2023 Jeep Gladiator Test Drive and Review

Jeep is ready for a fight in the midsize truck arena.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

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Long ago, in the 1960s, Jeep sold a truck called the Gladiator: a conventional pickup based on the Wagoneer SUV, with a metal-roofed cab, full doors, and a cargo bed.

Then, in the 1980s, Jeep sold a truck called the Scrambler: a pickup with two seats, a convertible top, removable doors, and a cargo bed.

Today, the legendary maker of off-road vehicles once again sells a pickup truck: the 2023 Jeep Gladiator. But it's not a conventional pickup. Instead, the Gladiator combines classic Jeep styling, a convertible top, removable doors, and room for five people in a crew-cab configuration.

It also gets specific tuning to allow for what Jeep says is best-in-class towing capacity with a gas engine and the top payload rating among midsize trucks with four-wheel drive. Furthermore, according to Jeep, the Gladiator offers the most rear-seat legroom in its class and is the only open-air pickup truck in its segment.

Jeep sells the 2023 Gladiator in ten different trim levels: Sport, Willys Sport, Sport S, Willys, Overland, Freedom, Texas Trail (Texas only), Rubicon, Mojave, and High Altitude. Base prices range from the low $40,000s to the mid-$50,000s, including the destination charge to ship the truck from the Toledo, Ohio, factory that builds it. They all have 4WD and a V6 engine with a manual or automatic transmission. A turbodiesel V6 engine is an option, and Jeep offers numerous upgrades for the Gladiator.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

This year, the 2023 Gladiator Freedom special edition is new to the lineup, along with High Velocity (lime yellow) and Earl (bluish gray) paint colors. The Willys trim adds more standard equipment, and the High Altitude is available with a Capability package that adds a steel front bumper, steel rock rails, and a forward-facing camera called a TrailCam.

For this Gladiator review, I test-drove the Mojave in Southern California. It came with an automatic transmission, extra-cost paint, a black hardtop with an interior headliner, a spray-in bedliner, all-weather floor mats, and a TrailCam. In addition, the Gladiator Mojave I reviewed had option packages with towing, LED lighting, and safety features, bringing the manufacturer's suggested retail price to $64,355, including the $1,795 destination charge. Jeep provided the vehicle for this Gladiator review.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

The Design

The Gladiator combines Wrangler styling with midsize pickup truck capability. Some people might not like the resulting look, but where else can you get a truck with a convertible top, removable doors, and a windshield that folds down for a complete open-air, one-with-nature driving experience?

The truck's standard top is made of fabric; you can remove it and the side doors if you wish. In addition, hardtops in black or body color are available and feature two removable roof panels over the front seats. With the hardtop, you can also get a fabric section over the front seats that flips up to open the roof, while sunshade-style tops are available for when you've removed the standard fabric top.

The Wrangler-based design carries into the Gladiator's interior, where the truck closely matches its fraternal SUV twin. Plastic, rubber, and durable weatherproof materials are the rule, as the Gladiator's cab is meant to withstand dust, dirt, mud, and water. The materials reflect the truck's purpose and can come across as inexpensive, but I found the Gladiator's interior to be solidly constructed.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

Mojave trim offers a choice between premium cloth and leather seats, and this version of the Gladiator features orange accents inside and out. Both front seats are manually adjustable, including for height, and they face a seemingly vertical windshield underlined with a T-shaped dashboard.

Circular themes are everywhere — there are round analog gauges, round air vents, round knobs, and a round Jeep logo on the round steering wheel. From either front seat, you look out over the tapering hood and its rounded edges … that lead down to round headlights.

It's not easy to get into or out of a Jeep Gladiator, which helps explain the robust grab handles on each windshield pillar. The truck's narrow doors can easily flop back toward you if you've parked the Gladiator on a hill, and the sills are tall. You can get side steps to help, but they're mounted high to preserve the Jeep's off-roading capability and, ultimately, I found they were better at getting dirt on my clothes than easing entry and exit.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

Once aboard, you sit close to the doors, dashboard, and steering wheel. The Gladiator feels tall, narrow, and intimate, which takes some getting used to. Also, if you prefer to sit higher in the truck, you may find that, after several entry and exit cycles, the seat has lowered itself due to the unfortunate location of the manual height-adjustment lever. I found the need to regularly readjust the seats a source of irritation.

There isn't much storage, either. Small nets on the door panels, two cupholders I found awkwardly located, deep but narrow glove compartment and center armrest storage bins, and a tray on the top of the dashboard are available to the driver and front passenger. The Gladiator also has a traditional hand brake and 4WD system transfer case lever on the center console, in addition to the transmission shifter. Note that the power window controls are on the dashboard instead of the door panels.

The Gladiator's back seat can accommodate three people, but two will be happier. Again, getting in and out is a challenge, but there is more room in the back than you might expect. Unfortunately, the front seatbacks are a maze of netting, storage loops, and grocery-bag hooks, none of which are kind to a passenger's knees and shins. Flip the seat cushion up and you'll find a large storage bin that you can option with a locking lid.

Of course, the whole point of a pickup truck is the cargo bed. The Gladiator's five-footer lacks depth and offers no more than 35.5 cubic feet of volume measured from the sills to the floor. Jeep has numerous upgrades available to improve the truck's utility. For example, you can get adjustable tie-down hooks, a 115-volt AC power outlet, LED lighting, a three-position tailgate, a spray-in bedliner, and a tonneau cover. Depending on which Gladiator you buy, you can haul up to 1,710 pounds of payload.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

The Technology

Technologically speaking, there isn't much to a 2023 Gladiator. However, the tech Jeep does offer is practical. Starting with the infotainment systems, you can get a 7.0-inch or an 8.4-inch touchscreen in the Gladiator, sealed with a robust ring of rubber around the outside of the display. The standard 7.0-inch system includes Bluetooth smartphone connectivity, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, and a USB port. Music broadcasts through an eight-speaker stereo. Upgrade to the larger 8.4-inch system for satellite radio, a navigation system, subscription-based connected services, Amazon Alexa compatibility, access to a Wi-Fi hotspot, and a nine-speaker Alpine premium audio system.

The Mojave test truck had all of these features and functions and then some. For example, the Off-Road Pages panel on the infotainment display allows you to see critical data when testing the truck's capabilities off the pavement. In addition, the optional TrailCam camera helps you see what's directly in front of the Gladiator on everything from challenging trails to parking lots.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

As for the infotainment system itself, it works well and includes large stereo-volume and radio-tuning knobs. The main menu selections are digital icons across the bottom of the display, offering access to a wide range of features, functions, and settings. However, the voice-recognition system did not work well, responding accurately only to a couple of my usual evaluation commands. The sheer amount of wind, road, and tire noise at highway speeds may have interfered with the system's ability to understand me.

Jeep includes a few standard safety features on the 2023 Gladiator. But if you upgrade to the optional Safety Group and Advanced Safety Group packages, you'll get several critical driving-assistance and collision-avoidance systems.

The Safety Group installs a blind-spot monitoring system, rear cross-traffic alert, rear parking sensors, and LED taillights. I view it as a must-have option, partly due to the Gladiator's small, tall, narrow side mirrors.

The Advanced Safety Group is also valuable — it installs forward-collision warning and automatic emergency braking. The adaptive cruise control and automatic high-beam headlights are nice to have, too.

During the evaluation, the cruise-control system proved capable, smoothly adjusting the truck's speed and maintaining a safe following distance. The blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic alert systems were also helpful, and because the Gladiator is so long, the rear parking sensors can assist in avoiding obstacles behind the truck.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

However, the Jeep Gladiator safety ratings are incomplete, and those available are not encouraging. For example, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety didn't rate the Gladiator's standard and optional headlights highly. In addition, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave the Gladiator a middling three-star rollover resistance rating and rated its frontal-impact crash protection at four stars.

The Drive

A 3.6-liter V6 engine is standard in the 2023 Gladiator, paired with a six-speed manual transmission. An eight-speed automatic is an option, and an expensive one. But remember, 4WD is standard equipment. The gas V6 makes 285 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,400 rpm, and the EPA says it will return 19 mpg regardless of your transmission choice.

Optionally, you can get a turbocharged 3.0-liter diesel V6 for many versions of the Gladiator, good for 260 horsepower at 3,600 rpm and 442 lb-ft of torque between 1,400 rpm and 2,800 rpm. Jeep likely calls this engine an EcoDiesel because it bumps the EPA fuel economy rating to as high as 24 mpg in combined driving. However, the option costs as much as $6,650 (including the required eight-speed automatic transmission), so if you get a Gladiator EcoDiesel thinking it will save you a ton of money at the pump, you may want to re-evaluate that strategy. It can't tow or haul as much weight as the gas V6, either.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

Gladiator Mojave models come only with the V6, and the test truck had the optional automatic transmission paired with the standard part-time Command Trac 4WD and its manual transfer case. The V6 quickly accelerates from a stop, but passing power is in short supply, the engine responding breathlessly at higher speeds. The truck averaged 17.3 mpg on the evaluation loop, including using the 4WD system when briefly off-roading. Note that Mojaves are rated to carry 1,200 pounds of payload and to tow 4,500 pounds.

What makes the Mojave special are the truck's modifications and tuning for high-speed driving in the desert. Jeep equips the truck with frame reinforcements, stronger axles, a one-inch front suspension lift, a half-inch increase in track, front skid plates, high-clearance fenders, and 33-inch all-terrain tires. But the stars of the show are the Fox-brand hydraulic jounce bumpers and 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks with external fluid reservoirs, which let the Mojave soak up all kinds of terrain.

I have off-roading experience in the Gladiator Rubicon, and I know how capable the truck can be when traveling across inhospitable terrain. So for this review, I took the Gladiator Mojave to a location with deep ruts and significant holes and bumps, driving across them at a quicker clip than might be prudent. But, true to its promise, the Mojave took it all in stride, turning what should have been a punishing experience into a merciful one.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

The Mojave also proved agreeable on the pavement of urban and suburban Los Angeles, almost gliding down sections of freeway that can generate an uncomfortable ride in other midsize pickup trucks. Similarly, the Mojave tamed the crumbling city streets of L.A. and the patched, undulating pavement of rural Ventura County. Suburban speed bumps and speed humps represent empty threats to this truck, and you rarely need to worry about curbing a wheel, thanks to the bulging tires.

However, the Gladiator's length can be a liability in urban parking garages. Also, due to a vast on-center dead spot, I constantly corrected the truck's steering to maintain a straight-line vector on city freeways and rural two-lane highways. Plus, the steering is slow to respond to inputs. These might be great traits to have when off-roading, but I found the Gladiator's steering became tiresome in everyday driving.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

The ever-present interior noise also led to fatigue and irritation. The test truck had the optional hardtop with an extra-cost hardtop headliner, which contributed to constant engine roar. Wind noise was evident at moderate speeds, gaining volume as I drove faster. On the highway, tire whir joined the discordant symphony of racket. No wonder the voice recognition system didn't work well.

With the Gladiator, the key to driving happiness is simple. Buy this Jeep pickup truck for its off-roading capability, Wrangler-based looks, and top-off/doors-off lifestyle connotations. That way, you have a good chance of accepting its flaws rather than quickly becoming disenchanted with its rough, raw, and unrefined nature.

Is the 2023 Jeep Gladiator a Good Truck?

The answer to this question depends on why you're considering a Gladiator. If you want terrific off-roading capability, a truck that transforms into a wide-open convertible, a more practical Wrangler, or access to the Jeep ownership club and lifestyle, then yes, the Gladiator is a good truck for achieving those things.

2023 Jeep GladiatorChristian Wardlaw

In addition, Jeep claims the Gladiator's gas V6 engine tows more weight than any midsize competitor and that its truck can carry more payload than any rival with 4WD. However, these are not widespread capabilities across the model lineup: Find out what your specific configuration can handle before loading up and heading out. Furthermore, the Gladiator's cargo bed is shallow, so larger loads are more exposed.

I found the Gladiator's standard features minimal. You get a complimentary Jeep Wave Program with three free oil changes and tire rotations during the first three years of ownership, plus a few other owner support and perks. But when you shop for a Gladiator, you might find that almost everything that makes this truck livable as a daily driver is optional, and that can put the sticker price well into the $50,000 to $60,000 range.

So choose something else if you define a "good truck" by value and everyday conveniences. Despite this, I love the Gladiator — virtually nothing else is like it. And the Mojave's modifications add civility to the truck's ride quality no matter where you drive it.

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Christian Wardlaw
My first word was “car.” That’s what I’m told, anyway. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with them. The design. The engineering. The performance. And the purpose. I’m a car enthusiast who loves to drive, but I’m also most interested in the cars, trucks, and SUVs that people actually buy. Anybody can tell you that a sports car is fast. What you need to know is whether or not you should buy that new SUV, and why. My life purpose is to help you make that decision.