Retrospective

Gladiator vs Comanche: How Jeep's approach to pickups has changed in a generation

Jeep has come a long way since it first designed the Comanche.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

When it was launched last year, Gladiator became the first pickup truck to wear the Jeep badge in more than 25 years. A lot has changed over that span.

How long ago was 1986? "The Oprah Winfrey Show" was just making its debut. Mr. Mister topped the charts with "Broken Wing". Ronald Reagan was coming to the end of his second term as president. The Chevrolet Celebrity was America's best-selling car. And Jeep had just introduced the Comanche compact pickup truck.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Today, SUVs rule the roadways and pickup trucks are replacing luxury imports in suburban driveways. So it's not surprising the differences between Gladiator and Comanche are as vast as the gap between Warren Buffet's net worth and my own.

In 1986, Jeep introduced the Comanche to try to cash in on the compact pickup craze that was in full force back then. Ford Ranger, Chevy S-10, and the Toyota SR5 each sold well into six figures and little AMC was hoping to capture a piece of that pie via their Jeep brand. Without the resources to develop a new truck from scratch, however, they took an interesting route to developing a compact truck.

AMC engineers and designers basically cut a unibody XJ Cherokee in half and attached a box rail frame to the back end of the compact crossover, creating the first ever "uniframe" chassis. From the B-pillar back it featured a purpose-built steel rail frame with an X-brace adding stiffness over the rear axle. At launch, Comanche was offered only as a standard cab in both 2x4 and 4x4 configurations. It was a little larger than its rivals with a 7-foot 4-inch box and an overall length of 194 inches.

Performance clearly wasn't in the design brief for Comanche. In its first year of production it had three engine options available, none particularly energetic: a 2.5-liter four-cylinder gas engine made 117 horsepower and 135 pound-feet of torque, the 2.1-liter turbodiesel sourced from Renault made 82 horsepower and 132 pound-feet of torque, and a General Motors-built 2.8-liter V6 delivered 115 horsepower and 150 pound-feet of torque. Available transmissions included four and five-speed manuals as well as a three-speed automatic.

Comanche was really designed to walk the line between work and play. In its base versions the truck was extremely utilitarian and affordable, starting out at just over $7,049 for a short bed two-wheel drive truck. That made it perfect for a commercial painter, residential landscaper, or other subcontractor. In its 4x4 versions, especially in the more upscale Laredo trim, Comanche was designed to appeal to outdoorsmen and adventurers.

1986 Jeep Comanche The 1986 Jeep Comanche was the first vehicle to have a uniframe chassis.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Comanche was not a very capable off-roader thanks to it's hybrid frame and modest ground clearance. Those who wanted it to do Jeep-like feats over rugged terrain would either be disappointed or have to invest a lot of money in aftermarket accessories and modifications.

After Chrysler purchased AMC in 1987, Comanche was updated a few times. Most notably, the GM V6 was jettisoned for a 4.0-liter inline six that boosted output to a respectable 173 horsepower and 220 pound-feet of torque. An Aisin four-speed automatic replaced the TorqueFlite three-speed, and a 6-foot short bed option was added.

Shortly after the Chrysler takeover, however, it became clear there wasn't room for both the Comanche and Dakota pickups in the corporate garage, so Comanche was phased out in 1992, having sold just 190,000 trucks during its entire six-year run.

Fast forward 27 years to the Jeep Gladiator and you'll find a pickup truck so different from the Comanche, it's hard to believe they come from the same company.

Unlike Comanche, Gladiator is laser-focused in its purpose as a recreational truck. There's no pretense of it being used for any type of traditional work and it's available only in a four-door crew cab configuration. At its unveiling at the 2018 L.A. Auto Show, Jeep showed it off with dirt bikes, quads, jet skis, and other toys. Officials were quick to point out that Gladiator in the Rubicon trim was every bit as capable an off-roader as the Wrangler upon which it is based. Gladiator is the epitome of a "lifestyle vehicle".

2020 Jeep Gladiator introduction LA Auto Show Tim Kuniskis, Head of Jeep Brand North America, introduces the 2020 Jeep Gladiator at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Photo by Joe Wilssens Photography

It would be easy to dismiss the Gladiator as a merely a Wrangler Unlimited with a bed, but that would be selling it a bit short. True, Gladiator is built in the same Toledo, Ohio factory as Wrangler and uses all the same drivetrain components – 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 and six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmissions with identical ratios, axles, transfer cases, etc.

The longer wheelbase and added weight transforms Gladiator into something different altogether from a ride and handling perspective both on and off-road. Gladiator is smoother, more stable, and more refined on the road than the Wrangler. Off-road, Gladiator is limited by its length. Its turning radius is 10 inches wider and the breakover angle much shallower. Even still, especially in Rubicon trim, Gladiator can take you deep into the wilderness and get you back in the toughest of terrain.

Compared to the old Comanche, Gladiator is both massive and luxurious offering comfort, safety, and convenience features that were unimaginable in a truck in the mid-1980s. Even with it's 5-foot box, Gladiator is two feet longer than the Comanche long bed. And let's talk about the box. While it can hold a few plants, a bale of hay or two, or a small lawn tractor that's not really what it's designed for. Gladiator is all about the weekend. It delivers best-in-class towing capability for your ski boat or camper. Mopar offers over 200 accessories specifically developed for Gladiator – everything from kayak racks to bicycle carriers, tie downs, tonneau covers, and cargo carriers.

Opt for a Gladiator Overland with the Popular Equipment Package and you'll get leather trimmed-seats, premium audio with an 8.4-inch touchscreen, navigation, and more. Riding on all-season radials with standard four-wheel drive, it's a street-oriented pickup that will get you to your cabin in just about any weather and do it more comfortably than the Comanche could ever have hoped to.

2020 Jeep Gladiator interior The Jeep Gladiator's interior is quite well appointed in its top-tier grades. Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

In contrast, the standard Comanche epitomizes 1980s automotive design with a vinyl-covered bench seat, a skinny molded steering wheel, and more plastic than you'll find in a cosmetic surgeon's office in Beverly Hills. In 1989 bucket seats were offered in the sporty Eliminator package. No matter the trim level, Comanche's interior never approached the comfort and utility of even the base Gladiator.

So yes, Comanche and Gladiator are both pickup trucks and they're both Jeeps. That's where the similarity ends, and that's probably for the best.

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Larger tires headline the upgrades.

Jeep

The off-road wars are heating up. This year alone, we've seen the new Ford Bronco, Rivian's R1T electric pickup truck, new off-road models of the Ford Ranger, GMC Canyon, and Chevrolet Silverado, and more rugged versions of the Subaru Outback and Forester. Jeep, already deep in the game, doesn't need to do much to bolster its off-road offering, but the brand is doing just that for 2022. The automaker is offering a new Xtreme Recon Package for the Wrangler Willys SUV, which brings more capability and style to the boxy off-roader.

Jeep Wrangler Willys Xtreme Recon Package The package can be ordered for Wrangler Willys models later this year. Jeep Wrangler Willys Xtreme Recon Package

Beyond beefy 35-inch tires tires, the Wrangler Willys with Xtreme Recon Package gets a 1.5-inch factory lift, a 4.56:1 axle ratio, 17-inch wheels and swing gate reinforcement. Jeep says those improvements give the Willys best-in-class approach and departure angles, ground clearance, and water fording capability. Approach angle improves to 47.4 degrees, breakover angle improves to 26.7 degrees, and departure angle jumps to 40.4 degrees. The extra ride height also pushes ground clearance to 12.9 inches and the water fording depth to 33.6 inches.

The package's 35-inch tires make the Willys Jeep's third Wrangler model with hardcore rolling stock. It joins the Wrangler Rubicon and Wrangler Rubicon 392 in the 35-inch club, all of which can be equipped with the tires directly from the factory.

Jeep Wrangler Willys Xtreme Recon Package A factory lift helps improve ground clearance and capability.Jeep

The Xtreme Recon Package can be ordered starting in October and will be available for the Jeep Wrangler Willys with 3.6-liter eTorque engine. The package adds $3,995 to the Wrangler Willys' price tag, which brings the total starting price to $40,930, including a $1,495 destination charge.

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New sports sedan

2022 Infiniti Q50 gets more standard tech

The car sees new tech and interior features for 2022.

Infiniti

The Infiniti Q50 is an aging but still-stylish sedan that offers value and power, but it hasn't quite kept pace with the crop of more engaging premium European cars. However, it's still worth a look, and to press that point further, Infiniti has updated the car for 2022 with a healthy list of standard features.

2022 Infiniti Q50 Exterior styling has not changed for 2022.Infiniti

Headline updates for the 2022 Q50 are wireless Apple CarPlay and newly standard Bose Performance Series Audio. There's now leather for every trim, but in the ways that count, the car is the same as the one we saw last year, the year before, and so on.

That's not to say that the car is bad. After all, it still offers a 300-horsepower twin-turbo V6 as standard and can be upgraded with a 400-horsepower version of the engine. And, despite its aging exterior styling, it's still a handsome car with smooth, sculpted bodywork. The seven-speed automatic transmission and available all-wheel drive remain in place.

2022 Infiniti Q50 All-wheel drive is available for all models.Infiniti

Pricing for the 2022 Infiniti Q50 starts at $43,125, which includes a $1,025 destination fee. The car gets standard wireless Apple CarPlay, leather upholstery, 18-inch wheels, and Bose Performance Audio. All-wheel drive is available for a $2,000 upcharge.

2022 Infiniti Q50 Wireless Apple CarPlay and Bose audio are standard.Infiniti

The mid-range Q50 Sensory starts at $48,825, and comes with 19-inch wheels, black open-pore wood interior accents, navigation, and an air purifier system. Stepping up to the top Q50 Red Sport 400 will run $56,975, and brings the more powerful V6 engine, semi-aniline leather upholstery, and Dynamic Digital Suspension, which adjusts damping settings depending on road conditions and driving style.

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