Like most Chrysler Group concepts, the Gladiator looks production-ready, as the design team has successfully integrated Jeep styling and design cues into a forward-looking package, including the name itself, the traditional seven-slot grille, open-air roof with canvas top, part-time 4x4 system with front and rear locking differentials, front winch, and skidplates. And, just as light trucks increasingly are lifestyle statements for their owners, so is the Gladiator.
There's driver-side access to cabin storage and a lockable compartment (where the jack is stored) in front of the rear wheel. The expandable bed, with a bed/cabin extension and true fold-flat rear seat, is a highly creative design. The bed can be transformed easily from its standard length of 68 inches to 80 with the midgate expanded; drop the tailgate and the bed's 107 inches long. The Gladiator Concept is an extended-cab pickup (moles deep inside the Tech Center in Auburn Hills assured us that the Gladiator rides on a dedicated Jeep platform) with the ability to carry four occupants in reasonable comfort.
The Gladiator Concept's powertrain gives us a clear look at Jeep's commitment to engine innovations. Underhood is a green-friendly 2.8-liter, four-cylinder common-rail turbodiesel with 295 pound-feet of torque and approximately 163 horsepower on tap; this engine's currently available in the 2005 Liberty. (With a new Wrangler on the horizon, it's almost certain that the long-lived AMC-based straight-six will be replaced by two engines: the 3.7-liter V-6 offered in the Liberty and Grand Cherokee, and the CRD.) It delivers ample power to all four wheels through a five-speed manual transmission.
The solid front axle is attached with five-bar links, while the rear uses dual coilover springs, again possibly a look at what might be found in the next Wrangler. With 13.7 inches of ground clearance, a breakover angle of 23 degrees, and approach and departure angles of 47 and 38 degrees, respectively, this is clearly more than just another me-too pickup. It has 265/75R18 tires with 18x8.0-inch wheels and an outer diameter of 33 inches. This combination ensures that, even with its length, the Gladiator Concept (if it reaches production) will be ready for the Rubicon.