AEV is an acronym that instantly flashes our minds to rock crawling, dune climbing, and mud. Those three letters demand a certain level of respect in the off-road community. You can find the name of American Expedition Vehicles on the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 Bison. The outfit has also swapped Hemi V8s into Jeep Wranglers in the past, and the company offers an extensive selection of off-road parts for the aftermarket.
The latest big deal from Jeep is, of course, the Gladiator. Jeep’s new pickup truck came out of the gate with a bang, aiming to be an all-rounder with the Rubicon-Trail traverse power that Jeep owners expect. However, enough is never really enough when it comes to jeeps. Which brings us to the AEV JT370 Jeep Gladiator that we drive.
Those numbers and letters may sound confusing, but they translate into meaningful things. JT is the generation code Gladiator (like JK or JL Wranglers) and the 370 tells us it has 37-inch tires – a JT350 is also available with 35-inch tires. As much as we hoped this Gladiator had a large Hemi V8 under its hood, AEV is no longer concerned with changing Jeep engines. Instead, the focus is on driving the truck further into the wilderness and looking nastier than it did from the factory.
To accomplish this goal, the JT370 model adds a long list of AEV parts for an additional $ 12,000. For added capabilities, you get AEV’s DualSport RT suspension system with AEV springs and dampers, developed in collaboration with Bilstein. This new suspension is paired with AEV wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich all-terrain K02 or muddy KM3 37-inch tires that lift the truck 2.5 inches together. To restore the truck’s driveability, AEV switches to a 4.56 axle ratio and resolves lift-related suspension geometry issues with a correction kit.
You also get an AEV steel front bumper, front skid plate, LED off-road lights, and a number of exterior items that help this truck stand out as the AEV Gladiator. These include a black graphics package (hood and tailgate decals), fender badges, AEV seats and an AEV instrument panel. The particular example we drove had some extra options like a snorkel kit, a Warn winch, front and rear differential plates, a bed-mounted full-size spare wheel, an extra Baja light bar (under the bumper), the leather upgrade upholstery and some other minor interior enhancements. In total, it amounted to about $ 19,000 in additional gear. Combined with the new Gladiator Rubicon that hit the market, our tester was $ 74,000.
Crikey, that’s a lot of money, but AEV tells us the price is average for what customers end up spending, all-inclusive. So, is it worth it?
AEV says the goal of this package is to improve the Gladiator without ruining the excellent truck that Jeep delivers from the factory. The Bilstein dampers and large, soft tires provide a comfortable and forgiving ride on the road. Pits seem extra small; curbs shrink to nothing, and you get a new sense of inappropriate invincibility up there. We haven’t had a chance to tow, but AEV says the Bilstein dampers and suspension system make the Gladiator less nervous under the load of a trailer, making it a better towing vehicle than the standard version.
As for off-road capability, those few extra inches of ground clearance will likely be helpful if you’re tackling extreme terrain, but most we got through with this truck were some short, undulating, single-track dirt trails – not all of them – included traveling to Moab during Covid-19 times. The Gladiator’s narrow footprint is an advantage on the trail, and wider tires don’t ruin it. The truck drives well through the forest and the damping is perfect as we bump up and down through fast height changes, practicing the suspension.
Unfortunately, the big tires also reinforce the Jeep’s inherent flaws. Constant steering adjustments are required as the Gladiator is always nervous during dips and dives. It takes an extra level of attention to keep the truck in its lane compared to other vehicles, but that comes with Jeep territory.
It’s not a total boat when we throw it into corners. The body rolls, but it lasts nicely and never feels tippy or shaky. That said, the big tires squeal in protest when you try to turn a corner with a little enthusiasm. When driving straight ahead, the tires are not as loud as we expected, but some of the tire noise is drowned out by the engine, the incessant wind noise and the body moaning / creaking. It’s like a really awful musical where random people from the street were told to take whatever they wanted and make as much noise as possible. But hey, it’s a Jeep thing.
When you roll down the windows, the snorkel will scream its intake noise into the cabin. It’s the only aspect of the drivetrain experience that feels different from a standard Gladiator. AEV doesn’t detract from the 3.6-liter V6 or eight-speed automatic transmission – there are no exhaust, engine tune or other powertrain parts available from AEV.
The interior items are so subtle that they hardly stand out. Our tester’s specially painted dashboard and painted hard top inside look like they could be factory options. The AEV instrument cluster appears to be stocked in the same way, except for a small “AEV” logo in the rev counter. Most notable was the $ 2,400 AEV Premium Leather Upgrade, which adds nicer leather with stylish crinkle inserts. It is comfortable and the design decorates the interior with a blacksmith. One option that you should really think about for a minute is the $ 599 spare tire on the bed. The massive 37-inch spare tire makes it impossible to see through the rear window, so you’re tied to the truck’s side mirrors for all the rear view.
Any Gladiator trim can be fitted with the JT370 package, but if you don’t have a Rubicon, you’ll have to pay AEV to buy and install Rubicon fenders. That is because the 37-inch tires do not fit under the standard fenders, but if you go for the JT350 then you do not need them. One of these ranges is also simple enough. AEV partners with over 100 Jeep dealers across the country, so you can just buy it through a dealer just like any other Gladiator. If you already own a Gladiator, the AEV folks in Wixom, Mich., Will be happy to customize it. All AEV parts come with a 12-month warranty and the Jeep factory warranty remains completely unaffected.
In our judgment, the JT370 package is for the Gladiator owner or buyer who wants a ready-to-go off-road build. If you don’t want or don’t want the patience to acquire and install an assortment of parts over time (the cheaper option) but still want a slightly modified truck, this is a good path. You can just give it to AEV and this package (maybe with additional options) is exactly what you want.