Guessing the future is a tricky business; just ask any of the major media collectives that predicted a President Hillary with certainty ranging from ninety-four to ninety-nine percent. As the man once said, the future’s uncertain and the end is always near. Another example: Back in August of 2015 I ruled out the possibility of a Wrangler pickup with such certainty that I blush in retrospect at the contemplation of it. About this time last year, I admitted defeat and tried to figure out who would buy the Gladiator. Having seen the specs, I’ve revised my ideas about the potential customers just a little.
To begin with, this is far “more truck” than anybody, including your humble author, suspected. Instead of being an Unlimited with a vestigial bed, it’s a thoroughly reinforced and re-engineered vehicle that gains 400 pounds for the cause and can apparently tow 7,650 pounds. There’s a diesel coming, although its lower tow rating and lesser performance will make it the exclusive province of diesel fetishists. I’m guessing that it will be the three-liter VM Motori unit that is sold as the EcoDiesel in half-ton Rams. Over at Turbo Diesel Register, the owners are eloquent about the VM diesel’s cooling issues. My suggestion? Avoid it.
The rest of the Gladiator appears to be an upper-deck home run. My only quibble with the thing is the five-foot bed. In theory, I could use a Gladiator to pull one of my cars to a NASA race; in practice, the short and narrow bed means I’d be packing awfully tight. As a BMX or mountain-bike support vehicle it makes a lot more sense, although after thirty years of driving myself back from the trails or skatepark with one or more injuries I don’t know how much patience I’d have with the Wrangler’s NVH levels in that situation.
Last year, I predicted the customer base at:
50 percent Wrangler owners and intenders who would have purchased a four-door Unlimited if the Gladiator didn’t exist.
25 percent Boomer-aged pickup-truck owners looking to downsize without shame.
15 percent Colorado Z71/Raptor/RAM Rebel intenders who want something for the oft-delayed day when they finally make it out to the dunes.
10 percent Zoolander glampers who are currently driving Outbacks.
The relative seriousness of the Gladiator inclines me to revise this a bit. The extra weight and capability, along with the nontrivial price premium it entails, will cut down on the percentage of buyers who would otherwise get a four-door Unlimited or a Subaru. (A few readers wondered what I mean by “Zoolander glamper” in the original piece: I meant this cosplay outdoorsman and others like him.) So let’s say 35 percent and 5 percent, respectively. The 10 percent we get back will go directly to the Boomer (and, to a lesser degree, Gen X) pickup-truck types. This thing can pull a boat and it has enough on-paper capability to get some people out of their Ram Rebels and Power Wagons.
The final 15 percent, the people who would buy a special-purpose pickup if the Gladiator was not around, are going to like how the Jeep stacks up against the ZR2 and the Raptor. It should offer equal or greater off-road cred at a price well below that of the Raptor. How will it compare to the Colorado? You can get a well-equipped ZR2 in the low forties. Don’t look for the Gladiator to be any cheaper than that. A middling-equipment Wrangler Unlimited is a $39,000 proposition now. If the pickup bed comes at anything less than a $4,999 premium, I’ll be very surprised. Don’t take my opinions on the subject too seriously, however. God knows that when it comes to the Wrangler, I’ve been wrong before.