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Forget the glamour: A rugged Jeep pickup will make a splash at the LA Auto Show

By Ronan Glon

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After teasing us with jaw-dropping concept cars for years, Jeep will finally return to the pickup truck segment with a rugged model based on the fourth-generation Wrangler. The truck — which resurrects the heritage-laced Gladiator nameplate — will make its public debut in late November at the annual Los Angeles Auto Show, the company has confirmed, but a growing number of leaks, indiscretions, and spy shots give us a better-than-decent idea of what to expect.

The Gladiator isn’t the type of pickup that sells by flexing its towing muscles. Jeep developed it as a more lifestyle-oriented truck aimed at buyers who want a pickup to carry their friends, their dogs and their toys to the great outdoors. Its natural habitat is a dirt trail miles away from the nearest paved road, not a construction site. To that end, it comes exclusively with a four-door cab, and Jeep doesn’t offer a stripped-down, no-frills trim level like many of its rivals do.

Leaked images published on the Jeep Gladiator Forums show us the truck well ahead of schedule. Up front, the Gladiator borrows styling cues like round headlights and Jeep’s heritage-laced seven-slot grille from the fourth-generation Wrangler; there are no surprises in that department. Out back, it boasts a five-foot box with integrated tie-down hooks and an external power source. Buyers have three top options to choose from: a soft top and two different hard tops. The ability to go topless makes the Gladiator unique in the pickup segment. And, since it’s based on the Wrangler, the windshield folds down and the doors are removable.

The original, Wagoneer-based Gladiator introduced in 1963 was about as refined as a John Deere tractor inside. Times change; Jeep couldn’t get away with launching such a basic model in 2018. The modern-day Gladiator is available with a touchscreen-based Uconnect infotainment system that’s compatible with both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay. It also offers creature comforts like A/C and heated seats, and a slide from a dealer presentation confirms the availability of electronic driving aids such as adaptive cruise control, a blind spot monitoring system, and forward collision warning technology. Rubicon models even come with a forward-facing camera that gives the driver an unobstructed view of what’s ahead of the truck.

The only engine available at launch is a 285-horsepower, 3.6-liter V6 that shifts through a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional eight-speed automatic. Jeep will add a 3.0-liter turbodiesel V6 to the lineup in 2020. Properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow 7,650 pounds and haul 1,600 pounds. The sheet metal hides a longer evolution of the ladder frame that underpins the latest Wrangler, and off-road-friendly solid axles help the truck power through the toughest trails on the planet.

After its unveiling in Los Angeles, the 2020 Jeep Gladiator will begin arriving in showrooms in early 2019. Pricing won’t be published until a few weeks before its on-sale date, but we expect it will start in the vicinity of $35,000. In comparison, the four-door Wrangler on which it’s based carries a base price of $31,445. It won’t have any true rivals, at least none that put such an unabashed focus on off-road capacity, but it buyers will inevitably cross-shop it against the Chevrolet Colorado/GMC Canyon duo, the Toyota Tacoma, and the born-again Ford Ranger.

Updated on November 15, 2018: Added leaked images and specifications.

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