Manufacturers of trucks are wising up. They seemed to have figured out that not everyone needs (or wants) an enormous Ramerado Latinum Carbon Lithium Edition pickup truck the size of three football fields. It is not uncommon for a truck buyer to want something with a rugged appearance. The bed, however, is used to haul air about 90 percent of the time. This behaviour is analogous to people who wear checkered woods jackets and live in Manhattan.
The 2020 Jeep Gladiator and 2020 Ford Ranger play in the mid-size segment, one also inhabited by entrants from the likes of GM and Toyota. As recent entrants to this arena, they take two different tacks in bringing two new options to the mid-size truck table. Which one’s best for you? Don that red-checked woods jacket and let’s find out.
Powertrains & Driving Impressions
A single engine and transmission choice are available to shoppers browsing the Ranger front line at Ford dealerships. The 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder shares a displacement figure with the engine in the last-gen Ranger but similarities end there. This modern aluminum block engine is good for 270 hp and a heady 310lb.-ft of torque. This segment-appropriate level of grunt provides an adequate level of shove. But it is noisy, especially with its engine fan roaring like a Huey over Hue.
Under the rectilinear hood of the Gladiator is yet another copy of the company’s corporate 3.6L Pentastar V6. An engine of which so many copies have been made that future archaeologists will surely be unearthing them well into the 29th-century. Horsepower bests the Ford by 15 ponies but falls well short in torque at just 260lb.-ft of twist. The Gladiator is hardly anemic but the difference can be felt when pushing the Jeep up a long hill or passing at speed. Its extra 200lbs of curb weight compared to Ranger doesn’t help either. In Rubicon trim, Gladiator is equipped with stout-off road features like Falken Wildpeak M/T tires and the likes of locking diffs and a disconnecting sway bar. These features are a boon to off-road performance and your author values them immensely. The trade-off is, of course, on-road comfort.
Cargo Space & Hauling
Buying a truck and not using the bed is like buying an expensive cappuccino machine and then getting a Starbucks every day. Ford offers two different bed sizes on Ranger. One trades interior space for cargo space depending on if one selects SuperCab or a SuperCrew. Our tester was the SuperCrew with four full doors. The latter has a bed measuring 61 inches in length and 61.4 inches across at its widest. Measuring to the top of its gunwales, you can haul 43.3 cubic feet worth of red-checkered jackets in the back.
Gladiator, on the other hand, offers one cargo bed length. Though it spans eight inches longer than the Ranger, its bed is about an inch narrower. This reduces cargo volume to 35.5 cubes though its distance between the wheelhouses is identical to Ranger at 44.8 inches. Like for like, the Ranger can definitely carry more stuff aft of the cab.
No discussion about trucks would be complete without a mention of payload and hauling numbers. The former is the maximum amount of weight that can be placed in the truck while the latter is how heavy a trailer one can tow. It is important to remember that payload includes the weight of passengers as well. It’s not just the stuff you’ve wantonly tossed in the bed. Our test Ranger had a payload rating of 1560lbs and 7500lbs of towing ability. The Gladiator Rubicon, on the other hand, could bear 1160lbs of gear and tow 7000lbs.
The Gladiator figures are troublesome if someone wishes to haul a trailer clocking in at or near its stated towing limit. Generally, 10 percent of a trailer’s weight rests on the truck’s hitch, a figure which counts toward the payload mass. Elementary math dictates hooking a 7000lb trailer to a Gladiator Rubicon only leaves 460lbs for people and cargo. If you’re taking a family of four and all their stuff on an RV trip with a camper tipping the scales at about 7000lbs, there’s a solid chance you’ll exceed the recommended limits.
See Also: Ford Ranger 4×4 Review
What the Gladiator Rubicon gives up in cargo and towing capabilities, it more than makes up for in interior space. This is partially a function of the Jeep spanning a good eight inches more in length than the Ford. Compared to Ranger, the Jeep has a much more inviting rear seat area. One which will not force future NBA stars to eat their knees during the summer road trip. Gladiator’s extra four inches of legroom compared to a SuperCrew Ranger is immediately noticeable. Its decidedly Ralph Kramden driving position will be familiar to any current Jeep owner, which means it’s upright and bus-like. This is a boon for legroom but anyone trading out of a mainstream crossover will definitely have an adjustment period.
Ranger, on the other hand, is much more car-like, albeit one from about five years ago. This isn’t a surprise since the truck has been on sale in other markets for a few years despite only recently appearing on our shores. Ranger’s cabin is much quieter than Gladiator at speed, which is again, a testament to the Jeep’s agricultural roots. Total passenger volume is 103 cubic feet in Gladiator, 97.6 cubes in Ranger Supercrew. You can feel the difference, especially in the rear seat.
Features & Technology
Ford makes lots of noise about its CoPilot360 suite of safety features. A bundle of technology standard on XLT and Lariat which includes lane-keeping and automatic braking. At this Lariat level, heated leather seats and an 8-inch infotainment touchscreen are standard equipment. Other creature comforts include dual-zone climate control and built-in 4G wi-fi. Adaptive cruise control, rain-sensing wipers, and a snazzy B&O sound system are part of an optional $3000 package.
Choosing to put more focus on off-road prowess than the Ranger, this Rubicon-grade Gladiator packs impressive kit like Fox monotube shocks and locking differentials as part of its dirt-under-the-fingernails appeal. Creature comforts come at a premium, as Jeep charges extra for leather seats, its best infotainment display, and blind-spot monitoring. More than a few of these items are no-charge features in the Ford.
Ranger’s fuel mileage is easy to quantify since it has but a single powertrain option. In the city, expect economy in the 19.9 mpg range and just slightly better on the highway with 23.5 mpg. Combined, expect 21.5 mpg.
With new efficiencies and modern materials, the manual gearboxes rarely provide the fuel economy advantage that they used to. Our test Jeep was equipped with the excellent 8-speed ZF auto, rated at 17.1 mpg in city driving and 22.6 mpg on the highway. It’s combined estimate of 18.6 mpg will undoubtedly create a bigger dent in one’s wallet compared to Ranger. Manual transmission Gladiators are about 1.0-1.5 mpg less efficient across the board.
Ever the most subjective portion of these tests, it is difficult to argue the Gladiator’s appeal, especially in Rubicon trim. Knobby off-road tires from Falken given it a purposeful stance and we wouldn’t be surprised if the Jeep’s square jawline was patterned after Jack Palance in City Slickers, a man who looked like a saddlebag with eyes and could light matches off his face.
Blue Oval buyers will find themselves in command of a good-looking truck, though one that stands out less in a crowd compared to the Gladiator Rubicon. A pair of narrowed headlights bookend a trapezoidal grille, blacked out in this tester thanks to its optional $500 Sport Appearance Package. Large RANGER billboards are hammered into both the grille and tailgate.
The days of cheap and cheerful Rangers are long gone, with the cheapest XL trim starting at $31,069. This top-rung Lariat 4×4 SuperCrew, bedecked with $7120 worth of off-road and technology options, stickered at $51,489 including freight. Alert readers will note these prices overlap the F-150 extensively.
Setting an opening bid of $47,245 with its entry-level Sport S, Jeep prices this Trail Rated Rubicon pickup at $54,245. Tacking on the likes of a black hardtop, navigation, and leather seats can push the final tally well into the mid-60’s. Exercising restraint on options – only the $595 forward-facing TrailCam need be selected in your author’s opinion – will keep the tab in check. No matter how it’s sliced, though, the Gladiator is a very ambitiously priced machine.
There’s little doubt the Gladiator Rubicon tugs on the extroverted right-hand side of a gearhead’s brain, bringing a look and style all of its own. Every fuel stop will take a few extra minutes as it’ll invariably turn into a Q&A session with the person one pump over. However, it is much more expensive to buy and operate than the Ranger, a truck that is a more capable workhorse but less accommodating to passengers.
If hauling prowess ranks highly on your list, along with outright cost, one would be well served to take a hard look at the Ford. Shoppers who prize an extroverted visual appeal and off-road chops should head to their Jeep dealer. They’re both red checkered woods jackets, after all, just with different pockets and linings to suit different people.
How much of that jacket’s capability you deploy is up to you.