For 2021 the Jeep Gladiator comes with two engine options. A 3.6L V6 making 285 horsepower and 260 torque is standard fare. The new 3.0L V6 turbocharged diesel develops 260 horsepower and a mighty 442 torque. Transmission options include a standard six-speed manual transmission or an optional 8-speed automatic for the 3.6L and the 8-speed exclusively for the diesel engine. Properly equipped, Jeep claims the Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 lbs. Those looking to load up the cargo bed can carry up to 1,700lbs. of payload. Power is sent first to a transfer case and then to the rear or all-four wheels depending on what mode the Gladiator is in. The Gladiator is one of the most capable off-roaders in the North American market.
The Gladiator comes in four trims including Sport, Overland, Rubicon and Mojave. Standard features on the base Sport trim include 17-inch wheels, fog lamps, a body colored grille, a fabric convertible top, a fold-down front windshield, 5-inch touchscreen display, cruise control, Bluetooth connectivity, and an 8-speaker sound system. LED lights are now optional. The Overland trim gets bigger 18-inch wheels, body colored exterior fenders, automatic headlights, a 7-inch touchscreen in the center console with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic climate control, and a leather steering wheel.
The Rubicon trim provides more off-road capability. It features bigger 33-inch tires, a more robust 4x4 system with extra low gearing for rock-crawling, an electronically disconnecting front sway bar, locking front and rear differentials, rock sliders on the side of the vehicle and FOX branded shock absorbers. Options on the Rubicon include a forward-facing camera and wider Dana 44 axles.
The Mojave trim removes the Rubicon's locking front differential and disconnecting stabilizer bar to focus more on higher-speed off-roading prowess. It offers a reinforced frame, a tuned transfer case, uprated FOX shock absorbers, a 1-inch front suspension lift, and a desert rated badge in place of the trail rated version.
The Gladiator is highly customizable with either soft or hard tops, a spray-in bedliner with tonneau cover, tow hitch, LED headlights, a larger 8.4-inch touchscreen display, leather seats, and a premium Alpine sound system. Available driver safety aids include blind-spot monitoring, rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control, and forward collision mitigation.
The Sport S sub-trim package adds improved 17-inch aluminum wheels, power windows and door locks, heated mirrors and remote keyless access. A retro inspired Willys trim level joins the range based on the Sport trim. Additions include mud terrain tires, rock rails, rear differential, black exterior accents, black wheels, body-colored fender flares and Willys stickers. An 80th Anniversary special edition is also new with 18-inch wheels, all terrain tires, the 8.4-inch touchscreen display, Alpine audio system, navigation, remote start, grey exterior accents, Berber floor mats, and commemorative 80th Anniversary badging throughout.
The High Altitude luxurious sub trim adds a body-colored hard top, full LED exterior lighting, auto high beams, 20-inch wheels, body-color exterior accents, and a leather-lined cabin with Nappa leather seats. The auxiliary switch group offers an uprated alternator, battery, and 4 interior programmable switches for add-ons such as exterior light bars.
The Jeep Gladiator pickup gets a new diesel engine option for 2021. It's the same 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 you'll find in the Jeep Wrangler and Ram 1500, pushing out 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque. But with its $6,000 premium over the standard powertrain, is it good enough to warrant that extra cost?
To find out, we head for the sand dunes of Glamis, California. Theoretically, at least, the increased low-end torque and revised gearing in the eight-speed automatic transmission should be a boon for off-roading, letting us keep momentum without needing to change gears. The other benefit of this engine is fuel economy, and the Gladiator Rubicon EcoDiesel is rated to return 22 miles per gallon combined. (Sport and Overland models can achieve 24 mpg.) After 500 miles of driving and a hard day in the dunes, we're seeing 21.8 mpg. Pretty good.
The Gladiator has an Off-Road Plus setting that sharpens the throttle response in four-wheel-drive high gear for quicker bursts of power if needed. The Gladiator has no trouble attacking dune faces, scrambling up and over hills without issue. It even powers out of a small, V-shaped hole in the dunes that can suck other vehicles in like quicksand, the Jeep's Falken Wildpeak 285/70R17 tires aired down to 17 psi for extra grip in the soft sand.
The Good ~ Tons of low-end torque ~ Smooth highway manners ~ Fuel economy benefits ~ Unmatched off-road chops
The Bad ~ Diesel engine is expensive ~ Payload and towing ratings suffer
The Bottom Line The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon with the diesel engine is a fine choice for more torque and longer driving range, but we aren't sure the $6,000 upcharge is worth it.
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