Concept Cars

The Jeep J6 concept is my almost-perfect match

A two-door Gladiator is totally awesome, but it's not a "Shut up and take my money" affair just yet.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

If the Jeeping world had a Super Bowl, it'd be the Easter Jeep Safari. Off-roaders from all over the country converge in Moab, Utah, to explore the gorgeous scenery in everything from stock, vintage Willys wagons to brand-new, modified Wranglers that look like they could survive Armageddon.

The J6 is almost perfect.

Emme Hall/Roadshow

To celebrate this annual event, Jeep builds a series of off-road concepts. Some are throwback homages to older Jeeps, while others are just off-road-modded to the max. This year, following the launch of the 2020 Gladiator, Jeep's six concepts were all new takes on the brand's midsize pickup truck. And the one that stood out the most was the two-door J6.

The Jeep J6 concept really speaks to me. I've spent a lot of time in the new Gladiator and pretty much fell in love right away, but what I really want is a two-door version. It's like meeting a guy who's this close to being perfect. The Gladiator is already a piece of cake, but I really want that icing, too.

Why it's better

The J6 rides on a 118.4-inch wheelbase, compared with the 137.3-inch wheelbase of the Gladiator. For off-roading, this is a very good thing. The shorter wheelbase gives the J6 a breakover angle of 22.6 degrees -- a nice improvement over the 20.3 degrees of the four-door Gladiator. And that's before you take the J6's 2-inch lift and 37-inch tires into account. Both of those improve the two-door truck's off-road prowess even more.

Despite its shorter wheelbase, the J6 has a longer bed than the Gladiator -- 6 feet long, compared with 5. Yes, the concept has a spare tire carrier that takes up a lot of the bed, but in theory, it's removable, and even so, the J6 offers a ton of space to carry camping gear, Ikea furniture, what have you.

And look, I know everyone thinks they need four doors and two rows of seats because they're constantly going to have to haul lots of people around, but for me, that isn't a problem. I have lots of friends, but I don't need to be carting four of them up and down every mountain pass, leeching off my Diet Dr. Pepper and eating all my trail mix. One passenger is plenty.

Not without compromises

Here's the one big caveat to the whole J6 package: It looks like a Gladiator, but it isn't built on the pickup truck's frame. The J6's underpinnings are shared with the Wrangler, meaning that in a number of ways, the J6 isn't as capable as a Gladiator.

The Gladiator has forward-facing Fox shocks for better overall load management; the Wrangler does not. The Gladiator has the same Dana 44 solid rear axle as the Wrangler, but the pickup truck's setup is 10 millimeters thicker, making it better able to handle payload. Furthermore, the Gladiator's five-link rear suspension setup, with upper and lower control arms as well as a track bar borrowed from the Ram 1500, combined with added reinforcements, means it can tow up to 7,650 pounds. The Wrangler -- and therefore, the J6 -- is rated to tow less than half that: 3,500 pounds.

The desert of Moab, Utah is no match for the J6 concept.

FCA

The Gladiator has another ace up its sleeve: the Off-Road+ button. In the four-door pickup, this adjusts the throttle, transmission and stability control parameters to make the most of the Jeep's capabilities. In 4WD High, drivers will get better high-speed performance, for dune or soft-sand running. In 4WD Low, Off-Road+ takes things in the opposite direction, allowing the Jeep to better handle superslow, rough obstacles. The company's Wrangler models don't yet offer this function, so it stands to reason the J6 doesn't, either. (Jeep hasn't told me one way or the other if the Wrangler will ever get an Off-Road+ button.)

On the trails of Moab

On a short off-road course, the J6 feels like... well, like a Wrangler. I felt like I was back in the Rebelle Rally, where my teammate and I took first place in a bone-stock 2019 Wrangler Rubicon. The only difference is the decreased departure angle -- like the Gladiator, the J6 has a longer rear overhang than the Wrangler SUV.

The J6 is powered by the tried and true 3.6-liter Pentastar V6, good for 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. However, the addition of a Jeep Performance Parts cold air intake bumps the power up just a bit. This concept has all the off-road goodies I could ever want: skid plate protection, front and rear locking differentials, sway bar disconnect and 4:1 low-range gear ratio. All told the eight-speed automatic transmission has a final crawl ratio of 77.2:1, so I have massive amounts of torque at low speed. The red rocks of Moab don't even stand a chance.

The J6 concept gets some aftermarket LED lighting to blaze the trail.

FCA

Almost perfect

When I first laid eyes on the J6, it was a "Shut up and take my money" moment. Color me disappointed that the J6 turned out to be like a lot of the guys I've dated: beautiful on the outside, but not quite up to snuff.

The good news is that Jeep says the J6 was built on the Wrangler's frame and suspension due to time constraints, not technical problems. Of course, Jeep won't comment on the production-intent possibility of the J6, but a two-door Gladiator has never been completely ruled out.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator is a phenomenal truck. If the J6 came to market without any compromises, I'd swipe left in a heartbeat.