The new Jeep Gladiator is due to arrive on the NZ market in August.
American Expedition Vehicles (AEV) takes a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited and does a factory-sanctioned upgrade/conversion, taking attention to detail and finish to the next level.Starting with the original Wrangler chassis, they chop in front of the rear axle and insert 59cm of metal to increase the wheelbase, then add a further 49cm behind that axle to make room for the well-side body. And some body it is, with 1530 x 1550mm dimensions, an injection moulded liner, slip resistant coating and multiple tie-down points.
Then AEV bolt on goodies in the shape of HD front and rear fenders, the latter with an integral 26L clean water tank, skid plates, spotlights, upgraded water pump and a muscle-bound Warn Zeon winch up front.
You won’t get a rear-view camera and radar, a challenge given the vehicle’s 5.5m length, especially if you’re trying to park in town.
But this truck’s 273mm of ground clearance – a challenge to getting into the pilot’s seat -- will give you excellent visibility in all directions and to each corner of the vehicle.
The cabin is pure Wrangler Unlimited, neither spectacular nor offensive, and a perfectly adequate place to take a ride.
Seats are comfortable and supportive, the original Freedom pop-out roof panels are retained, and instrumentation is adequate and supplemented by AEV’s instrument cluster.
Shod on with 17-inch alloy wheels with valve protectors, and sporting 35-inch diameter BF Goodrich mud tyres, the ride on-road ride is surprisingly good given the 2400kg kerb weight and the elevated position, and is probably helped by the extended wheelbase.
The DualSport suspension package takes everything in its stride, the only slight negative being a little road noise from the block-pattern tyres.
When you hit the dirt the Brute really comes into its own: pull the stubby shift lever to 4H, point it to where you want to go and just go there. At an off-road training facility near Cambridge we found nothing that was too taxing for this truck --water, grass, mud or gravel.
Looking at stats, you will wonder if this vehicle makes any sense, with a 3600cc Pentastar V6 petrol engine pushing out 209kW power, 347Nm torque and consuming 15L/100km.
The 5-speed auto sees 100km/h come up in about ten seconds, so this is no rocket-ship. But it’s different from the pack, as succinctly explained by a Canterbury high country man found looking at a higher-spec Brute Rubicon as we sadly handed our test steed back to the distributor.
Said he, “All my neighbours and mates have Ford Rangers; we want to buy something different.” That summed it up nicely.