After years of teasing the Jeep faithful with pickup concepts, Jeep finally revealed the Gladiator at the LA Auto Show. So far it seems like it has the most buzz of any new vehicle debut at the show. But why did it take so long to build what seems like such a sure-fire hit?
Way back in 2010, Jeep showed off the Nukizer—a play on “new Kaiser,” in reference to the Kaiser Jeep M715—the militarized version of the Gladiator. That was a two-door hardtop that wore a scaled-down version of the classic, so-ugly-it’s-beautiful “rhino” grille that was shared with the early Jeep Wagoneer. Then in 2016 we got the 715 Easter Jeep Safari concept, which used a similar front end on a soft-top crew cab pickup.
The new Gladiator didn’t get the rhino grille, but it offers a lot of the features of that 715 concept, including the optional soft top. The production version seems to check all the right boxes for Jeep buyers, plus there’s pent-up demand for a Jeep truck. Every Gladiator is equipped with four-wheel-drive and is a crew-cab, which should keep them on the high end of the midsize truck market, but we could see this being a big seller for the brand.
We spoke with Trevor Dorchies from Fiat Chrysler who told us that the timing was finally appropriate for Jeep to reenter the mid-size pickup market. Dorchies told us, “The midsize truck segment is just really hot right now. It was the right time.” We argue that Jeep could have kick-started the midsize truck segment on its own, but we just love trucks, we don’t build them. There was also the logistics of building a third Wrangler variant at the Toledo assembly plant when the JK and now JL Wrangler have been selling about as quickly as the plant could crank them out.
We also learned one more bit of Gladiator trivia from Jeep engineer Pete Milo: the front suspension is identical to the JL Wrangler, while the five-link rear suspension design is cribbed from the full-size Ram. The sway bar is different, but the links and geometry are all Ram. That could give the aftermarket a bit of a head-start for developing lift kits for what’s sure to be one of the hottest off-road pickups on the market.