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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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Lordstown Endurance all-electric pickup truck is moving closer to production.

Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors

The Lordstown Endurance isn’t under production yet, but the company is already receiving orders for the all-electric pickup truck - 40,000 of them. The model is targeted at commercial fleet vehicle buyers like city governments and large corporate entities that require the capability of a full-size truck.

Each pre-order is a non-binding agreement to purchase the truck, the same as the reservations received by Ford for the Mustang Mach-E and Tesla for the Cybertruck. The purchases equal $2 billion in revenue for the company, which is based in Lordstown, Ohio.

2021 Lordstown Endurance The design of the interior of the Endurance is crisp and modern.Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors

Lordstrown has kicked up the cadence of its news releases as the company moves closer to production. In June, the company debuted the truck and announced its $52,000 price point.

July marked the release of the first renderings of the interior of the Endurance and the debut of the first commercial starring the truck. Then, in August, Lordstown announced that they had entered into an agreement with DiamondPeak Holdings to become a publicly traded company.

Lordstown Motors is operating out of the former General Motors Lordstown Assembly site. The new company has its plant next to the battery facility that General Motors is developing to assist with the products coming to market in the future, like the Cadillac Lyriq.

2021 Lordstown Endurance The large screen combines most vital functions of the car’s command center into one place.Photo courtesy of Lordstown Motors

Now, the company as revealed its first pictures of the interior of the truck. Notably, the Endurance has its large screen spanning the width of the driver and center console, housing most all vital functional controls of the vehicle.

Reservations for the truck continue to be taken via the company’s website.

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Southern California is one of the hotspots for pollution in the U.S.

Photo by Getty Images

California is the country's largest new vehicle sales market. It's also in the crosshairs of climate change activists fighting to change decades of regulations in an effort to improve the livelihoods of the state's residents while also benefitting the plants and animals that live in the state.

Governor Gavin Newson today issued an executive order requiring sales of all new passenger vehicles to be zero-emission by 2035. This means that the sales of gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles will be banned in favor of battery electric (BEV) and hydrogen fuel cell (FCEV) vehicles.

That goal is poised to eliminate 35 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions and 80 percent of the oxides of nitrogen emissions from cars statewide, according to the State.

Data from the State shows that the transportation sector is responsible for more than half of all California's carbon pollution. Eighty percent of the that is from smog-forming pollution while 95 percent is from diesel emissions. The transportation sector includes passenger vehicles as well as shipping and other forms of mobility.

"This is the most impactful step our state can take to fight climate change," said Governor Newsom. "For too many decades, we have allowed cars to pollute the air that our children and families breathe. Californians shouldn't have to worry if our cars are giving our kids asthma. Our cars shouldn't make wildfires worse – and create more days filled with smoky air. Cars shouldn't melt glaciers or raise sea levels threatening our cherished beaches and coastlines."

The next steps include the California Air Resources Board developing regulations to mandate that 100 percent of in-state sales of new passenger cars and trucks are zero-emission by 2035. Additionally, medium- and heavy-duty vehicles are mandated to be 100 percent zero emission by 2045 where feasible, with the mandate going into effect by 2035 for drayage trucks.

The move to all-BEV and FCEV vehicles won't eliminate the pollutants spewed by vehicles purchased prior to 2035 or the purchase of used vehicles.

This isn’t the first time California has attempted to regulate electrified vehicles into popularity. Despite the state’s efforts, BEVs, FCEVs, and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEVs) are unpopular among buyers nationwide. Out of the 17 million vehicles sold in the U.S. in 2019, just 330,000 of them were plug-in electric cars (BEVs and PHEVs) with 80 percent of those being Teslas. Only 7,000 FCEVs were sold or leased during the same period.

Additionally, “the executive order directs state agencies to develop strategies for an integrated, statewide rail and transit network, and incorporate safe and accessible infrastructure into projects to support bicycle and pedestrian options, particularly in low-income and disadvantaged communities” according to a release by the Governor’s office.

Earlier this year, the California Air Resources Board has approved new regulations requiring truck manufacturers to transition to electric zero-emission trucks beginning in 2024.

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