When you’re putting vehicle on the road as anticipated as the Gladiator is there needs to be a nod to the past and elevation to modern comfort and convenience. The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is Jeep’s first pickup offering in 27 years and there are a lot of eyes on it.
During a recent media-preview in Sacramento, CA., I tested several 2020 Gladiators, the latest midsize pickup to join one of the hottest segments of the truck/SUV market.
Rising to the competition
The opponents in this segment are tough with Gladiator battling the established Chevrolet Colorado / GMC Canyon twins, the popular Toyota Tacoma, Ford’s re-launched Ranger and the Honda Ridgeline for market share.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator benefits from the experience the Ram brand has pioneered. Currently, I feel that Rams of any size 1500, 2,500 and the big-dog 3500, which I just tested, have the best designed interiors in the full-size segment. I base this claim on functionality, usability, comfort and aesthetics. Sure, some competitive trucks have individual advantages, but overall a Ram pickup has the interior I would want if I was buying a truck. FCA leaned heavily on its Ram research and the designers to craft the Gladiator’s insides.
Gladiator goes into battle with heritage interior
When designing the interior, Jeep went with a look that borrows a touch of the Wrangler but reaches back to Jeeps of the past. The two greatest influences on the Gladiator’s front passenger/dash area design can be traced to the original 1941 Willys and the civilian CJ5 of 1954 vintage.
While at the media event I was able to try-on several Gladiator models and climbed in several Jeeps in different states of dress. The 2020 interior is about the basics-meaning what you need for comfort, information and off-roading. Ok, there’s no hiding the fact that FCA leaned heavily on the Wrangler for front end parts. And like the Wrangler, the Gladiator’s windshield folds forward and flat to let the wind (and bugs) inside. A manual, convertible roof is standard, and a removable composite roof, with removable panels is optional. With the windshield folded flat, the roof peeled back and the doors off, the Gladiator is at its rawest state.
The second-row seats were redesigned with plenty of storage options. The second-row folds down for storage and you can lift up the seat bottoms to stash gear below. There are optional, lockable floor bins, and the seatbacks can be locked to secure goods items behind them.
With the lockable storage you can secure items from all but the most persistent critters on four or two legs.
The Gladiator is in great company as its interior was just honored by industry publication WardsAuto as one of the Top 10 Interiors of the Year. For nearly a decade, the Wards 10 Best Interiors list recognizes outstanding achievement in aesthetics, comfort, ergonomics, materials usage, fit-and-finish and user-friendliness of displays and controls. The Gladiator was one of four SUV/Crossovers that made it into the top 10 with the eventual winner being a Bentley.
A bit of History
If you’ve ever seen or sat in one of the earliest MB military Jeeps “hard, functional” are the best words to describe it. The dash design was basically a flat piece of steel with just a few holes punched in it to hold some vital gauges. The 1941 Willys MB actually had fob-free push-button start on the floor (no keys) and there were no gear/storage box areas in the dash. The steering wheel was a hard, three spoke steel thinly padded unit that froze hands in cold weather and seared them in hot climates. Seating was constructed of thin steel frames with thin padding and canvas-like covering. Wipers were operated manually and between the seats there was a center hand-brake.
The earliest ancestors of truck-Jeeps that preceded the Gladiator were basically heavy-duty 1-ton models. The 1954 models were especially important as they were some of the first civilized models that began to address passenger comfort with better seating, more driver information and nicer materials used.
Later, in 1981 they introduced the Scrambler - CJ-8 and even President Ronald Regan owned one on his California ranch.
Thankfully, today’s Wrangler/Gladiator has most of the comforts of a midsize sedan (that has 4WD and could drive up a mountain), but can handle the shaking/bouncing/rattling of rigorous off-roading. Additionally, like the Wrangler, you can hose out the Gladiator’s interior if you take some sensible precautions. So, even with all this throwback - you won’t hear Jeep say its “retro”, but how can you bail on the military beginnings?
In mid-1941 Willys started producing Jeeps in its Toledo, Ohio assembly plant, and Jeeps have been manufactured there ever since – now Gladiator is produced there as well.