From the front, you’d never guess these too Jeeps are very different. On the left is the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, a pick-up. On the right, the 2020 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon, the legendary SUV. From the back of the second row of seats to the front bumper they are nearly identical in their off-road trim and tech (and price, with both stickering for more than $55K).
Both feature 4-Low gearing, trail management systems, front and rear lockers, solid axles, disconnecting front sway bar, same size all-terrain tires and wheels. But after that, several critical difference set the Wrangler apart from the Gladiator in terms of off-roading capability.
The Benchmark: Wrangler Unlimited Rubicon
Straight from the factory, this Jeep is arguably the most capable 4-door off-roader you can buy.
The Good: A 3.0-liter EcoDiesel under the hood delivers more than 400 ft-lbs. of torque, making it the best rock-crawling Jeep we’ve ever driven. A generous breakover angle of 22.6 degrees is plenty to clear the infamous Razor Rocks on our Ironclad test trail. And a 36-degree departure angle means peace of mind when leaving bumper-shaving obstacles behind.
The Bad: Diesels are HEAVY. In this case, the mighty engine drops the vehicle’s overall payload to a wimpy 850 pounds while doing nothing for the SUV’s tow rating of 3,500 pounds. In essence, putting 5 adults inside with a giant cooler full of beer has a good chance of nearly overloading the vehicle.
The Results: With one or two people inside plus gear, the Wrangler Rubicon with the diesel has the muscle and range to travel deeper into the middle of nowhere than many 4x4s dare.
The Challenger: Gladiator Rubicon
Straight from the factory, one of the most off-road worthy trucks available.
The Good: The longer wheelbase (18.9″ longer) makes the Gladiator a much smoother ride than the SUV on anything short of rock crawling. Compared to our Wrangler Unlimited with the diesel, our Gladiator has a payload of 1,245 pounds and a tow rating that’s 1,000 pounds better. And that’s with FCA’s ubiquitous V6 gas engine. There’s also more rear seat room and the utility of a 5-foot bed out back.
The Bad: The V6 is fine, but 260 ft-lbs. torque at 3,000 RPM is not optimal for tip-toeing over the Razor Rocks. However where the Gladiator loses dramatically to the Wrangler is in breakover and departure angles. The truck’s 20.3 breakover angle and 25 degree departure angles leave the truck scraping rocks where the Wrangler’s 22.6 degree and 36 degree angles have no issues.
The Results: Despite the breakover angle issues, both Tommy and Roman agree that the Gladiator is, for the majority of off-road adventuring, the best bet. The Wrangler’s diesel can’t overcome the Gladiator’s vastly superior utility and ride. While the Gladiator couldn’t make it over the crux of the Razor Rocks, picking a new line a few feet to the side of them made them a non issue.
See the picture above for when the Gladiator found its limits on TFL’s notorious Razor Rocks off-camber obstacle. Click on the video below to HEAR the damage, as well as see how each Jeep earned its Rubicon badge.