Michael SimariCar and Driver
From the September 2020 issue of Car and Driver.
It happens every time I drive a Jeep Gladiator. It’ll be a beautiful day—the top is down and maybe the doors are off—when some mundane chore (dump run, firewood fetching) is transformed by the Jeep’s indefatigable good cheer. I find myself thinking: “This is me. I need a convertible pickup truck in my life.” And then I start looking at dealer listings and arguing with myself over whether I require the Max Tow package (yes) or could live with the Gator paint (no). Eventually, the Gladiator delirium passes before I have a chance to do anything so rash as contact a dealer. Or that’s what usually happens when I’m not confined to my house, daydreaming of Outer Banks beach drives and hauling dirt bikes to scenic single-tracks. As the old saying goes, quarantined hands click the devil’s links—the ones that say, “Please contact me about this vehicle.”
The first time I was tempted by the Gladiator, about a year ago, Jeep’s pickup was brand new and scalding hot. With nary a deal to be found, it was easy to talk myself out of it. But when dealers are knocking $8000 off the sticker and Jeep is sweetening the pot with incentives, it becomes easier to rationalize a fit of financial nihilism. By April, my local dealer’s advertised leases started at $269 per month. I’ve never leased a vehicle, but for that payment, maybe I’d have to give it a try.
As you might expect, that low monthly nut came with a few caveats. First, it required $2730 down, which over a 42-month lease meant a total outlay of $14,028. Or about $4000 per year to drive a new Gladiator with an MSRP of $40,230, which still seemed like a deal. Except for one problem: They didn’t actually have one like that on the lot. Cue the upsell.
So instead of starting with a number, I figured I should find a truck I like and then see what they could do. I found one at a dealer a few hours away: Hydro Blue with a soft top, heated seats, the active safety stuff, and the Alpine stereo. The advertised price was $40,906. I decided to ask about the lease rates, since the price essentially matched my local dealer’s mythical truck.
Trying to keep it apples to apples, the salesman plugged in a $2500 down payment and a 42-month term. The monthly payment came to $451, which amounts to a grand total of $21,442. Hmm. Now, I’m not a big math guy, but my understanding of leases is that you’re paying for depreciation. Therefore, at the end of the lease, the option to buy should be somewhere in the neighborhood of the transaction price minus what you’ve paid so far. So I asked the salesman for that residual number, should my Gladiator infatuation outlast a 42-month honeymoon. He told me that after paying $21,442, I’d be welcome to purchase that fine machine for an additional $33,126. A tempting offer, but I’d have to think it over.
When I told him I probably didn’t want to pay nearly $55,000 for a $41,000 vehicle, the salesman replied, “Ezra, what are you trying to accomplish here?” Whoa. Didn’t expect you to hit me with the existential questions, bro!
Well, when I look deep within myself, in my heart of hearts, I find a dumb guy who wants a cool truck. But only if the deal is good enough to chase off all the second thoughts, the ones that say, “Actually, the Colorado is a better pickup” and “This is a brand-new vehicle that would replace your wife’s 2010 Lincoln MKT EcoBoost yet is technologically inferior to that decade-old Volvo S80 spinoff.” You know, that kind of thing.
Also, please don’t get mad at me, Wrangler and Gladiator people, but all the waving stresses me out. What if I’m not on the lookout and miss a Jeep wave? Then I feel like a jerk. We don’t have to worry about that in the MKT. If a fellow MKT driver waves to you, there’s probably just a murder hornet in their car. You have no obligation to wave back. It’s nice.
See, I’m doing it again: I’m talking myself out of it. But this was a close call. I’ve gotta stay strong. At least until I drive the new Ford Bronco.
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