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A red 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is driving down a rocky hill.

The 2021 Jeep Gladiator: Disrupting The Traditional Pickup Truck Category

Let’s say you need the utility of a traditional pickup truck but don’t love the boring, work truck body style. Is there an alternative? Try the 2021 Jeep Gladiator. It doesn’t surprise us that Jeep decided to enter the pickup truck category a little differently than its competitors. In fact, Jeep has successfully bridged two categories with one vehicle plenty of times in the past. This concept of building vehicles that transcend automotive categories is a hallmark of the Jeep way, and it’s what has made so many buyers die-hard Jeep fans.

We especially like how Jeep put the focus on aggressive off-roading and included the truck bed as a practical afterthought. Buyers get all the utility without sacrificing off-roading prowess. That’s not to say that other pickup trucks are incapable of performing well off-road – Jeep vehicles just do it better because that’s what they’re designed to do. They say cars have a soul, and if that’s true, adventure is the soul of any Jeep. We love how the company didn’t have to abandon its soul to enter the practical pickup truck category.

This year, Jeep adds a diesel motor, among other performance enhancements. It’s yet another example of the company’s commitment to best-in-class performance and capability. As we unpack all of the Gladiator’s features, we’ll see the common theme of adventure woven throughout, whether it’s the fold-down windshield or the Mojave trim’s special interior design. Jeep vehicles are authentic and predictable in the best way. The 2021 Gladiator continues this evolution.

Jeep Gladiator Mojave

For 2021, Jeep offers the Gladiator Mojave, the first-ever Jeep vehicle ever to earn Jeep’s new Desert Rated badge. It’s designed for performance in extreme desert conditions (think sandy, hot, and dry), with a reinforced frame and desert-ready capability. The goal was to build a vehicle that could not just withstand punishing weather and topography but would dominate it. Whether you’re navigating a steep dune or racing at speed across an expanse of open desert, the Gladiator Mojave is equipped to carry you through any extreme desert conditions.

Jeep achieves this with a one-inch lift on the Gladiator’s front end, designed to power the truck through uneven surfaces. Special 2.5-inch FOX internal bypass shocks also contribute to a more comfortable and effective ride, putting the emphasis on fun rather than avoiding potential obstacles. With these shocks, the Gladiator can handle uneven surfaces much more easily than a vehicle with standard shocks.

Desert rated vehicles achieve high marks in five key categories: traction, which is a measure of how well the vehicle ‘sticks’ to the ground during various challenging surface conditions; desert prowess, which tells us the vehicle can handle extreme heat and damaging conditions; ride control and stability; maneuverability, meaning the Gladiator is nimble in tight driving conditions; and ground clearance.

A silver 2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is parked in the desert with an ATV being driven up ramps into the bed.


New for 2021, Jeep is offering a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V6 engine on select Gladiator trims. This long-awaited diesel addition has off-roading fans feeling pretty excited and will make the Gladiator one of only two midsize diesel trucks on the market. It’s well-known that diesel motors deliver more torque at lower RPMs than traditional gas engines, and their longevity is a big plus for drivers that punish their trucks with extreme off-roading. The EcoDiesel motor delivers 442 lb-ft of torque and surprising fuel efficiency at 28 MPG on the highway.

However, if you prefer to stick with gasoline, you will like the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 engine, the Gladiator’s other available engine. It kicks out 285 hp and 260 lb-ft of torque and uses stop/start technology to achieve fuel economy ratings of up to 17 MPG in the city and 22 MPG on the highway. The gas engine is standard, which means no upcharge, while the diesel engine will add another $4,000 to the price tag. A six-speed manual transmission is also available if you choose the V6.

When properly equipped, the Gladiator can tow up to 7,650 lbs and handle up to 1,700 lbs of payload. In fact, Jeep claims those specifications are best-in-class. Note that the gas engine is required to hit the Gladiator’s max towing capacity. The 5′ cargo bed also gives you plenty of space. It’s not huge, but remember – you’re probably buying the Gladiator for its off-road performance and good looks. If bed size is your primary motivator, then a full-size pickup is probably more your style.

Don’t forget: all Gladiators have 4×4 standard and are Trail Rated, which means the vehicle passed rigorous off-road testing. Features like a set of heavy-duty Dana 44 axles, tow hooks on the front and rear bumpers, and cool gadgets like Off-Road+ combine to boost the Gladiator into elite status when compared with its competitors. This is especially true if you opt for either the rock-climbing Rubicon or desert-running Mojave trim.

A grey 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is shown from a high angle speeding through the desert.

Exterior Features

The Gladiator has an aggressive stance that hints at its rugged capabilities. While it achieves a unique curb appeal, it’s still a Jeep through-and-through. Signature characteristics, like the seven-slot grille, are prominently featured, reminding us that no matter what the body style, it’s still a Jeep. We also love the classic Jeep round headlamps that feature prominently in the vehicle’s front end.

Jeep makes it fun to customize the Gladiator for your particular climate and driving needs. Choose from a couple of different tops, including a zipperless soft top and an easy-to-remove paneled hardtop, or just leave the top at home for open-air driving. Don’t forget the removable doors – a Jeep staple. The Gladiator continues this tradition, offering aluminum doors that are lightweight and easy to manage. The windshield even folds down in true Jeep form.

The Gladiator is still a pickup truck, and Jeep hasn’t forgotten this. The bed is made of rugged steel and contains integrated tie-downs and the option of a special bedliner to protect the bed floor. Choose the tonneau bed cover, and you’ll convert the bed into a lockable, covered storage space. There’s even an available 115-volt power outlet for extra convenience on the job site or the campsite.

Are you looking for a little polish on your rig? Choose the High Altitude trim, which adds body-color bumpers and fender flares for a cool monotone exterior look. The mirrors and door handles are also matched to the body color, and the whole truck pops with black accents on the grille, badging, and tow hooks. Finish it off with special 20-inch high gloss black wheels and modern LED headlights and taillights, and the Gladiator is valet-ready.

Jeep Never Fails to Impress

We think the 2021 Gladiator is a standalone option for buyers trying to choose between an SUV and a pickup truck. It’s surprisingly affordable at a starting MSRP of just $31,529, and with nine different trims and special editions available, the choices are practically limitless. We especially like the special 80th Anniversary trim that Jeep is offering for 2021. With so many options, the Gladiator offers a combination of unique features that feel custom, almost aftermarket, and help it stand out. Buyers can truly find the Gladiator that best fits their needs and lifestyle.

It’s hard to be original when your lifestyle demands a pickup truck. Generally speaking, they all look the same. Jeep does an admirable job of disrupting the category without straying from its core design principles. We think the Gladiator is a formidable competitor for these reasons. You’ll give up some utility – like a longer truck bed – but your rear-seat passengers won’t complain thanks to a spacious cabin. No matter where you go, you’re going to look a whole lot cooler pulling up in a Gladiator.