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2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

Reviewing the Gladiator and Flat Towing Mods
Article Date: November, 2019


I've always loved Jeeps. I mean, what's not to love. It's a well balanced vehicle that works great as a daily driver, handles off-road travel like no other and is easy to tow behind a motorhome. The latest Jeep Wranglers are massively different than the Jeeps that my dad drove during World War II and continual improvement has made them much more civilized and comfortable for the typical owner, which is evident by the popularity surge in recent years. If you go to any campground you'll see a number of four door Wranglers parked behind motorhomes. They are so easy to tow and can take their occupants anywhere when touring. While the vast majority of Wranglers are mall cruisers, and never get off-road, Jeep's ability to get traction down to the ground is legendary and without peer. We've owned Jeeps of various flavors over the years and our garage recently housed a pair of four door Wrangler Rubicons, which we towed behind our motorhome and used to travel to mountain tops and ghost towns via old mining trails out west. However, it now came a time in out life where I needed a truck for some hauling duties. As much as I enjoy our Chevy trucks at work, I really didn't want to give up my Jeep capability nor did I want to add a third vehicle to our stable.

And then Jeep announced the Gladiator (pause here for large fanfare and fireworks).

At first look the Gladiator looked to be the best of both worlds, combining the lineage of a Wrangler with the capabilities of a truck. The 5' bed would handle the majority of my needs, expect for maybe a 4x8 sheet of plywood, and would have adequate towing capacity as well. It wasn't that much longer than a four door Wrangler so maneuverability wouldn't suffer, it had the latest creature comforts and off course it had the legs of a Wrangler so off-road use wouldn't be a concern. Naturally, when the press releases the first photos and initial specs it takes a while before they actually show up at dealerships so the general public can see them. I talked to my local dealership and had my salesman call me as soon they got some in. That took a few months and as it happened, we were gone traveling in Texas when I got the call so I told him that I would stop in as soon as we got back to Wisconsin in a few weeks.

The Test Drive

The dealership received two Gladiators as their initial allotment, a Rubicon and Sport. As an off-roader I wanted the Rubicon but they sold it the first week to an employee at the Chevrolet dealership next door. I guess Chevy guys see a good thing when they see it. So all they had available for a demo was the Sport. Leann and I took it for a test drive and thoroughly looked the vehicle over from top to bottom. We were impressed. It was a bit lighter in the back end when empty compared to the Wrangler so the rear tires would slip a bit when on wet pavement if you stomped on the throttle hard or pulled a few extra G's on a tight curve (naturally I had to test that) but it gave us a great ride and handled well. The 3.6 liter DOHC V6 was the same as in our 2012 Wrangler JK's and we were happy with that engine but the new 8 speed automatic transmission made a world of difference and made it feel like we had more horsepower. We knew the engines were the same power-wise but the zero to 60 times were shorter in the Gladiator, even though it was heavier than the Wrangler and it was all due to the 8 speed transmission that put the engine at the best RPM for power.

After the test drive we sat down with our salesman and went through all of the options. I'm a detail oriented guy and can be a bit picky so we spent some time determining just what I wanted and didn't want. I plan on taking the Gladiator off-road and towing behind the motorhome so that was kept in mind when spec'ing out the vehicle. I wanted a Rubicon for its off-road upgrades over the Sport. I've always leaned towards black vehicles in the past and the red accents on the Rubicon went well with black so we ordered it in black. The cloth seats in our test drive Sport were comfortable and I had leather seats in our Grand Cherokee in the past and found they got hot in summer and cold in winter so we went with cloth seats. I also ordered the forward looking trail cam, the cold weather package (obviously) and the factory bed liner, trail rack cargo tie-down system and tonneau cover. I went with painted fender flares this time to prevent the milky fade number that the sun did on our Wrangler flares. I got the hardtop, knowing that I'll add Bestop's partial Sunrider later on, and the hardtop insulation package. Lastly I went with the official Jeep slush mats because for once the factory mats were really good. We then placed the order and began the long wait until delivery. Once it arrived we completed the paperwork, wrote a large check and drove away with a big smile.

The Gladiator at the dealership right after it was unloaded.

Parked out front as soon as I got it home.

Once I started to drive my new Rubicon I quickly realized it was not what I was expecting. It was Better! I knew that the Rubicon was a step up (actually a couple of steps) from the Sport but I figured that it was going to be better off-road but the same during daily driving. Boy, was I pleasantly surprised. The Rubicon was a bit heavier than the Sport, although not drastically, and it had knobbier off-road tires but it drove to whole new level. Gone was the wheel spin I experienced in the Sport. Part of that was the tires, which was a big question mark in my mind prior to taking delivery. I was a big fan of Goodyear Duratracs and had 33" Duratracs on my Wranglers and considered them to be the best all-around tire. They performed better on wet or icy roads than my BF Goodrich OEM or the Goodyear Kevlar MTR tires yet still gave a good ride, weren't excessively noisy and delivered reasonable longevity. The only downside was that they were on the pricey side. The Gladiator Rubicon came with Falken Wildpeak tires. I had never heard of them before so I wasn't sure how good or bad they would be. I kept in the back of my mind that I may want to swap them out for Duratrac's once I get the vehicle if they weren't that great. Fortunately, that wasn't necessary. The Falken tires were very similar to the Duratracs. From what I gather the Duratracs are a bit softer and may perform better on ice but it appears that difference is going to be minimal at best. Plus the harder compound might mean the Falken's last longer. Maybe, maybe not, but either way they are a good tire, close substitute for my Duratracs and wont' cost as much to replace.

The Falken Wildpeak tires performed well on the Rubicon.

Red accent Jeep images on each wheel rim.

But the improved ride, handling and traction aren't just due to the tires. The Rubicon has Fox Racing shocks and some suspension upgrades over the Sport that just make it handle that much better. The Rubicon seats were also an improvement and offered more than just a bit of red stitching and Rubicon logos. The seat's suspension and side bolstering made for a more comfortable ride. The heated seats were fortunately equipped with three position low-medium-high settings because the high setting would roast your butt. I found it great to start on high to get the heat going and then tame it down. That didn't take long either because the heat came on fast, just like it did on the heated wheel. The heated steering wheel was nice because driving with thick winter gloves on keeps your hands warm but you just don't have a good connection with the vehicle and removing the gloves in winter gets your hands pretty cold and a bit on the numb side so the heated steering wheel is a plus for me.

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