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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Chevy recently dropped a load of specs and opened orders for the new Silverado EV.

Chevrolet

After months of teases and speculation, Chevrolet took the wraps off its 2024 Silverado EV pickup truck. The long-awaited electric truck lands with impressive range of up to 400 miles, plenty of power, and neat features that improve its ability to do "truck stuff." The $105,000 RST First Edition model sold out in 12 minutes, so we're here to ask the question: Would you line up to buy one?

2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV It's all about the screens in the RST First Edition model. Chevrolet

Chevrolet will offer the truck in two trims at launch: A fleet-oriented WT (work truck) model and a consumer-friendly RST First Edition model. Chevy says it will eventually offer a fleet model with 20,000 pounds of max towing capacity. The WT model will launch first with 510 horsepower and 615 pound-feet of torque, which adds up to a towing capacity of 8,000 pounds and 1,200 pounds of payload. The RST trim offers a Wide Open Watts (WOW) Mode that bumps power to 664 ponies and 780 pound-feet of torque, which is good for a 0-60 mph time of just 4.5 seconds.

The RST model offers advanced features to make daily driving easier for the everyday buyer, including four-wheel steering, automatic adaptive air suspension, a 17-inch touchscreen and 11-inch gauge cluster, a 14-inch head-up display, and Super Cruise with trailering capability. An available onboard generator system can produce up to 10.2kW of power for equipment such as worksite power tools or campsite gear.

2024 Chevrolet Silverado EV Preorders for the $105,000 RST First Edition sold out in just 12 minutes.Chevrolet

Both trucks come exclusively in crew cab format, and will offer an "eTrunk" where the engine bay would be in a traditional truck. The lockable, weatherproof compartment can carry a large suitcase, and adds to the Silverado EV's already impressive interior storage. The RST's center console can swallow more than seven gallons of gear, which is large enough to hold a small lunch cooler, according to Chevy. RST models are also available with GM's excellent Multi-Flex tailgate, but there's a new feature for the electric truck that its gas-powered counterparts don't get: A Multi-Flex Midgate that opens the space between the cab and bed for carrying longer cargo. Using the function won't interfere with use of the back seat, either, so the truck will still carry at least four people.

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The Grand Cherokee is now available with three rows.

Stellantis

The Grand Cherokee has always been the Jeep that could haul the family to the mall as easily as it could traverse serious off-road terrain. The design was starting to age, however, after ten years on the market without a major redesign. Jeep fixed that for the 2022 model year, and after a week behind the wheel, there are three things we think you should know about the new SUV.

It Comes in Two Formats

The three-row Jeep Grand Cherokee L debuted in 2021 as the first Grand Cherokee with more than two rows of seating. The standard Grand Cherokee followed it with many of the same features and upscale finishes, but in a more familiar two-row SUV format. The move to a two-body-style lineup for the Grand Cherokee does not mean there's less choice. The standard two-row model is offered in a staggering number of configurations, including a 4xe plug-in hybrid variant.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee The new Grand Cherokee ups the luxury considerably. Stellantis

It's Luxurious

Top Grand Cherokee trims have long been plusher and more luxurious than most people expect from a Jeep, and the new model takes things further down that road. Top trims feature luxurious materials such as quilted leathers and real wood trim, along with desirable and innovative electronics features. An optional passenger-side touchscreen offers climate controls and other functions to front-seat passengers, and Stellantis' UConnect infotainment software is among the easiest to use and most intuitive interfaces in the auto business.

2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee The Grand Cherokee can take its passengers far off the beaten path.Stellantis

It's Available with Three Strong Powertrains

The 2022 Jeep Grand Cherokee comes standard with a 3.6-liter V6. A 5.7-liter Hemi V8 is available, and Jeep's excellent 4xe plug-in hybrid can be added to certain trims. The Wrangler was the first vehicle to use the system, which provides instant torque and excellent all-electric driving range. When the battery is depleted below a certain level, the vehicle then switches to operate as a normal hybrid.

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