Having only been on the scene for a single model year, you might not expect many changes for the 2021 Jeep Gladiator, and well, you’d be right. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the midsize do-all pickup based on Jeep’s venerableis returning for its sophomore season empty-handed. On the contrary, the gets a new engine, a couple of new model trims and some equipment and option changes.
Headlining 2021 Jeep Gladiator developments is the availability of the 3.0-liter EcoDiesel engine that joins the existing 3.6-liter Pentastar V6. This is the same diesel V6 that was wedged in between the Wrangler’s flat fenders last year, and unsurprisingly, it conjures up an identical 260 horsepower and 442 pound-feet of torque when paired to a mandatory 8HP75 eight-speed automatic. For comparison’s sake, the Cento, Italy-built VM Motori diesel has 25 fewer ponies than the gas version, but a whopping 182 more pound-feet of twist than the Pentastar.
EcoDiesel fuel economy
As is true with its torque, the EcoDiesel’s fuel economy increases precipitously, moving from the Pentastar’s 17 miles per gallon city, 22 highway and 19 combined (automatic transmission) to 22 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined for Sport and Overland models. The Rubicon’s bigger tires and other changes result in a lower 20/25/22 rating. Despite being slightly lower than the equivalent (lighter) Wrangler Unlimited Sport or Overland’s 22/29/25 ratings, these are impressive efficiency increases. With an 18.3-gallon tank, the EcoDiesel should be able to outlast your bladder, going around 500 miles between fill-ups.
EcoDiesel tow ratings
Despite the increased torque output, Gladiator’s max tow ratings are still highest with the base Sport model when equipped with the 3.6-liter gas engine and 4.10 rear axle — that combination nets a trailer rating of 7,650 pounds. In midgrade Overland andtrims, the EcoDiesel nets a 500-pound capacity increase to 6,500 pounds. In Gladiator guise, however, the diesel’s mandatory 3.73 rear end only hauls 6,000 pounds worth of trailer, versus the Pentastar automatic’s 7,000.
Regardless of powertrain, the Gladiator’s towing ability continues to vastly outpoint the Wrangler SUV, which can only muster a maximum of 3,500 pounds.
Jeep has yet to detail how much the EcoDiesel engine option will cost, but it’s reasonable to assume it’ll be priced similarly to the Wrangler, where it carries an eye-watering $4,000 premium. Combined with the higher cost of diesel fuel in most parts of the country and the need to keep a tank full, you’re looking at a powertrain best suited to well-heeled buyers who really love diesel’s stump-pulling torque and longer range.
80th Anniversary Edition and Willys models
Like the Wrangler before it, the Gladiator pickup is all about varying degrees of capability and customization. To that end, Jeep has wasted no time bringing out a hail of models, from the basic, cost-leader Sport to the barrel-chested Rubicon and more recently, the high-speed Mojave desert runner. In January, Jeep rolled out the North Edition trim, which bundled a slew of minor winter-minded features, and in February, it unveiled the new, something of a citified take on the Gladiator, complete with 20-inch wheels and body-color everything.
For 2021, there’s a new 80th Anniversary Edition. Like the equivalent Wrangler, the Gladiator 80AE is a pretty modest trim package. Changes amount to 18-inch Granite Crystal alloys, Neutral Grey Metallic exterior trim bits and special commemorative badges outside. Inside, there’s a standard 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment and Berber floor mats.
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Willys has a bit more performance substance than the Anniversary model, as it’s marked out by its Firestone 32-inch mud tires mounted on 17-inch gloss-black wheels, Trac-Lok limited-slip differential and rock rails. The package also includes matching blacked-out grille and “WILLYS” hood decals. The package is very similar to, which originated the Willys trim as a nod to the 4×4’s genesis as a military vehicle.
(Bizarrely, Jeep has chosen to not release images of the Willys or 80th Anniversary at this time. We expect the automaker to release photos and more details soon.)
Gladiator tech changes
As for the rest of the 2021 Jeep Gladiator lineup, the changes are modest. Full-time four-wheel drive becomes available on the entire Gladiator model range, including the Selec-Trac hardware on Sport, Overland and Mojave and the Rock-Trac system with 4:1 low-range for hardcore climbing.
In terms of tech changes, the base Gladiator Sport will be available with optional LED headlights (a worthwhile upgrade whether you regularly hit the trails or not). Additionally, Overland models will be available with Trailcam, a forward-facing camera designed to show what’s immediately in front of the vehicle. The latter is particularly helpful off-road for negotiating obstacles, or when the chassis is tilted at extreme angles and you can’t see what’s ahead of you.
2021 Jeep Gladiator models are beginning to trickle into dealerships as you read this, so you should see them at a trailhead near you very soon.