Built Bigger: Mickey Thompson’s 2020 Jeep Gladiator Review

It’s been a long time coming, but we finally got our hands on one! The 2020 Jeep Gladiator represents Jeep’s glorious return to pickups, one that’s been greatly anticipated since the ’90s when the Comanche was pulled from production. Two generations of Wranglers came and went, but everyone was wondering when Jeep would bring back the trucks.

With the Gladiator, we now have a new midsize on the block, competing with Tacomas, Colorados, and Rangers. More utility, combined with the creature comforts of the JL platform, makes the Gladiator a strong contender. I reviewed a JL in the form of ProCharger’s rig a few months ago, and for the Gladiator, our friends at Mickey Thompson stepped up. Their rig is kicked up several notches, starting with the top-of-the-line Rubicon trim, and bolstered with tons of aftermarket upgrades.

Driving the Mickey Thompson Gladiator was unlike a lot of other trucks I've gotten my hands on.

Upgraded lights, lift, bumpers, and of course, wheels and tires are all on the menu. So let’s dive in and check out what all went into this build.

Background Of The Build

Right away, it’s clear that the lift, wheels, and tires are the stars of the show. Mickey Thompson supplied the latter in the form of 17-inch Sidebiter beadlocks. Beadlocks are perfect for off-roading and running the tires at low pressure, enhancing grip and traction in jagged terrain. Speaking of grip and traction, I’m expecting nothing less than the best from Mickey Thompson’s Baja Boss M/T tires. These are massive 40-inch units, packing everything Mickey Thompson can put on a tire and still make it functional.

Mickey Thompson’s Willy Woo filled us in on the features of the Baja Boss. “The Baja Boss is the next step up from our MTZP3,” he said. “It uses an all-new soft asymmetric tread pattern, unique SideBiter sidewall, and PowerPly XD construction to make it beefy and reliable.”

The 40-inch Baja Boss tires made quick work of off-road terrain.

Paired with the Sidebiter wheels and beadlock rigs, the tires have the goods to give us some fun off-road. As for the Jeep itself, it sports a variety of add-ons and upgrades that will make any Jeep fan jealous. The crew at Mickey Thompson started with a five-inch Fabtech lift kit and Dirt Logic coilover shocks.

On either side, Rock Slide Engineering rock sliders were installed to protect the doors. GenRight Off Road donated the front and rear bumpers. On the electronics side, Warn supplied a sturdy front winch while VisionX donated pod lights and a small light bar. All of these lights were controlled with an sPOD device in the cabin.

Build it big or go home – the Gladiator was built for battle with all kinds of upgrades. It sported a GenRight stubby bumper with Warn winch and VisionX headlights up front. Underneath, a Fabtech five-inch lift kit and Dirt Logic coilover shocks offered terrific off-road driving feel.

On-Road Driving Impressions

Driving the Jeep on the street and highway was an experience. The 3.6-liter Pentastar engine carried over from the JK is here, making a healthy 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. An eight-speed automatic transmission gives the rig plenty of gears to shift through. The transmission never felt like it was hunting for a gear, and shifted smoothly as I gave throttle.

This particular Gladiator doesn’t feel any worse for wear despite its heavy add-ons – bigger tires, bigger bumpers, etc. – and offers plenty of get-up-and-go when we want it. Pulling onto the freeway is smooth and controlled, and the acceleration is crisp, getting up to 60 miles an hour quickly.

On asphalt, the Gladiator was a towering machine, but the Baja Boss tires were noticeably quiet and mild-mannered. With five inches of lift and 20 inches of ground clearance, it felt like driving a skyscraper at times. That feeling coincided with a little play in the steering, however, so driving it straight required constant attention.

One noticeable quirk of the Gladiator is its steering play. That’s to be expected of a heavily lifted Jeep, sitting high in the air, so the steering input is more frequent than what I’m used to in my Explorer.

Fuel mileage was surprisingly good. Considering the amount of weight and poor aerodynamics of the Gladiator, I was expecting something in the low 10s. I took the pickup on a 100-mile drive from my home out to Ocotillo Wells SVRA, along a two-lane highway that offers a great mix of twisty canyon turns and flat, open straightaways. At the end of the journey, I was surprised to find the Gladiator achieved 17.5 miles per gallon.

Driving on the highway for 100 miles, the Gladiator achieved 17.5 miles per gallon. Not bad for a lifted Jeep on big tires!

Off-Road Driving Impressions

Of course, where the Gladiator shined was off-road. Out in the wide-open wilderness of Ocotillo Wells, I found some areas where I could put the Gladiator through its paces.

Taking the Main Road, we found ourselves passing Blow Sand Hill and venturing into the area beyond. We took the Quarry Road out to Shell Reef Expressway, and then onto Barrel Springs Trail to check out Barrel Springs. Barrel Springs in an interesting part of the area, a jutting ridge rising from the flat desert and carved out with steep slopes on all sides.

Ocotillo Wells SVRA is an 80,000-acre area 30 minutes west of the Salton Sea in California. We've gone there many, many times, and still manage to discover something new every time we venture there. Whether it's a forgotten sand wash, a massive dune, or an undiscovered canyon, there's always something to get a thrill out of in Ocotillo Wells. For our time with the Gladiator, we opted to head to Ocotillo Wells in the wee small hours of the morning. We were determined to catch the sun at its most brilliant, piercing through pink, gray, blue, and purple shades of sky.

Since we were there early on a Friday, we didn’t have to worry about too many bikers or UTV-ers roaming around. We put the Jeep in 4-Low and drove up the ridge, affording us a spectacular view of the surrounding area. The Baja Boss tires went to work, giving us plenty of traction as we climbed to the top.

This was kid stuff, so I opted to find a path up to the top that would challenge the Gladiator a little more. Taking a line that banked left, I went up the slope at a decent clip and clambered up and over the berm to get back on the trail. The Baja Bosses offered solid grip the entire way.

It was fun to drive up and down the slopes of Barrel Springs.

With that done, I wanted to see how the tires held up at speed. We drove down to San Felipe Wash, where the ground was mostly flat, hard-packed dirt with very few obstacles or surprises. I put the shifter back into 2-High and proceeded to have a blast!

The tires held their own in the wash, and the Jeep’s light steering made it easy to course-correct making it easy to kick up dirt. This was by far one of the most fun “tests” of the day!

In the wash, the Gladiator handled beautifully. It did well at high-speed driving.

As we were wrapping up our session, I noticed a button at the bottom of the console marked “Off Road+.” Pushing it revealed a new screen called Off Road Pages, where I now had easy access to the drivetrain status, accessory gauges, and clinometer. Definitely a nice touch on the part of Jeep, and an easy way to keep track of the vehicle while rock-crawling or overlanding.

With Off Road+ activated, the infotainment center showed me valuable driving information at a glance.

Conclusion

The Jeep Gladiator is a worthy successor to the title of Jeep truck. It’s got power, off-road amenities, and enough aftermarket support to last a lifetime. Mickey Thompson did a bang-up job giving this rig the best in the business, while still keeping it functional for its intended purpose.

On-road, it handled fairly well, and the Baja Boss tires had good road manners. Off-road, the tires had the same combination of grip and driver feedback that I liked in my tire review.

Be sure to check out more from Mickey Thompson by visiting its website and Facebook page. And stay tuned here on Off Road Xtreme for more on vehicle reviews, tire tests, all things dirt-slinging and rock-crawling!

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About the author

David Chick

David Chick comes to us ready for adventure. With passions that span clean and fast Corvettes all the way to down and dirty off-road vehicles (just ask him about his dream Jurassic Park Explorer), David's eclectic tastes lend well to his multiple automotive writing passions.
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