After a 26-year absence in which fans incessantly clamoured for its revival, the Jeep pickup truck is finally making a comeback.
The new Wrangler-based pickup is called the Gladiator and it looks like it belongs on the front lines carting Navy SEALs around some jungle.
It’s what Dwayne Johnson would look like if he were a truck. What or who the Gladiator is meant to be fighting, we’re not sure.
As Russel Crowe’s character said in the movie "Gladiator": “Are you not entertained?”
This is the auto industry giving customers what they want because it’s profitable. There’s nothing especially innovative or disruptive or eco friendly about it.
Mark Allen, head of Jeep design, has never worked on a project like this in his 25 years at the company. “It’s not a project that came from the product planning department; it’s not that at all. It’s been the enthusiasts who’ve been yelling at us: ‘I want a Jeep truck.’”
A brief history of Jeep pickups
Production of the last Jeep pickup, the Comanche, ended in 1992.
“Sales of the Comanche had fallen off dramatically since Chrysler purchased American Motors in 1987,” said Brandt Rosenbusch, Jeep’s in-house historian. “The Comanche was in direct competition with the Dodge Dakota and the company decided to put its resources behind the Dakota.”
It didn’t make sense for the newly-merged Chrysler and AMC to each have two trucks in their lineups so the Jeep pickup had to go.
The Jeep brand has a long history of making pickups, dating all the way back to 1947.
In the 1950s, Jeep made a cab-over-engine farm truck known as the Forward Control. It’s one of Mark Allen’s favourites from Jeep’s back catalogue.
“It was done at a time when anything went,” he said. “When you drive, your knee was right behind the headlights. It’s so ugly it’s cute, but you’ll never see anything like that again.”
There were several other Jeep pickups throughout the ’60s and ’70s, including the original 1963 Gladiator, the collectible 1981 CJ-8 Scrambler and, finally, the 1986 Comanche.
There hasn’t been a proper factory-built successor until now.
THE GLADIATOR RETURNS
The 2020 Gladiator will arrive in Canada this spring.
The Gladiator is essentially a four-door Jeep Wrangler with a five-foot pickup bed on the back. It’s a gigantic machine in person, with enough room for two motorcycles in the bed (albeit with the tailgate down).
Off-road ability should be impressive for a pickup, with a 4x4 drivetrain, locking differentials, and five-link front and rear coil-sprung suspension. A six-speed manual gearbox will be offered alongside the eight-speed automatic. They’ll be paired initially with a V6 gas engine; a V6 diesel option will be available in 2020.
Since nobody leaves a Wrangler the way it came from the factory, Mopar has a catalogue over more than 200 accessories including lift kits, extra lights and fancy wheels.
Despite its size, the Jeep is classified as a mid-size truck and will compete against the Toyota Tacoma, Nissan Frontier, Chevrolet Colorado, GMC Canyon and upcoming Ford Ranger.
The Jeep, however, is the only pickup of any size with removable doors, roof, and a flip-down windshield. It won’t be the cheapest option in its class. The price hasn’t been announced yet, but expect it to cost more than the $42,000 Wrangler Unlimited.
WHAT TOOK SO LONG?
Since Jeep die-hards were pleading for a new pickup, why did it take 26 years to make one?
“I can’t answer that. I wish I could,” said Mark Allen. “Mostly I think the issue was that we had a dedicated truck brand (Ram). Pickup trucks should come from them. SUVs should come from Jeep.”
The Gladiator is not intended as a work truck; it’ll be pricey and the bed is on the small side.
“It’s going to be marketed more as a lifestyle truck, not as something you need but something you want,” Allen explained. “We’ll probably never show it full of mulch and cinder blocks.”
Trucks are still the largest sector of the new-vehicle market. They spill significantly more CO2 into the atmosphere than cars do, but pickups and SUVs are what’s hot right now.
When naming the truck, the team tossed around other ideas — Scrambler and Comanche — but settled on Gladiator. Allen said: “I’m so confident in the truck you could’ve called it almost anything, it doesn’t really matter.”