Jeep hasn’t offered a model with a cargo bed since the early ’90s, but the 2021 Gladiator finally gives the brand’s fans a cool and useful tool. The mid-size pickup truck is basically a more versatile version of the popular Jeep Wrangler. It tows more (up to 7760 pounds versus 3500) than its SUV counterpart, and its longer wheelbase helps it ride better, too. Still, the truck requires regular steering inputs when cruising on the highway to keep it from straying, and it’s not as easy to maneuver on the trails as the smaller Wrangler. Along with a strong V-6 and standard stick-shift transmission, the Gladiator offers a torquey diesel engine option with 442 lb-ft. While the 2021 Gladiator can get pricey in a hurry, its removable body panels and rugged persona make it one of the best pickups around.
What’s New for 2021?
Jeep hasn’t announced the full roster of changes to the 2021 Gladiator lineup, but it has confirmed what we’ve known for a while: the truck with a seven-slot grille will add a diesel engine option. The oil-burning 3.0-liter V-6 will develop 260 horsepower and a substantial 442 lb-ft of torque. Although we’re still waiting on pricing and EPA fuel-economy figures, we’re told the diesel will be offered on the Sport, Overland, and Rubicon models.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The Gladiator is powered by a 3.6-liter V-6 that produces 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque routed through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic. We tested an Overland model with the automatic, which needed 7.2 seconds to scoot to 60 mph. In other words, it’s slightly slower than most competitors. The Jeep adds a diesel 3.0-liter V-6, which develops 260 ponies and a mighty 442 lb-ft of twist. Compared with the regular Wrangler, the Gladiator has an extra 19.4 inches between the front and rear wheels. Jeep says this helps improve the pickup’s ride and handling. Now that we’ve driven several examples, we can confirm that it drives much like the Wrangler. The truck’s steering isn’t extremely precise and the ride can be busy on uneven surfaces. Still, these characteristics are part of the formula that makes the Gladiator both a legitimate pickup truck and a trail-ready tool. Most enthusiasts care about the truck’s off-road equipment anyways, which includes everything from copious skid plates to rock-crawling axle ratios to the ability to ford up to 30 inches of water. Generous ground clearance and approach/departure angle further help the Gladiator conquer parts unknown.
Fuel Economy and Real-World MPG
The EPA lists two separate city and highway estimates for the Gladiator. Models equipped with the standard manual transmission are rated at 16 mpg city and 23 highway. The automatic gearbox increases its estimated city mpg to 16 and drops its highway figure to 22 mpg. We’ve only tested Gladiators with the automatic transmission on our 75-mph highway route that helps us better evaluate real-world fuel economy. The Overland model was the most efficient version, returning 21 mpg on the highway, but the Mojave returned a much lower 15 mpg. However, the latter was equipped with bigger tires and a higher rear axle ratio than the Overland (4.10 versus 3.73).