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The Gladiator in 4LO gearing crawled up impossibly steep rock formations.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

The Jeep Gladiator has been the polarizing odd duck of mid-size pickup trucks since it was introduced five years ago. Drivers either love it or they passionately hate its awkward Wrangler-with-a-box Franken-look. The 2024 update will do nothing to bring the Hatfields and McCoys of truck owners any closer together.

The 2024 Gladiator still defies mid-sized truck orthodoxy with looks largely unchanged from the first-generation. “It is 100-per-cent Jeep and it is 100-per-cent truck,” said Stephen Czerkis, the Gladiator’s product vehicle synthesis manager, at the vehicle’s official unveiling in this small Utah town that has become the spiritual home of Jeep off-roaders.

Moab, Utah becomes Jeep’s testing ground for new features with input from fans at Easter Safari

Among the subtle exterior tweaks, the most obvious is the Wrangler-esque seven-slot front grille and – finally, thankfully – an antenna that is integrated into the windshield, eliminating the old branch-catching external post.

Seven new aluminum wheel designs can accommodate tire sizes of 32 or 33 inches. Depending on the trim choice, curb weight varies from 2,109 to 2,427 kilograms (4,650-5,350 pounds).

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The Mojave’s Fox internal bypass shocks have cooling reservoirs.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

The only power source is Stellantis’s ubiquitous Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 gasoline engine, producing 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s mated to either a six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic transmission. Jeep notes that its 3,293-kilogram (7,700-pound) towing rating is best in the mid-size pickup category, as is its 782-kilogram (1,725-pound) payload capacity.

Stellantis has not announced plans for a 4Xe electrified version of the Gladiator, but it’s hard to imagine that such a configuration would be far into the future.

Inside, the Gladiator has added standard first- and second-row side-curtain airbags, standard forward collision warning, standard advanced cruise control and a modern 31-centimetre (12.3-inch) infotainment screen. The screen’s full-array local-dimming (FALD) technology makes it easier to see in direct sunlight, which you can get a lot of with the roof off and the windshield folded down. (Jeep reminds us this is the only mid-sized truck in which you can take the roof off and drop the windshield down.)

The new Mojave X and Rubicon X upgrades add an integrated off-road camera, steel bumpers and Nappa leather-trimmed powered front seats, which Jeep says have been waterproofed for water fording of up to 80 centimetres (31.5 inches).

As with the Wrangler, the new Gladiator has loaded the Trails OffRoad guides system into the Uconnect 5 Nav system. Jeep’s 62 approved trails are standard, and 3,000-plus trail guides in the United States are available by subscription. There are only a handful of Canadian trails.

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The stunning and rugged scenery of the Moab desert is the perfect test ground for the Mojave and Mojave X.Doug Firby/The Globe and Mail

This truly is a stronger, safer and more technologically modern vehicle than the first generation. The floor of the steel bed, for example, is reinforced with four steel cross-members.

The performance enhancements are never more obvious than in the desert-ready Mojave X, one of six Gladiator models.

The Mojave X is wildly fun to drive, strutting its stuff with absolute composure in the rock-and-sand playground surrounding Moab. It sits on 17-inch aluminum wheels with 33-inch all-terrain tires, is equipped with almost unbreakable Dana 44 axles, has rock rails and a 2.5-centimetre front lift. But the big treat is the FOX 6.3 centimetre (2.5-inch) internal bypass shocks with cooling reservoirs, paired with hydraulic jounce bumpers, which cushion high-speed jumps that bottom out the suspension.

It is a forgiving and compliant suspension, allowing journalists to gleefully get airborne as we tear across roller-coaster sand formations, scramble through deep washes and climb impossibly steep rock formations. With a low 4:1 “4LO” gear ratio, the time-tested V6 was more than capable of producing enough juice to crawl anywhere you dare take on.

Jeep peeps don’t talk much about the other kid on the block, but clearly Ford’s Bronco has inspired a more aggressive evolution of the Wrangler and its truck twin, the Gladiator. Even minute details, like a dash-mounted camera, can be credited to the Bronco. Competition has been healthy.

Unlike our U.S. friends who saw a small price cut on the 2024 model, the Gladiator prices have increased in the range of $2,000-$2,500, depending on which of the six models you choose. The prices (suggested price, plus fees) are: Sport S $58,140, Willys $63,640, Mojave $70,140, Mojave X $81,135, Rubicon $70,140 and Rubicon X $81,135.

In the competitive world of pickup trucks, there are plenty of off-road-ready Tacomas, Rangers, Canyons and Colorados. As good as they are, none say “off-road” better than the Gladiator.

The 2024 Gladiators are available at Canadian dealerships now.

The writer was a guest of the automaker. Content was not subject to approval.

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