For years consumers have been begging Jeep to bring out the prototype pickup truck that was shown at all the international car shows. It is now at your local dealer and is named the Gladiator. We put over 800 miles on one to see if it is worth the wait.
First, understand this is not a Jeep Wrangler SUV with an extended bed. This is a totally different chassis, which explains the 1,600-pound cargo rating in the bed and ability to tow over 7,000 pounds of gear. In other words, this is a real truck. Under the hood is a 285-horsepower V6 and eight-speed automatic gearbox. Fuel economy is listed at 17/22 mpg.
On the street, the power steering is too light, but otherwise, no complaints. The ride is very smooth and handling is very good in tight corners. Since the Gladiator is 31 inches longer than a four-door Wrangler, it can hold more cargo. This makes for a wide turning circle that requires some getting used to. The off-road performance is excellent.
The base price starts about $33K. Thanks to high demand, the factory is loading these up with options, so this one was $48K. An upgraded Rubicon version I drove was a whopping $58K! Shop for your best deal.
Next up is the older, yet proven Toyota Tacoma. This is the TRD Pro, which is intended for serious off-road performance. Items like raised ride height, super duty shocks, skid plates, giant tires, crawl control and locking differential are some of the features. A long list of luxury items are here as well. With every factory item put on, the total fee comes to a tidy $49K.
The Tacoma is an old design that has few updates, so we get seats that don’t adjust for height, cramped interior and drum brakes on the rear. Still, it delivers reliable performance, and more so with this Pro package. On rough desert trails, impacts are soaked up with ease. This truck loves to be driven hard. The 3.5-liter V6 cranks 273 horsepower and is hooked to a dated six-speed automatic. Fuel economy is claimed to be 18/22. This showed 19 on highway trips.
So should we choose the older proven Tacoma or newer stylish Gladiator? Both will give plenty of satisfaction, so take your pick.
Chad Haire, of Phoenix, test-drives vehicles for this feature.