As this missive goes to press, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator is making its public debut on the floor of the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show. And, I'm here to tell ya, not since Santa Claus announced his travel schedule has there been such an eagerly anticipated December arrival.
Tim Kuniskis, head of Jeep Brand North America, acknowledged as much at this year's L.A. press soiree while unveiling the all-new Gladiator.
"(Fiat Chrysler Automobiles CEO) Mike Manley barely had the cover off the (then-new) Wrangler last year when people started asking, 'Where's the pickup?' "
That enthusiasm is forgivable. It's been nearly 30 years since Jeep has made a factory pickup, and there is, you might say, pent-up demand -- demand only stoked by the Gladiator concept truck Jeep showed way back in 2005.
Finally, that demand is about to be satisfied -- in a big way.
This new production Gladiator takes its name from the full-size, Wagoneer-based J-Series truck Jeep produced from 1963 through 1987, but its heart, judging from its unmistakable open-Jeep styling, clearly belongs to the CJ-derived 1981-85 Scrambler.
But don't think those were the only Jeep pickups. There's a history here that includes the 1947-65 Willys-Overland, the hoodless 1957-66 FC (Forward Control), the sporty 1967-73 Jeepster Commando and, most recently, the Cherokee-based 1986-1992 Comanche.
So Jeep knows how to get a pickup right. And the proof is called Gladiator, a vehicle that is way more than simply a Wrangler with a cargo box.
Although Gladiator shares with Wrangler most of its drivetrain hardware -- 3.6-liter, 285-hp V-6, six-speed manual and eight-speed automatic transmissions and standard 4WD -- Jeep engineers knew that a pickup had to offer more towing muscle than the 3,500 pounds claimed by the four-door Wrangler Unlimited.
So engineers went to work to beef up Gladiator's structure, slipping under this truck a more robust frame and Dana 44 live axles front and rear to complement its coil-spring suspension. Particular attention was paid to Gladiator's rear suspension, which benefits from the new Ram 1500's control arms and track bar.
Add a stretched wheelbase and longer frame -- 19.4 inches longer and 31 inches longer, respectively, compared to a four-door Wrangler -- and you get Gladiator's best-in-class midsize pickup tow rating of an astounding 7,650 pounds. That's over 2 tons more than a four-door Wrangler can claim. And, at a payload rating of 1,600 pounds, Gladiator betters the four-door Wrangler in that spec by more than 700 pounds.
Of course, like Wrangler Unlimited, Gladiator features a foldable soft top or an available three-piece removable hard top over its five-passenger cabin -- a cabin whose appointments pretty much ape the interior of Wrangler.
Oh, and this off-road ready Gladiator hasn't forgotten those who want to stay in touch with it all as they get away from it all: FCA's fourth-generation Uconnect infotainment system includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, along with a choice of 7.0- or 8.4-inch touch screens.
Gladiator will be offered in three trim levels, including Sport, Overland and Rubicon -- all with standard 4WD. (There is no 2WD Gladiator.). Sport and Overland are shod with standard 31 inch tires while Rubicon rides 33's. And, Jeep promises, you can slip 35's under your Rubicon with no modifications.
To ensure Gladiator Rubicon is the industry champ when it comes to off-road-pickup chops, Jeep engineers also have blessed it with a 2-inch lift compared to other Gladiators and, along with its 33-inch rubber, electronically locking front and rear differentials that can claim a 4-lo ratio of 4:1. And, of course, Gladiator Rubicon boasts more protective under-body skid plating than an Abrams M1 battle tank.
And did we mention the forward-facing off-road camera?
Look for the new Gladiator to arrive at your favorite Jeep dealer in the second quarter of 2019. A V-6 diesel Gladiator, making 260 hp and 442 lb.-ft. of torque, is slated to debut in 2020.
No pricing yet.
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This article originally ran on stltoday.com.