The new Jeep Gladiator is due to arrive on the NZ market in August.
Firstly, I feel I must declare a little bias here.
If a truck is painted the same colour as a Welsh rugby jersey it’s going to have to be good. Let’s also confirm that the new Jeep Gladiator is a truck, not a ute.
First impressions – it’s big! Not RAM 2500 big. However, at 5.6 metres long, it’s 300mm longer than a Ford Ranger. Its 3090mm wheelbase is also 300mm longer than that of a Hilux. This latter point has the effect of putting the load tray behind the centre line of the rear axle, which in turns promotes better weight distribution and a less choppy ride.
Based around the Jeep Wrangler JL, but with a 787mm longer frame and a 492mm longer wheelbase, the Rubicon-spec machine we lived with for a week certainly grew on you. Jumping up into the cabin could be a stretch for the vertically-challenged, but so is getting on a large horse.
Once in, the saddle leather clad seats offered great support and, like the steering wheel, are heated – an unexpected bonus on a winter morning. Adjustment was ample and combined with tilt and telescopic steering wheel a good driving position could be found. The only real criticism was a small place to rest the left foot, restricted by a transmission tunnel “bump” in the foot well, and made worse if you wear work boots.
Motive power is taken care of by the V6 – a naturally aspirated and thirsty 3.6-litre Pentastar engine. This pushes out 209kW power and 346Nm torque, and in turn is mated to a ZF-sourced 8-speed automatic transmission. It is responsive, delightfully smooth and best left to its own devices. Two versions are available, the well specified Overland and the upgraded Rubicon that was our red steed. Overland gets Jeep’s Selec-Trac Active On-Demand 4x4 system, 18-inch alloys, keyless entry and a removable hard top roof. Add in a bunch of safety features like LED daytime running lights, full speed forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control and stop, blind spot monitor and rear cross path detection and the Gladiator is right up there. Options include a roll-up tonneau cover, spray-in bed liners and a host of outdoor activity fittings.
Gladiator Rubicon takes things a step further with the Rock-Trac Active On-demand 4x4 system featuring 4-Lo, with Select Speed Control. This automatically holds the vehicle at a pre-set between 1 and 8km/h in very difficult terrain. In addition, Tru-Lok front and rear locking differentials keep things moving and a front sway bar disconnect function keeps the wheels planted to terra firma.
With tough stuff in mind, 2-inch Fox dampers are fitted fore and aft, while a forward-facing trail camera gives a view of the terrain ahead.
While both versions feature skid plates to protect the fuel tank, transfer case and the transmission oil pan, the up-spec Rubicon also gets 32-inch BF Goodrich off-road tyres mounted on 17-inch alloys, black fender flares and a steel rear bumper assembly.
During our week with the Gladiator, its size is quickly forgotten – although not in the case of the domestic manager, who refused to climb up into the cab. We enjoyed the relaxed driving style, the surprisingly comfortable drive and, of course, the admiring glances – no doubt brought on by the Welsh Dragon Red paint job.
Is the Gladiator a suitable choice for a working vehicle? Probably not. With a braked towing capacity of only 2721kg and a carrying capacity of only 620kg, it falls quite a way behind most of the one tonne utes out there.
But remember where we started – this isn’t a ute. So, if you want to “attack” the outdoors, maybe with the roof and doors off, or drive something different with looks as rugged as John Wayne, Gladiator might be the choice for you – in red, of course!