Merriam-Webster defines a gladiator as “a person engaging in a fight to the death as public entertainment for ancient Romans” or “a trained fighter.” I started this off like I’m writing a middle school book report for one simple reason: the Jeep Gladiator can be considered a trained fighter, taking on the harshest and most demanding trails and conquering them in brutal combat. As the driver, you are in control of this mighty behemoth, and it is up to you to take advantage of all the strength at your disposal while you are out on the trail—that is what going off-road in a Jeep is all about.
That is, assuming you have a Jeep Gladiator; anyone currently looking for a used Jeep for sale with an eye on a Gladiator might wonder how the different model years out there stack up. The Jeep Gladiator has not been out that long, so it is not like you will find a dozen model years and several generations to keep track of. Still, there can be some notable differences when considering one model year compared to another, so I thought it would be fun to look at each one and see how well it rates for going out on the trail. This is not a buyer’s guide or anything, just an enjoyable take on the Gladiator and how well it can fight any off-road combatant you throw it at.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator
First, to be clear, we are not talking about the Gladiator truck from the 1960s through the 1980s—those are fine trucks, but not really what we’re all about. We are looking at the modern Jeep Gladiator, and its first model year was 2020 when, after decades of fans pleading for a new truck, Jeep finally delivered something remarkable. Undoubtedly, the Gladiator is a fine piece of machinery and a midsize truck designed to head out onto the trail and dominate everything in its path.
Jeep launched the 2020 Gladiator with a single engine available: a 3.6L Pentastar V6 that delivers 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque. It comes with four-wheel drive (4×4) standard on every model, much like the Jeep Wrangler that its design was heavily influenced by. However, four different 4×4 systems are available on the 2020 model, including Command-Trac part-time 4×4, Selec-Trac full-time 4×4, and two advanced Rock-Trac systems: a part-time or a full-time option. In other words, any Gladiator can do some solid work on the trail, though some—like the Rubicon model—are built to tackle the biggest challenges.
When all is said and done, the 2020 Gladiator has up to 11.1 inches of ground clearance, a 43.4-degree approach angle, a 20.3-degree breakover angle, and a 26-degree departure angle—at least with the Rubicon model. It also has 30 inches of water fording depth, making it a fantastic truck for taking off-road; on top of all that, it can handle up to 1,600 lbs of payload and up to 7,650 lbs of towing when properly equipped. So this truck can do what it needs to do while still beating up any trail it comes across.
With so much going for it, I have to give the 2020 Gladiator 5 out of 5 folded windshields!
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator
There were massive, earth-shattering changes for the Jeep Gladiator with the 2021 model year, and the industry has never been the same. Okay, so they were not that big, but there was one major addition for 2021 that makes it well worth considering when looking at used Gladiator models. For 2021, Jeep delivered a second engine for the Gladiator: an available 3.0L EcoDiesel V6 that offers 260 hp and 442 lb-ft of torque. This is a bit less horsepower than what the standard engine brings but far greater torque, which is enormous for towing and when heading off-road.
For the 2021 model year, both an eight-speed automatic transmission and a six-speed manual remained available, which were also offered for the inaugural 2020 model. A new Mojave model for 2021 stepped up some of the Gladiator’s off-road specs ever-so-slightly: shifting ground clearance up to 11.6 inches, water fording to 31.5 inches, and angles to 44.7-degree approach, 20.9-degree break over, and 25.5-degree departure. These changes are not huge, but they are still notable. Two impressive special editions were also offered for 2021: an 80th Anniversary Edition with special badging and details inside and out and a Willys Edition celebrating the original Jeep with 17-inch Mid-Gloss Black Rubicon aluminum wheels, 32-inch BFGoodrich Mud-Terrain tires, and much more.
With its available diesel engine, the 2021 Gladiator earns 5 out of 5 splashes in the mud!
The 2022 Jeep Gladiator
For the 2022 model year, Jeep did little new with the Gladiator, particularly regarding off-road capability or performance. We don’t get a new engine here or anything like that. I’m not incredibly upset about it, considering how good the Gladiator already is and has been since it was first released. Still, there is not much to ultimately put this year ahead of the two we already looked at.
Most of the changes were aesthetic or slightly functional at best: new half doors became available, along with a doors-off mirror kit. A Sunrider Flip Top for Hardtop models also became available for 2022, along with a Corning Gorilla Glass windshield, while a Jeep air filtration system became standard. That is about it for this year and new features; while they are all good—the half doors and doors-off mirror kit in particular—they are not much to write home about compared to a new diesel engine.
With only modest additions, the 2022 Gladiator earns 4.5 out of 5 Jeep Waves (it’s a thing)!
The 2023 Jeep Gladiator
Spoiler alert: not a lot has changed for the 2023 model year, so don’t expect anything revolutionary here. You will still find fantastic capability and options, including the standard and diesel engines available, plus four different 4×4 systems. Still, nothing is new or innovative compared to what they have already delivered. For example, those of us hoping to see a Gladiator Rubicon 392 model are still playing a tremendous waiting game. We know a Gladiator 4xe model is coming soon, but Jeep has not said much about any plans for a more powerful option. We got a couple of new opportunities for 2023, such as a Freedom Package to celebrate the US military and a Capability Package that adds a winch-capable steel front bumper and steel rock sliders to the High Altitude trim, but not much else.
With such underwhelming changes, the 2023 Gladiator still earns 4 out of 5 wet pant legs due to having the doors off.
Jeep Clearly Knows What They’re Doing
Don’t let these last couple of ratings fool you; there is nothing wrong with the 2022 or 2023 Jeep Gladiator models; they haven’t exactly been pushing the bar on what they bring to the trail. As a result, they are not what I would call the best options if someone is interested in a used Jeep Gladiator since they will likely cost more than one from 2021 without having more to offer (other than potentially having less use on them). At the end of the day, any Jeep Gladiator is a powerful midsize truck that is fantastic for taking off-road, so they all come through in that regard. For anyone looking to battle the trail and come out on top, there is no denying that a Gladiator is the kind of fighter you want to have on your side.