The 2023 Jeep Gladiator is a terrible truck and one I’d own

There are bad trucks and then there are terrible trucks. The Gladiator sits in the latter but I'd still buy one.

A sports pickup truck isn’t something I thought would be mainstream. We’ve had the Ford Lightning, Dodge Ram SRT-10, Tacoma X-Runner, with sports pickups going back as far as the Dodge Warlock, but these were all boutique trucks. This 2023 Jeep Gladiator isn’t fast or a well-handling truck and shares nearly nothing with those famous speedy trucks, except for one thing: it, too, is a terrible truck. Knowing that I needed a rental for my vacation on the Big Island of Hawaii, why not get the worst truck I could think of?!

But then what makes a good truck? Is it the amount of power it churns out of a big lumpy engine under the hood? The stump pulling torque of a diesel and dual rear wheels? The payload and towing capacity? The durability and reliability of a steed that won’t fail you under the most inclement conditions? All of these are certainly criteria for a good truck. The Gladiator fails in many of these objectives.

It’s absolutely anemic to the point where a supercharger should be fitted at the factory. The 3.6 Pentastar V6, while (arguably) rated well for its durability, is underpowered making even moderate inclines seem far larger and requiring more pedal input. The drivetrain is dimwitted, and clunks could be heard from underneath in ways you’d think should be solved by 2023. Steering isn’t much better as this is a solid rear axle with all the solid rear gremlins either slightly apparent or needing attention at some point in the near future.

Inside it appears that Jeep bought a former Tupperware factory and began pumping out parts they knew would be durable but also harkening back to a time when shoulder pads were commonplace in women’s fashion. Half the interior is well accompanied by chrome and well-feeling bits, the other half is half-assed for the sake of ‘Jeep toughness’. The roof panels struck me as a low point and the fact every door latch can be seen from the inside, much like a cab tractor.

This particular Gladiator was outfitted in the High-Altitude trim. Nicer seats, body-colored fender flairs, bigger wheels, and that’s about it. All for an MSRP structured higher than a Rubicon, in print but not in practice—Rubicon’s are always more money. This trim is likely the most used by rental companies, mostly by evidence of ‘who would buy it’ and the fact almost half the newer Jeeps I saw were copycatting.

Needless to say, this is a bad truck. It’s anemic, dimwitted, cheap, towing (I hear) is terrifying, and it looks like something the CEO of a Boner Medication company would drive—just add the 40” tires and lime green paint and flames. Regardless of all the shade I can throw at this truck, I love it. My kids loved it. Even my wife thought it would fit into our lifestyle. But it’s a toy, this is not a vehicle you buy to work, you buy it to explore, to be different—to take the top off a truck?!! It is cool in ways that a Wrangler just isn’t.

Did I totally skip the most important part? The top comes off! (Not this one of course. It was a rental, and the company smartly removed the tool kit.) How cool is that? A truck with a removable top? There haven’t been many of those—the Chevrolet SSR being the last one since the strange Dakota Convertible conversion. This Gladiator is the modern off-road capable Jeepster. It’s a total odd duck, a laughable monstrosity, a useless widget in a world of otherwise smart appliances. But that’s where you’ll find the best cars exist. This Gladiator is made for good days to be remembered and that’s about it.


M. T. Blake

( / IG @_mtblake)

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