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2024 Jeep Gladiator First Drive: Trail Transcendence but Tiring on Tarmac

The updated Jeep Gladiator continues to put off-road prowess above all

2024 Jeep Gladiator in the desert
  • 2024 marks the first major update for the Gladiator.
  • Rubicon X and Mojave X trims debut with Nappa leather and more.
  • The Gladiator shares exterior and interior updates with 2024 Wrangler.

You wouldn't think something as large and cumbersome-looking as the 2024 Jeep Gladiator would be able to casually stroll up an off-road obstacle called Wipeout Hill. And yet, there we were, watching several of them in succession make short work of the steep, rocky terrain, with only the trailer hitch scraping against the rocks. It’s an impressive feat, made all the more so by the fact that these were desert-runner Mojave trims and not rock-crawling Rubicons.

But let’s rewind a bit. Jeep introduced the 2024 Gladiator in Moab, Utah, coinciding with the 2024 Easter Jeep Safari, an annual event where some 30,000 Jeep enthusiasts descend on the little desert town to prove their mettle and metal against the elements. Jeep has had an official presence at the Easter Jeep Safari for years, using the opportunity to show off concepts and introduce updated models.

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The Gladiator’s vibe was easy to figure out when it was introduced in 2020: It’s a Wrangler with a 5-foot truck bed. So, like the 2024 Wrangler, the Gladiator gets a handful of meaningful updates aimed at keeping this midsize pickup at the top of its off-road game. Of course, that should be the easy part. Even considering that the newly crowned Edmunds Top Rated Chevy Colorado and all-new Toyota Tacoma have both upped their own off-road games, neither is as off-road-focused as the Gladiator.

So do the changes Jeep made to the Gladiator improve its standing against the class leaders? Or does its function-first design still hold it back when the road is paved? 

What’s new with the Gladiator?

Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator has a new grille and a new antenna integrated into the fold-down windshield. You can also choose between seven new wheel designs. Inside is a new 12.3-inch touchscreen that comes with standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone connectivity — although no wireless charging — plus integration of Jeep Adventure Guides featuring Trails Offroad. The standard system has off-road trail guides for the 62 Jeep “Badge of Honor” trails, and with a subscription you can get guides for more than 3,000 trails. 

On the safety front, all 2024 Gladiators get a new side curtain airbag that extends to rear seat passengers, plus Sport S trims and above get standard forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go functionality. 

At the top of the line are the new Rubicon X and Mojave X models, which for $64,890 (including a $1,895 destination fee) essentially pre-check all the options boxes, adding things like Nappa leather-trimmed 12-way power front seats, a full-time transfer case, front and rear steel bumpers, and an integrated front camera. If that price is out of your budget, the $46,890 Willys trim gets more off-road capability with a newly standard rear-axle locker and Off-Road+ mode that optimizes throttle and transmission operation for better off-road performance.

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Unfortunately the Gladiator's diesel engine has been discontinued, leaving the 3.6-liter V6 as the only engine option. However, you can still get it with either an eight-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. 

To top it all off, the Gladiator is less expensive this year, with the base model costing $1,750 less than before despite all the new equipment. 

How is the new Gladiator off road?

When in Moab, one must go off-roading. We hit the trails in a Mojave X, which has some equipment specialized for desert running, such as Fox shocks with external reservoirs, hydraulic bump stops, a rear-axle locker, and 33-inch tires on 17-inch aluminum wheels. It also includes Off-Road+, which allows a high–speed mode with the rear-axle locker engaged.

There are plenty of opportunities to wring out the Mojave X in Moab. Led through the trail by off-road expert Nena Barlow, the Mojave is able to keep up with her aggressive pace with ease. The big Gladiator bounds down sandy trails in high-range four-wheel drive at around 25-30 mph, barely breaking a sweat as it bounces over humps and into gullies, only occasionally tapping the hydraulic bump stops. For much of the run we have Off-Road+ engaged, as well, and shutting it off for science makes the Gladiator feel sluggish and unresponsive to the throttle.

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Even though the Mojave X is primarily for desert running, it’s still a Jeep with tons of ground clearance, Dana 44 front and rear axles, and a low-speed transfer case. Plus, rocks are inevitable in Moab, which brings us to the aforementioned Wipeout Hill. Here, we engage low-range 4WD, lock the rear axle, and follow Nena up the steep incline. We’re not surprised the Gladiator makes it — it’s not like Jeep is going to put an insurmountable obstacle on its test drive course — but the ease with which it clambers up the rocky slope is still impressive. 

How is the new touchscreen?

We’re almost always fans of additional screen real estate, and this is no exception. The Gladiator's old screen looks puny by comparison, and this new one is sharp and clear. We also like the multiple features for off-road enthusiasts. You can get pitch and roll indicators, use the front camera to precisely place the front of the vehicle if you don’t have a spotter, and monitor various other functions such as transmission and oil temperature, oil pressure and so on. The Adventure Guides integration is a neat feature as well, giving you detailed info on the trail you’re exploring. 

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Two problems, though. First, using any touchscreen while driving can be difficult, but using it while bouncing along a dirt trail is nearly impossible. You’d be best advised to find the setting you want before heading out and leaving it there. If you want to switch modes, it’s best to stop busting those trails first. Second, like many touchscreens, you have to dig around through various menus to find exactly what you’re looking for, furthering the argument to set it up before you head out. It would be nice if Jeep could have a physical shortcut button to activate the various off-road screens. 

Is the Gladiator better on pavement?

Jeep representatives used the word “refinement” a few times referring to the updated Gladiator, but it’s a tricky word when it comes to this Jeep. Certainly, the new leather on the seats in the Mojave X are nice, and who doesn’t like power adjustability? The new touchscreen classes up the interior a bit as well. 

But once you get on paved roads, it’s clear that the Gladiator, like its Wrangler brothers, is optimized for something else. On the mostly smooth pavement around Moab the Gladiator feels ... fine. But bumps in the road upset it more than you’d feel in a Colorado, Ranger or Tacoma. It’s also comparatively noisy inside at highway speeds, with the blocky shape creating multiple opportunities for wind to roar around you.

That said, if it’s a compromise you’re willing to make, the Gladiator is actually a very capable pickup, with up to 7,700 pounds of towing and more than 1,700 pounds of payload capacity. 

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Edmunds says

The 2024 Gladiator's improvements are worthwhile, and we like that the Rubicon X and Mojave X make getting all the good stuff a simple affair, even if their prices are somewhat ridiculous. The Gladiator remains very capable when it comes to truck stuff like hauling and towing, and it's most in its element when it's off-road. Fish in water, lizard on a rock, bird in the sky ... pick your own analogy, but you get the point.

But what the off-road gods giveth, they taketh away, too. If your focus is off-road capability, then by all means, the Gladiator is a great choice. Just go into it knowing that the Gladiator's off-road-focused solid front axle and suspension mean it isn't as comfortable as a Colorado, Ranger or Tacoma in the day-to-day grind. That doesn't make the Gladiator a bad truck, just a very focused one.