Car reviews - Jeep - Gladiator
Unique offering, off-road ability, tray size, relatively settled unladen ride, smooth petrol V6, good spec levels, rear spaciousness
Room for improvement
No diesel option, no tray version, rugged handling, interior ergonomics, steep asking price, no more affordable option, poor towing capacity
Jeep’s new Gladiator pick-up provides truly unique option in crowded ute market
19 Jun 2020
IT WOULD seem that Australian new-car buyers have a seemingly insatiable appetite for 4x4 pick-ups.
Whether it is a basic, single-cab-chassis workhorse for fleets and tradies, or all the way up to lifestyle-oriented off-roaders like the Ford Ranger Raptor and Nissan Navara N-Trek Warrior.
Jeep is the latest brand looking to take advantage of the pick-up craze, with its long-anticipated Gladiator dual-cab arriving on Australian shores to take on the like of the Raptor and Warrior at the pointy end of the segment.
So how does Jeep’s Wrangler-based lifestyle truck stack up against the competition?
First drive impressions
Jeep has brought the Gladiator Down Under in two highly specified grades, the lifestyle-focused Overland at $75,450, and the hardcore off-road Rubicon, which commands just a $1000 premium.
A third, more affordable Sport-S grade is also slated to arrive at the end of the year, which will sit around $10,000 underneath the current range.
Its pricing places it instantly at the top of the mid-size pick-up segment, placing it squarely in the sights of the Ranger Raptor ($77,190), HSV Colorado SportsCat SV ($68,990), Navara N-Trek Warrior ($65,990) and Toyota HiLux Rugged X ($64,490).
Only occupying the pointy end of the segment will surely stymie the Gladiator’s ability to sell in meaningful volume, although the addition of the Sport-S will no doubt help somewhat.
While sales have trended towards top-spec, daily-driver utes in recent years, much of the volume from the 4x4 pick-up segment consists of affordable, tradie-oriented workhorses and fleet vehicles, a portion of the segment that Jeep is likely to miss out on entirely.
Offering tradie-friendly accessories such as a tray-back cab-chassis
However Jeep acknowledges this, and has no plans to broaden its range offering beyond the Sport-S, but rather keep the Gladiator purely as a lifestyle vehicle.
From the outside, it would seem that the Gladiator as a platform has great potential to be used in a number of different configurations, due to its sheer size.
Checking in at 5591mm in length, the Gladiator is longer than the likes of the dual-cab Ford Ranger (5382mm) and Toyota HiLux (5330mm), while not being a great deal shorter than the one-size-larger Ram 1500 (5817mm).
Its load bed measures 1531mm x 1442mm with a depth of 445mm, giving it a great deal of usable space and enouhg room to fit a full-size spare tyre underneath the bed, a crucial feature for an off-road vehicle.
Furthermore, its rear legroom and headroom must come close to being, if not is the most accommodating in the segment, with adult passengers fitting comfortably in the back.
The rear seats are also able to fold flat vertically or horizontally, while featuring lockable storage underneath.
Moving into the front of the cabin (in our case, the Overland) provides an interesting juxtaposition of generous specification and quality features with rough-around-the-edges Jeep utility.
The interior sports nice features befitting a $75k truck, such as heated leather seats and steering wheel, the 8.4-inch Uconnect infotainment system and a 7.0-inch instrument cluster screen, which is then mixed with rough elements like the manual adjustable seats and exposed elements of the hard-top roof.
The abundant cabin plastics we can excuse, given the interior of the Gladiator is designed to be able to be hosed down after getting muddy.
The rugged interior does pose some ergonomic problems such as the lack of seat sliding, its tall, ill-fitting seating position (which nevertheless gives great road visibility), and especially the left side of the footwell which has been cut away and leaves the driver’s left foot without anywhere to sit comfortably.
Unsurprisingly, noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) levels are sub-par (especially at highway speeds), due mainly to the removable roof and doors, and the foldable front windshield.
However that is just another of the Gladiator’s USPs – who else can claim to sell a convertible pick-up with removable doors?
One of the downsides of the Gladiator’s exterior dimensions is it is particularly unwieldy around town, with tight parking spaces and sharp corners presenting a problem for drivers.
With its ladder-frame chassis and solid-axle front suspension, the Gladiator’s handling can only be described as unwieldy, with vague steering and handling that struggles to keep up with its more refined IFS counterparts.
Ride comfort is actually fairly settled when unladen, thanks no doubt to its five-link coil suspension (similar to that used in the Ram 1500) which, when combined with the Gladiator’s considerable wheelbase length, deals with bumps and imperfections better than the rugged leaf springs used on most pick-ups.
The main drawback is the Gladiator only features a payload of 620kg, which negates some of the benefits of the massive load space.
Maximum braked towing capacity is also underwhelming at 2721kg, down on the 3500kg industry standard.
While the Gladiator falls behind in terms of pure utility, its drive-off-the-showroom off-road ability is unmatched, especially with the Rubicon which comes standard with the Rock-Trak off-road system, super-low crawl ratio, front and rear diff locks, extensive underbody protection, sway bar disconnect, 2-inch Fox performance shocks and 32-inch BF Goodrich off-road tyres.
While we only experienced a short sojourn off-road in the Overland, if the Wrangler Rubicon is anything to go by, the Gladiator will leave its rivals in its wake when off the tarmac.
Under the bonnet, the Gladiator is only offered with one powertrain option – a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 outputting 209kW/347Nm, driving all four wheels via an eight-speed ZF automatic transmission.
The petrol V6 provides a smoothness with its power delivery and throttle response that makes it a more pleasant driving proposition than a diesel, with a willingness to rev and smooth shifting that has none of the sluggish surges of a torque-heavy oil-burner.
However we have to wonder if it is the right fit for the Australian market, with the pick-up segment dominated by turbo-diesel engines, reflected by customers’ appetites.
Jeep has said it was only given the choice of one engine due to the RHD development costs, however we can’t help but feel that the 184kW/570Nm 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6 found in the Grand Cherokee would make a perfect fit for the Gladiator in Australia, and might even help boost towing capacity.
Our short time in the Gladiator returned a fuel consumption figure of 11.5 litres per 100km – a decent return and only 0.3L/100km north of the official figure, however it is worth noting that a considerable amount of highway driving was thrown into the mix.
While many brands have tried to fit in with their pick-up designs, Jeep has gone completely in the opposite direction and offered something genuinely unique that no other car-maker can hope to match.
Its solid-axle front, fantastic off-road ability, rear coil springs, removable roof and large tub combine for something as yet unseen in Australia.
Will it capture the hearts of buyers? It’s impossible to say, however you will never be able to accuse Jeep of creating something too similar to its competitors.
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Model release date: 1 June 2020
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