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What The Jeep Gladiator Needs to Compete With The Jeep Wrangler

There are few vehicles as iconic as the Jeep Wrangler. Its brand loyalty and aftermarket support are truly second to none. However, for many, an SUV isn’t as practical of a choice as a pickup. The Jeep Gladiator was created in many ways to fill that void where the wants of off-road capability and open-air freedom can meet the needs of those who have to have a truck bed for everyday life.

Jeep would likely argue that the Gladiator was never meant to be a Wrangler alternative, but it has clearly become an attractive option for Jeep enthusiasts. The biggest challenge with the Gladiator doesn’t have to do with its on-road manners, but rather its out-of-the-box off-road performance. The Gladiator is simply much longer than the Wrangler, which can create issues on the trail.

Thankfully, there are some fairly simple modifications you can make to the Gladiator that will drastically improve its off-highway prowess. In this article, we’ll dive into those items, why they are needed, and some things to consider if you are truly trying to decide between the Wrangler and Gladiator platform.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon white sunset beach rear view on 35 Nitto Ridge Grapplers


The first thing to take note of is that the Gladiator has a wheelbase that’s nearly 18 inches longer than a four-door Wrangler. The plus side of this is that the Gladiator is very stable on the trail. The downside is that the increased distance between the tires hurts the breakover angle. Simply put, you are more likely to get hung up on the belly of the Gladiator off-road over a Wrangler.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon breakover angle off-road side view


You can’t shorten the Gladiator’s wheelbase, but what you can do is raise the vehicle to compensate for it. By installing a suspension lift, you can increase the breakover angle considerably. This will reduce the likelihood of the Gladiator scraping its undercarriage on the trail. Obviously, the more lift you have, the greater the ground clearance will be.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon BDS Suspension 3 inch lift front suspension view


The tallest tire currently offered from the factory with the Jeep Gladiator is 33 inches. This is OK for a midsized truck in general, but not enough to make it work in more challenging trail scenarios. Moving up tire sizes will help ground clearance and balance out some of the drawbacks of the longer wheelbase. As with the lift, the taller the tire, the greater the benefit off-road. Thanks to highline fender flares, Rubicon and Mojave Gladiators can run a 35-inch-tall tire without a lift. For those looking to retain the stock wheel, a 35x11.50R17 tire such as the Nitto Trail Grappler shown here is an excellent option.

35 x 11.50 R17 Nitto Trail Grappler on stock Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

Rear Protection

The Gladiator is a full two-feet longer than the Jeep Wrangler 4-door. This fact, along with the amount of body resting behind the rear tires makes for a much worse departure angle over the Wrangler. To compensate for this, look to the aftermarket for a high-clearance rear bumper upgrade. This one from Savvy Offroad is an excellent option for those looking to gain serious clearance.

Savvy offroad rear jeep gladiator high clearance bumper


If off-roading is high on your priority list, the Rubicon trim is the right way to go. This will give you front and rear lockers, highline flares, and extremely beneficial body and undercarriage protection. While the initial investment with a Rubicon will be higher, the standard features (along with a better resale value) make it worthwhile.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Gator Side View Driving

Going Big

If you want to push your Gladiator on more extreme trails, then moving up to a 40-inch or taller tire is necessary. This requires a much larger investment as the drivetrain, steering system, and suspension will all need to be upgraded to handle the massive jump in rubber. Even with these upgrades, the added length and wheelbase of the JT can make it more challenging to maneuver off-road compared to a Wrangler.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon on 40's rock crawling uwharrie National Forest

Bed Swap

If you genuinely want to get the Gladiator on more extreme off-road terrain there’s great aftermarket support to do so. Companies such as Motobilt offer complete replacement beds that cut down the overall length of the Gladiator. This helps tremendously with the departure angle, but keep in mind that you still need a sizable amount of lift (and tire) to overcome the 137-inch wheelbase.

Motobilt Jeep Gladiator Bob bed kit rear side view 42 Nitto Trail Grapplers

Happy Medium

Our Jeep Gladiator Rubicon you see here is fit with a fairly low-cost 3-inch suspension from BDS along with a set of 38x13.50R17 Nitto Trail Grapplers. We’ll be the first to admit that we are absolutely pushing the limits of the Rubicon axles with a 38-inch-tall tire. However, we feel this setup offers a great balance of off-road performance, without zapping the practicality of the truck.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 3 inch lift 38 inch tall tires off road

The Bottom Line

There’s no question that the Wrangler is the better out-of-the-box off-road machine. However, it doesn’t take much to elevate the Gladiator and make it a formidable off-roader. The truck bed opens up so many options, and in many ways, gives the JT an edge over the classic SUV. Even with an unlimited budget, the Wrangler platform will likely remain the better wheeling platform for hardcore trails. But, for everything else, the Gladiator is a great choice.  

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Hydro Blue on 40s Moab Utah EVO MFG

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