Mark Phelan: Why the 2020 Jeep Gladiator isn’t ‘the Wrangler pickup’

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

April 8, 2019

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Don’t call the 2020 Jeep Gladiator, “the Wrangler pickup,” unless you’re ready for a lecture from its owner.

For starters, the top model, a Gladiator Rubicon, is about 30 inches longer and 600 pounds heavier than a four-door Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon.

The difference in the two Jeeps’ length and weight is much greater than the gaps between a Honda Civic compact and Accord midsize sedan.

In addition to the difference in its own weight, the Gladiator was designed to haul 7,650 pounds, more than twice a Wrangler Unlimited’ s towing capacity of 3,500.

The Gladiator’s frame — a ladder-like structure that’s effectively the skeleton of most pickup-style vehicles — is made by a different supplier and has different shapes and sizes from the Wrangler.

The frame determines how a vehicle handles weight, and how the structure behaves to protect its occupants in a crash. It’s similar to the Wrangler’s under the cab, which is largely identical in the two vehicles.

Every significant change to a vehicle’s weight affects nearly every other aspect of its structure. That means changes like moving the spare tire from the Wrangler’s tail gate to under the bed — where nearly all pickups’ spares go — meant more changes. The whole rear suspension had to be redesigned for that, and to deliver off-road capability, towing capacity and the ability to carry 1,650 of people and stuff in the cab and bed.

More than just the understructure changed. The slots in Jeep’s trademark seven-slot grille are bigger in the Gladiator because the engine needed more air for cooling when towing a heavy trailer up a steep hill in hot weather.

The rear brakes also are bigger because rear brakes do more work in load-hauling pickups than in passenger-carrying SUVs and cars.

So save yourself a lecture. When your neighbor pulls up in their new Gladiator, say: “Nice pickup. It’s great how they engineered it to be a real truck.”———