The Jeep Gladiator and the JL Wrangler are closely related vehicles, and it doesn’t take a genius to see how. The sight of the seven-slot grille alone is enough to answer most questions about either vehicle; they are Jeeps, and they do Jeep things. That all being said, the adage of never judging a book by its cover is absolutely relevant here. There are plenty more differences between the JL Wrangler and the Jeep Gladiator (JT) than immediately meets the eye.
JL and Gladiator Similarities
First, let’s talk about what they have in common. One of the biggest things that they share in common is their ability to remove the doors, roof, and fold down the front windshield. There’s a lot to be said about the ruggedness and the capability of a Wrangler, but most people associate them with being sturdy, fun, and unpretentious convertibles. There are minor differences in the design of the hard and soft tops for both the Wrangler and the Gladiator, but their basic functions are the same.
Now that the Gladiator has the same functionality as a Wrangler, you can ride around in a pickup truck convertible, a vehicle that’s simultaneously as good and weird as an Elvis sandwich (that’s peanut butter, bacon, and banana for the record). While the Wrangler can and has been able to give you a pleasant and affordable open-air driving experience for years, it’s finally possible to do the same in a pickup.
Another thing that both the JT and the JL can do well is off-roading. Again, this is something that barely needs to be said considering that it’s Jeep we're talking about. A Rubicon trim is offered on both the Gladiator and the Wrangler, and not a single one failed to earn their “Trail Rated ” badges.
Sure, the Trail Rated badge is a bit of a marketing gimmick from Jeep, but that doesn’t mean that they're a slouch on the trails. The list of off-road tools and upgrades provided on either version of the Rubicon is longer than a CVS receipt. Needless to say, a stock JL or Gladiator Rubi will be hard pressed to find an obstacle that they can’t conquer. If you are particularly interested in how either Jeep fares on the trails, then check out this video from CJ Off-Road's YouTube channel. In this video, Matt compares both a JT Rubicon and a JL Rubicon. Given that the Rubicon is the definitive trim level for off-roading, comparing these two is a great way to see how they handle off-roading differently.
Gladiator and JL Differences
Despite their many similarities, there are some places where the Jeep Gladiator and the Jeep Wrangler do differ. In order to support the bed, the Gladiator does have a different frame than the JL. In addition to that, the inclusion of a bed does mean that the iconic spare tire on a Wrangler is instead hidden underneath the Gladiator’s bed.
In terms of raw power, the JT and the JL are evenly matched. Both come with the option of the 3.6L Pentastar which makes 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. That being said, that is the extent of the Gladiator’s current engine options. When equipped with this engine, the JL Wrangler makes 18 mpg in the city, and 23 on the highway, while the Gladiator makes 16 mpg in the city, and 23 on the highway.
The JL Wrangler has an additional engine option that does give it a leg up on the Gladiator, however. The 2.0L turbocharged I4 engine makes 270 hp and 295 lb-ft. In addition to the bump in power for this engine option, there are also some significant efficiency benefits as well. With this engine, the Wrangler makes 23 mpg in the city and 25 on the highway.
There is a third option that will be coming out soon for both the Wrangler and the Gladiator. The 3.0L turbo-diesel engine will be a serious performance boost for either vehicle, making 260 hp and a tantalizing 442 lb-ft of torque.
One thing that the two vehicles have in common is their shared transmission options: either a 6-speed manual or an 8 speed automatic.
Additionally, there are different axle configurations on the Gladiator. The JT comes with a Dana 44 front and rear axle by default. The Wrangler, on the other hand, comes with a Dana 30 in the front and a Dana 35 on the rear, with the Dana 44 only making an appearance on the Wrangler Rubicon.
Speaking of the Rubicon, there are some different trim options between the JL and the JT. The various JL trims
are Sport, Sport S, Sahara, Rubicon, and Moab, and the Jeep Gladiator trims are Sport, Sports, Overland, and Rubicon.
It should be noted that since the Gladiator is a 2020 model, there are some tech options offered on it that will eventually find their way to the Wrangler. For example, there is an option on the Rubicon model Gladiators that makes it easier for you to air down your tires. After selecting your target PSI, the Gladiator’s horn will go off once it has been reached. This is a super helpful tool for anyone going off-roading.
There are a few minor differences between the grille of the Gladiator and the JL Wrangler as well. For the most part, they are identical, but in order to allow for the greater airflow needed for towing, the JT’s grille features wider openings. It’s not something you can really see at a distance, but it’s a difference none the less.
Finally, there are quite a few additions on the interior of the Jeep Gladiator. For one, there is the lockable and detachable storage hidden away underneath the rear seats. This is fantastic for riding around with the roof and doors off. There is also another tiny little addition to the interior of the Jeep Gladiator, which is the optional Bluetooth speaker that is also hidden under the rear seats. Sure, you can keep a Bluetooth speaker inside of your JL, but the dedicated space (and charger) for it under the rear seat is rather nice.
Gladiator and JL Wrangler Overview
These two vehicles are a bit tricky to directly compare as there is quite a bit of overlap between them. The JL can do a lot of what the JT can do, and vice versa. Part of what really differentiates these two vehicles holistically is what their drivers want out of them. Here are some of the general pros and cons of either Jeep.
JL Wrangler Pros and Cons
One of the things that the JL Wrangler can do that the Gladiator really can’t is complicated rock crawling. The short wheelbase is absolutely key for navigating your vehicle over steep and tumultuous rock formations. Gladiators can make their own way off-road, but there are plenty of situations where it would bottom out and the Wrangler would keep going. In a similar vein, the JL Wrangler has a better turning radius and is much more maneuverable than the Gladiator. While this is helpful in off-road scenarios, you will most likely enjoy this part of the JL in tight urban parking lots more than anything else.
Another thing that the Wrangler has over the JT is its gas mileage. If you want a Jeep to be your daily, and you don’t plan on using the bed frequently, then the JL Wrangler is the more economical option. The JL also has a lower base price than the Gladiator, so unless you are really sold on the functionality of a pickup, then you could save some money.
Gladiator Pros and Cons
That all being said, the JL Wrangler isn’t a truck! Regardless of how simple of an observation this is, it is the big difference between these two. The important thing to note though is that the Gladiator, in addition to being one of the top performing mid-size pickups, still has the heart of a Wrangler. While it doesn’t completely stack up to the off-road performance of a JL Wrangler, it is still completely competent on the trails. In fact, the Gladiator is better suited for high-speed off-roading situations, like racing through the desert.
That being said, the Gladiator still isn't the perfect replacement as an enthusiast vehicle. For example, both the manual transmission and the Rubicon trim can lower the max towing capacity by quite a bit. While the Gladiator is just as moddable as the JL is, its size will remain a hindrance in certain situations. Regardless, if you are keen on driving a truck, and you are a Jeep fan, then you should be willing to overlook these considerably minor problems.
Gladiator and JL Wrangler : By the Numbers
Regardless of the many subjective differences, why don't you look at some of the raw data. While some of these figures do reiterate some of the differences listed above, others show some minor physical changes between them that might be important to you.
||JL Wrangler Rubicon
|Max Payload Capacity
Sources: The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Is Even Better Than the Wrangler Truck You Dreamed Of, Jalopnik | 2021 Jeep Gladiator Pros and Cons Review: One Huge Flaw, MotorTrend | Jeep Gladiator vs Jeep Wrangler: What's the Difference, AutoTrader | Image Credit: Jeep