Sport, upscale Overland and the predatory off-road Rubicon — our test vehicle. All use Chrysler’s 285-horse 3-liter V-6 married to either an eight-speed automatic or a six-speed manual gearbox. Our test driver featured the new 3-liter V6 EcoDiesel, and this review will focus on that vehicle.

Walkaround: The Gladiator boasts that iconic Jeep look — the signature seven-slot grille flanked by round headlights, flared fenders and big off-road tires. It appears especially fun with its soft top down or sans hardtop, with its windshield folded flat against the hood and, of course, doors that come off. A spray-in bedliner as well as a rollup cover and power outlet are available for the 5-foot steel bed. The Gladiator’s spare rests below the bed, like a real pickup instead of being mounted SUV-style, on the tailgate. The frame extends 12 inches more than the Wrangler — making it about the same overall length as other short-bed pickups. Equipped right, the Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds.

2021 Jeep GladiatorInterior: The Gladiator’s dashboard is straight from the Wrangler. The optional leather looks better than the standard hard plastic, and the 8.4-inch touchscreen houses all the infotainment — including off-road info pages — and other expected functions. The front seats are surprisingly comfortable and supportive, but the driveline hump chews up both driver and passenger legroom, making the center console somewhat narrow. Rear passengers enjoy 41 inches of legroom and a comfortable bench seat that folds flat.

Behind the wheel: We were pleasantly surprised by the 260-horse EcoDiesel’s power — not to mention the 442 lb.-ft. of torque. Every Gladiator comes with part-time four-wheel drive, with high and low range accessed from an old-fashioned lever. Because the Gladiator’s extended frame — with 19 of those extra inches between the wheels — there’s ride predictably, although other pickups deliver more comfort. The Gladiator features Dana 44 solid axles front and rear, with coil springs for good articulation, although the rear suspension is primarily borrowed from the Ram 1500. Steering is light and requires attention at highway speeds. It handles as confidently on a curvy road as your average car, and never feels tippy.

Bottom line: The Rubicon is beyond a doubt the off-road champion. It shines like the Wrangler does when the pavement goes away — and does it with its own panache.