Pentastar V-6 and six-speed stick an imperfect match
Does Jeep deserve extra credit for offering a manual transmission or demerits for offering a crappy one? That was a philosophical question we recently found ourselves asking.
On the “pro” side, choice is good, and for the past several years inveterate stick-rowers who wanted a midsize truck had to make do with the antediluvian Nissan Frontier (a quaint five-speed) or the merely ancient Toyota Tacoma (which at least gets a six-speed). Chevy’s lovely (multiple-TOTY–winning) Colorado and Ford’s new (to us) Ranger offer no option to stick-shift any number of speeds.
Also auguring in favor of the Gladiator’s manual is the fact that, at least in our tester’s Sport guise (Overland and Rubicon trims also get the manual), it adds swiftness to the trucklet. Of the four Gladiators we’ve tested—three automatic Rubicons and this one—the six-speed Sport is the quickest by 0.2-0.8 second to 60 mph. That’s probably because our cloth-top stripper weighs between 426 and 497 pounds (193 and 225 kg) less than those loaded test trucks. It also helps that first gear is slightly shorter than in a Rubicon automatic and second gear stretches past 60 mph, so there’s only one torque-interrupting shift in there. (By the quarter mile they’re pretty even.)
So what prompted that “crappy” adjective above? The Aisin D478 transmission is poorly matched to the 3.6-liter V-6, which suffers a low-end torque deficit that the eight-speed’s close ratios do much to cover for. “All the gears are too long,” features editor Christian Seabaugh noted. “First goes through 31 mph (50 km/h), second through 60, and third through 103. For a truck that’s supposed to work or go off-road that’s, frankly, insane.” (Opting for the Rubicon trim or Sport Max Tow package swaps a 4.10:1 axle ratio for our truck’s 3.73:1, lowering those shift speeds by about 10 percent.) The gear spacing is also uneven, as those speed gaps indicate. During an acceleration run up Davis Dam with a trailer attached, upshifting from second to third gear at redline dropped the engine way off its torque curve, bogging the V-6 hopelessly.
The clutch engages nearer the top of its travel than we’re used to (note: we are not used to the Frontier or Tacoma), and the shifter features truckishly long throws. Most of us acclimated quickly, though Detroit editor Alisa Priddle declared, “It takes too much effort to slam into gear.” MotorTrend en Español managing editor Miguel Cortina noted that the shifter is angled toward the driver instead of being oriented straight up as he prefers. Features editor Scott Evans found the Gladiator easy to stall: “If you live in hilly areas, you’ll never get out of third gear.”
It all gets worse when you hitch up a 4,000-pound (1,814-kg) trailer. The 0-60 acceleration time more than doubles, from 7.9 to 15.9 seconds. And Evans still found it easy to stall even with a light trailer. “First has no torque; once you’re moving, all the power is on the top end, right where you don’t want it when trailering,” he said. “The dinky door mirrors make it really hard to see where your trailer is going and where obstacles are.”
Perhaps the six-speed manual will win our crew over if/when it gets paired with a torquier turbocharged engine such as the Ram 1500’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 or the Wrangler’s 2.0-liter turbo-four. Until then, if you want a Wrangler with a 5.0-foot bed and a stick, consider opting for the Rubicon or Sport Max Tow package to get the shorter axle ratio.
Watch an automatic-transmission Gladiator go off-roading with a Colorado and Tacoma below (and read the story here)
|2020 Jeep Gladiator Sport|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$46,185|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||3.6L/285-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,699 lb (52/48%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||218.0 x 73.8 x 74.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||7.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||16.3 sec @ 84.1 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||129 ft|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||16/23/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||211/147 kW-hr/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.05 lb/mile|