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.

Trending News

Nuts & Bolts

 
 

The Lincoln Nautilus has gotten a substantial interior upgrade as part of a mid-cycle refresh.

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Motor Company

Lincoln replaced the MKX with the Nautilus in 2019 and now, at the three-model year mark, the SUV is undergoing a refresh that aims to up the ante on the elegance inside the two-row midsize SUV.

"Nautilus plays a critical role in bringing new clients to the brand, especially those who are looking for the flexibility of a larger midsize SUV and appreciate the luxurious features and design that set Lincoln apart," said Michael Sprague, North America director, Lincoln. "The intent for the new Nautilus was refinement, rounding out our distinct lineup of SUVs – truly creating sanctuary."

2021 Lincoln Nautilus The Nautilus now offers the largest infotainment screen in its segment.Photo courtesy of Lincoln Motor Company

The new interior is designed to draw the eye side-to-side, emphasizing the wide proportions of the SUV. At the center of the dashboard is a 13.2-inch infotainment screen, the largest available across the Lincoln lineup and the largest in its segment. Below that are the SUV's piano key shifters, a feature carried over from the Lincoln Navigator.

The screen is the home to the SYNC 4 operating system, making the Nautilus the first Lincoln vehicle to adopt the tech. Phone is Key comes to the SUV as well, a technology Hyundai has also marketed this year that allows drivers to use their phones to start and drive the vehicle for a designated period of time, without the physical key present.

SYNC 4 will operate with a Lincoln-exclusive Constellation appearance theme that is inspired by the night sky. The scheme features blue tones with pops of orange.

The system allows for wireless communications and over-the-air updates. SiriusXM with 360L and a digital owner's manual are offered as well.

2021 Lincoln Nautilus

Photo courtesy of Lincoln Motor Company

Lincoln is giving buyers an additional Black Label themes to choose from for 2021 - Flight. It joins Chalet, Thoroughbred, and Gala in the Black Label theme lineup.

Buyers are able to get their 2021 Nautilus with the new Sandstone color family inside, featuring high color contrasts from light to dark. The Black Ebony interior returns for 2021, but with added Roast accents on the seats, doors, and console armrests.

Lincoln has refreshed the Nautilus's exterior color options as well. Asher Gray is a new choice and is available with the Monochromatic Package. Green Gem and Lincoln Flight Blue round out the new paint options.

Lincoln will continue to offer the Nautilus with a 335-horspower, twin-turbocharged 2.7-liter V6 or a standard 250-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine. Both engines are paired with an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Lincoln Co-Pilot360 comes standard on the SUV and Lincoln Co-Pilot360 Plus is available. The Plus version adds a 360-degree camera with front sensing system, adaptive cruise control with lane centering, distance alert, enhanced part assist, and evasive steering. This technology is the rebranded version of Ford's Co-Pilot360 tech.

Nautilus will continue to be built in Oakville, Ontario, for North America and will arrive in dealerships in early 2021.

Trending News

 
 

The Lamborghini Huracán STO is the latest addition to the popular Huracán lineup.

Photo courtesy of Lamborghini Automobili

It's the purest concentration of Lamborghini motorsports possible, made into a road car. It has a big engine, wide haunches, and attitude to spare. Power? That's not even a question.

The new Lamborghini Huracán STO brings together the prowess of the Lamborghini Huracán Super Trofeo EVO and GT3 EVO race cars but in a format that makes it a possible daily driver. The Huracán GT3 EVO is noted for its three 24 Hours of Daytona and two 12 Hours of Sebring wins. The Huracán Super Trofeo EVO was designed for the Super Trofeo race series.

Powered by a naturally aspirated V10 engine that puts out 640 horsepower and 416 pound-feet of torque, the rear-wheel drive Huracán STO can take drivers from zero to 62 mph in just 3.0 seconds. It gets from zero to 124 mph in 9.0 seconds. Lamborghini has given the car a top speed of 192 mph.

Lamborghini Hurac\u00e1n STO The hood and fenders of the car have been combined into a one-piece component.Photo courtesy of Lamborghini Automobili

Lamborghini has given the car an increased wheel track, stiffer suspension bushing, specific anti-roll bars, and MagneRide 2.0. These help with its daily drivability. The engine has been calibrated to be responsive with a direct pedal-to-throttle feeling and improved engine sound sharpness at high revs. Gearchange speed has been increased.

Lamborghini has given the car three new driving modes: STO, Trofeo, and Pioggia. The default STO mode is for road driving and fun on curving roads. In Trofeo mode, the car's systems are optimized for dry asphalt and the fastest lap times on the track. Pioggia (rain) mode optimizes traction control, torque vectoring, rear-wheel steering, and the ABS on wet asphalt.

"The Huracán STO delivers all the excitement of a beautifully balanced, lightweight and aerodynamically superior super sports car, mirroring the driving feeling and exhilaration of Super Trofeo, and perfectly set up for the world's most demanding tracks but created for the road," said Maurizio Reggiani, Chief Technical Officer.

"The extensive technical solutions and intelligence gained from both our Super Trofeo and GT3 programs has been refined and embodied in the Huracán STO, allowing the pilot to experience the emotions of a racing driver, daily, in a road-legal Lamborghini super sports car able to take lap records."

Lamborghini Hurac\u00e1n STO The car's wing allows for massive changes in the airflow of the car.Photo courtesy of Lamborghini Automobili

Lamborghini says that every aspect of the car is designed to balance efficiency and weight. The car features a cofango that is a single piece that combines the hood and fender and was inspired by the Lamborghini Miura and Sesto Elemento.

At the rear, a new fender finds its roots in the Super Trofeo EVO and achieves increased downforce and improves aerodynamic efficiency. The revised rear hood has an air scoop that encourages air cooling at the rear underwood. Dedicated air deflectors manage that airflow and help regulate the car's temperature.

This airflow improves the car's cornering ability while the car's adjustable rear wing optimizes aerodynamic balance and drag resistance depending on track characteristics. The Huracán STO achieves the highest level of downforce in its class. Overall airflow efficiency is improved by 37 percent and downforce has been increased by 53 perfect over the Huracán Performante.

More than 75 percent of the car's body panels are made of carbon fiber. The rear fender features a carbon fiber 'sandwich' technique that is traditionally utilized in the aerospace industry. This allows the car to have 25 percent less carbon fiber material while retaining its structural rigidity.

A lightweight windscreen and magnesium rims continue the lightweighing theme, which also carries over to the interior, which is filled with carbon fiber. Its sport seats are made of the material. Carpets have been removed in favor of a carbon fiber floor while the door panels have been made of the material as well.

Owners of the Huracán STO can fully personalize both the exterior and interior of their race car- on-the-road via a rich Ad Personam personalization program, with limitless paint and trim combinations as well as race-style vinyls.

The first customers will take delivery of the new Lamborghini Huracán STO in spring 2021. Pricing for U.S. customers starts at $327,838.

Trending News