Having previously tested the Jeep Gladiator Sport and deemed it worthy I really wanted to get my hands on the Rubicon version to see if it is indeed up to the task of being king of the pick-ups off-road. Still one of the most iconic and durable automotive brands on the planet, Jeep is still expanding its lineup and now offers the Gladiator with the excellent EcoDiesel engine.
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon might look like just a regular Wrangler with a pick-up bed attached, but you’d be wrong if you thought that. There is a more sophisticated five-link suspension setup at the rear for better on-road handling and drivability. My tester was a soft-top which is not what I would choose but I’m sure many Jeep aficionados would. The issue for me is wind noise that gets somewhat annoying so I would definitely choose the hardtop. If you wish though you can always remove the doors, roof, rear window and even fold the windshield flat for that full wind in the face sensation.
The excellent turbo 4 isn’t available in the Gladiator but now the EcoDiesel has arrived you’ll never want for torque since the 3.0 liter turbocharged and inter-cooled DOHC 24-valve diesel V-6 has 260 hp and a whopping 442 lb-ft of torque. Mated to the excellent 8-speed transmission it pulls like a train from very low revs and cruising on the highway at 2,00 rpm the 8-speed hardly ever needs to change down if you need to go faster. Not only is it a joy to drive but you’ll be visiting gas stations much less too, I averaged 23.1 mpg for the week, and the official EPA numbers CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON: 21/27/24 mpg, which are impressive.
PROS – Jeep capability with pick-up versatility, smooth ride on road due to longer wheelbase, excellent on, and off-road.
There are some downsides, if you option the EcoDiesel then you can only tow up to 6,500 lbs. which is less than the gas V6 engine. Jeep engineers said it was to do with cooling issues in that they would have to change the Jeep’s iconic face to be able to give it the ability to tow more and that was not an option. I’m sure this won’t be a problem for the folks that buy this truck.
The Rubicon model is stuffed to the hilt with off-road goodies as standard including the pro-level Rock-Trac set-up which has heavy-duty axles, electronic sway bar disconnects, hill descent control, and Off-Road + mode. It took me a while to find out exactly what this button does, and I had to refer to Jeep’s website which says “Fine-tune your adventure with Off-Road+. With a push of the button, you can adjust throttle, transmission shift points, and traction control for peak performance on higher speed passes on sand dunes or low-speed rock crawling. So, there you go.
Smoothest riding ever on the road
Having driven several Wranglers before I was expecting the usual somewhat vague occasionally skittish behavior from the Gladiator Rubicon, however, I was surprised to find on the road it’s positively smooth and not as punishing as its off-road credentials might suggest. The body on frame’s extra 19.4 inches of wheelbase and Fox shocks give it a surprisingly compliant, comfortable, and quiet ride.
It’s no canyon carver though and driving with vigor on the twisty bits does induce under-steer and some bottom clenching moments; it’s best to just sit back and relax and let it go at its own pace. Jump on the highway though and it feels very stable at speed, in fact, on a couple of occasions I was cruising at 90 mph without realizing, something I wouldn’t have done in the 2-door Wrangler.
CONS – Longer wheelbase makes more technical obstacles difficult
The extra weight of the EcoDiesel in the front of the Gladiator diesel doesn’t seem to affect its handling or stopping but bear in mind stopping distances are quite a bit longer. Steering, of course, is very light but at highway speeds the Gladiator tracks straight, and less effort is required to stay in your lane, there are none of the occasional wanderings you get in a 2 door Wrangler.
Off-Roads just like a Jeep Should
As is typical I headed South East from San Diego in the search for unpaved roads and technical challenges for the Gladiator. The first challenge we gave it was a particularly steep rutted and sandy trail, with occasional rocks for good measure. This proved to be no problem in four-wheel high, so we came back down using four-wheel low and the Gladiator passed with flying colors. We actually spent time trying to trip it up by aiming for bigger ruts, but the Jeep didn’t flinch.
So, we thought we’d try something a Wrangler would eat for breakfast but might trip up the Gladiator. We headed for the West side of Otay Mountain to a rough and slightly sketchy section of trail that includes what the locals call the Little Dipper. This is, as its name implies, is a large dip where vehicles with a low break-over angle due to a truck bed that sticks out, may have a problem. We used 4-wheel drive low since we didn’t want to get stuck and eased the car over the edge and as expected the tow hitch caught the dirt and scraped on the ground.
A bit of gas and we powered up the other side but since the entry bump is quite severe the Gladiator bottomed out, due to the long wheelbase. It made it but anything trickier than this and you may find yourself stuck. This is the price you pay for large overhangs, unfortunately.
Turbo-diesels are known for their miserly consumption and this EcoDiesel is no different. With a full tank and a light right foot, you could theoretically go more than 500 miles between pit stops. The fuel tank is smaller than the standard gas engine since Jeep had to make room for the urea tank to keep emissions in check.
Choosing the EcoDiesel is going to cost you more than the gas engine, $6,000 to be precise because even though the oil burner is a $4,000 option you must select the $2,000 8-speed automatic transmission. So, if you are looking at the math, you’ll need to drive your EcoDiesel Gladiator more than 400,000 miles to save enough money on fuel to offset the $6,000 cost of the engine and the eight-speed automatic. The head says to get the gas engine, but the heart says to get the EcoDiesel and I go with my heart on this one and you should too.
The Gladiator is almost identical to the Wrangler inside and offers the same adventure-ready rugged looks with chunky buttons and an appealing color-coded layout. Jeep’s excellent Uconnect system is still one of the best out there and my Rubicon tester had the 8.4-inch infotainment screen which is standard kit. As ever I have nothing but praise for this system, the menus are well organized, and they react quickly to inputs.
The Rubicon tester I drove had almost every option checked including the leather seat option ($1,595), Premium LED Lighting $1,295, Premium Audio (Inc GPS) ($1,895), and the Jeep Active Safety Group ($895) which includes Park Sense Rear Park Assist, Blind-Spot and Cross Path Detection. There’s also a cool looking Roll-up Tonneau cover available for $595 taking the asking price to $64,495 from a base price of $43,875……….Exercise caution when checking the options boxes.
Which one should I get?
2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Numbers
BASE PRICE: $43,875
PRICE AS TESTED: $64,495
VEHICLE LAYOUT: Front-engine, Rear/4WD, 5-pass, 4 door pick-up
ENGINE: 3.0 liter turbocharged and inter-cooled DOHC 24-valve diesel V-6
POWER: 260 hp
TORQUE: 442 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
0-60 MPH: 8.2 sec
CURB WEIGHT: 4,700 lb (mfr)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON: 21/27/24 mpg
OUR OBSERVED: 23.1 mpg
PROS: Jeep capability with pick-up versatility, smooth ride on road due to longer wheelbase, excellent on, and off-road.
CONS: Gets pricey when adding options, longer wheelbase means lower break over angle