The Coolest Jeep Gladiator at SEMA: The Alpine Equalizer

2020 Jeep Gladiator Alpine Equalizer Side Profile

Cars.com photos by Christian Lantry

By Aaron Bragman

What's the star car at this year's Specialty Equipment Market Association Show in Las Vegas? On the car side, it's the Toyota Supra as nearly every exhibitor worth its salt had one in some stage of modification. But if you're a truck parts and accessories vendor, the vehicle to have this year was the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator pickup truck. They were everywhere at SEMA, inside and outside, up on fake rocks, climbing over static displays, lifted to the sky and sporting more LED lights than the Times Square New Year's Eve sparkle ball. There were so many lifted, boosted, massive-tired, crazy off-road Gladiators at the show that they actually became unremarkable — when every one looks the same, it takes something special to get noticed.

Related: More News from the 2019 SEMA Show

Audio supplier Alpine did just that, making a special Gladiator that stopped me in my tracks, and not because its project truck has any kind of special off-road chops — it doesn't. What the Alpine Equalizer does have is Alpine's new X409 audio head unit and restyling bezel, a plug-and-play unit that upgrades the already excellent head unit in the 2020 JT Gladiator to a larger one with more functions and a bigger screen.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Alpine Equalizer Bed With 40 Speakers

But it's not the head unit that makes this Gladiator special — it's what's in the bed and tailgate. You won't be overlanding in this Gladiator or hauling bags of mulch home from Lowe's, because the bed doesn't have any room for you to put, well, anything in it. It's loaded with 40 Bluetooth-connected mobile speakers, just like the optional removable ones Alpine provides for the Gladiator cabin that sit behind the rear seats. They're mounted on a power-articulating frame above three 12-inch Alpine Type R subwoofers. The whole thing is controlled by a ridiculously cool 1980s-retro-inspired Alpine head unit tailgate. The tailgate features a massive rotary volume knob and six lighted buttons that control various features of the speakers. It's purely a one-off custom job, but it's just so unusual and remarkably cool that I had to show it to you here.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Alpine Equalizer Subwoofers

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The Equalizer has some requisite off-road upgrades, of course, most them by Smittybilt. They're responsible for the Apollo front and rear bumpers, XRC Gen3 Winch, grab handles, G.E.A.R. sun visor cover and neoprene seat covers. G2 Axle took care of the CORE 44 DRS front sway bar, on-board mini air compressor and bronze differential covers. And just like every other show car on the floor, there are LED lights all over, this time from Pro Comp, which fitted 2x2 square 5-watt LED S4 Gen 3 modules up front, a single-row 10-inch light bar and LED foglights from a Jeep Wrangler JK.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Alpine Equalizer Front Bumper And Grille

The real story, of course, is Alpine's new X409 9-inch head unit, which replaces the I209 that it's sold for years for the Jeep Wrangler JK. It features an off-road navigation system that already contains several preloaded trailhead maps and a breadcrumb feature for driving in areas for which maps haven't been made yet. There's an integrated inclinometer and compass for helping trail drives, and the entire unit is weather resistant, so the occasional rain shower catching you off-guard and topless in your Jeep shouldn't be a problem. The system supports Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, features multiple data ports and maintains backup camera functionality (the JT Rubicon's front camera feature is still being engineered, but should be supported soon, according to Alpine representatives).

Admittedly there's less impetus to replace the audio head unit in the JL/JT than there was in the JK — the old Wrangler used a positively ancient audio system that actually predated the Fiat-Chrysler merger and was in dire need of an update. The latest JL/JT uses a fully modern Fiat Chrysler Automobiles Uconnect system, which works quite well. But if you have a base model Gladiator with the lesser system, upgrading to the Alpine unit's greatly expanded functionality can be a worthy upgrade as part of a larger audio system modification.

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