Here’s what I learned driving around out(of)doors for a whole week in Jeep’s hot new Wrangler-based pickup.
by CHRIS PAUKERT
We’ve already published a full review of the 2020 Jeep Gladiator featuring both on- and off-road action courtesy of our resident dirt maven, Emme Hall. In fact, the midsize pickup scored so well it earned a Roadshow Editors’ Choice ribbon.
With that already on the books, I wanted to spend my week with one doing something different, so I pulled out the Gladiator’s included tool pouch and set to work taking the doors off. I figured I’d drive around for a day or so with my knees in the breeze before converting it back. But a funny thing happened on the way to reassembling this red Overland model: I found myself enjoying it so much that the doors didn’t go back on until it was time to give it back a week later.
Here are some random observations and tips from my week wheeling the 2020 Jeep Gladiator out(of)doors:
It’s been a while since I yanked the slammers off a Jeep, but it’s a pretty easy process. Each door only requires removing three bolts as well as disconnecting a wiring harness clip and a fabric tether. Thanks to lighter-weight aluminum skins, this is now more of a one-person job than it used to be on the outgoing JK Wrangler. The larger front doors probably weigh around 50 pounds each, and they’re more awkward than they are heavy.
The included nylon tool pouch includes a branded 5-5/16-inch ratchet, T40 and T50 Torx bits, a 15-millimeter socket and a pictographic instruction card. It’s all you need to remove the doors and roof panels and lower your windshield. This toolkit is compact and convenient, but it also doesn’t feel particularly beefy. Identical Mopar replacement sets are only about $25 online, but you might want to find a sturdier solution if you plan to disassemble and reassemble your Gladiator or Wrangler frequently.
There’s a convenient storage caddy for all the hardware you’ve removed located beneath the rear seat. As I’m an idiot who never bothered to read the instructions, I didn’t discover this ingenious addition for a couple of days.
If the idea of being head-to-toe exposed leaves you feeling vulnerable, you still may want to give door-off life a try. While initially a bit reluctant, my girlfriend got used to the sensation quite quickly, and by the end of the week, she was commenting on how much she enjoyed riding in the Jeep.
You never realize how much you use your side mirrors until you don’t have them. Approaching intersections, as from a parking lot onto a main road, is easy, with the open apertures providing exceptional visibility. Merging or changing lanes on the freeway, however, is far more disconcerting. You’ll want to have your center rearview mirror adjusted “just so,” and you’ll likely find yourself doing a few over-the-shoulder glances to ease your apprehension. This never quite gets better, so I highly, highly recommend getting a set of aftermarket mirrors like one of these units, most of which simply slot into your Jeep’s now-vacant door hinges.
I normally don’t care much for screen-based blind-spot solutions like Honda’s LaneWatch system. In fact, I typically shut them off. However, in this case, it’d be neat if the Gladiator’s rearview camera momentarily flipped on when you activated the turn signals with the doors off. The camera has a sufficiently wide field of view, excellent resolution and good variable-light performance. Plus, the Gladiator’s uplevel 8.4-inch Uconnect screen is mounted high up enough in the dashboard where this functionality could be useful.
This probably goes without saying, but you can also kiss blind-spot detection goodbye when you’re living the doorless life. A small warning to that effect greets you when you first start the Gladiator. Fortunately, there’s no permanent idiot lamp reminder.
Speaking of disabled, the Gladiator’s convenient remote-start feature doesn’t work with the doors off, either, for obvious reasons.
I’m a huge convertible fan, but with the Jeep’s doors off, I never felt the need to monkey around removing the roof panels on my tester. The vehicle still felt very open and sunny like a convertible, with the side benefit of not having occupants bake under excessive sun load or, alternatively, getting soaked in the rain. This convenience can’t be overstated — it’s wonderful. Plus, ingress and egress is made that much easier.
The Jeep Gladiator’s optional lockable rear under-seat bins are a godsend when running doorless. Unless you want to pack up all of your stuff or risk it getting jacked whenever you park, they’re indispensable. On the downside, they’re still quite small and shallow, and their reconfigurable dividers are on the flimsy side. If I bought a Gladiator, I’d invest in some larger lockable storage, even if it’s in-bed. If you stop for groceries, for instance, you’ll probably want more space, if only to keep your purchases from blowing all over the cabin or out onto the road.
No door dings!
Pro tip: Keep your key fob, wallet and any other valuables in your inside pocket (if not deposited in the center armrest or glovebox). I didn’t lose anything, but why risk something falling out into the street?
Wind buffeting is real, kids. Opening my test Gladiator’s tiny manual rear window didn’t help much. You learn to turn up the stereo or shout more and live with it.
2019 JL Wranglers — and even 2020 Gladiators — feel like they’re already everywhere here in greater Detroit. Even so, that hasn’t stopped countless admirers from pointing and waving, or commenting and giving their thumbs up. This seems to increase exponentially once people see one with the doors off.
As you’d expect, driving around with the doors off adds massive aerodynamic drag, which takes its toll on fuel efficiency. In mixed city and highway driving, my eight-speed-automatic-equipped Gladiator (a $2,000 upcharge over the six-speed manual) managed 17 miles per gallon combined. Official EPA estimates from the standard 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 call for 17 mpg city, 22 highway and 19 combined. Considering I was running doors-off and I’m not a particularly conservative driver, I was very pleased with this truck’s results.
Overall, this 2020 Jeep Gladiator marks an important and rather unexpected milestone for me. I’ve always loved Jeep Wranglers. Hell, I’ve got a 1/18-scale diecast of a JK on my desk as I write this. However, I’ve only really ever wanted to drive one a few select “fun” days a month. That’s because when I’ve daily-driven them, their many shortcomings (e.g., agrarian ride quality, prodigious wind/road noise, lousy steering and poor efficiency) have made it too easy to overlook these vehicles’ many positives. In other words, what’s easy to forgive for the occasional fun beach day can grate on the morning commute.
Fortunately, Jeep’s new JL-generation Wrangler and now, this 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup, are such a quantum leap forward in terms of overall livability and refinement that they change all that for me. After spending a week with this new 2020 Gladiator Overland, I’m confident that this is one of the best and most entertaining vehicles I will drive all year. In fact, I’m so smitten that I’ve started trying to come up with excuses to buy one.
Unfortunately, I may have to wait until these things hit the used market. Base 2020 Gladiator Sport models start at $33,545, plus a $1,495 destination fee. Overland models like this ring up at $40,395. The Firecracker Red test model seen here had plenty of options, ballooning its price all the way to $55,040. That’s far from cheap, but the Gladiator is also three convincing vehicles in one: pickup, SUV and convertible.
Read the original article and view more photos on RoadShow.