Words: Alex Rae
By mid-2020, Australia’s first dual-cab ute with removable doors, roof and windshield will be available to buy. It’s an all-new model from Jeep, the brand that once built utes almost thirty years ago and decided to have a crack at building utes again. They call it the Gladiator.
It’s a tough-sounding name and one which historically defined an underprivileged man who had to fight just so he could live… Suitable then, given how rusted on Australian’s can be to their dual-cab 4×4 utes, and how the Gladiator will have a tough fight ahead to break ground. Though this one is different.
Jeep explains in detail how it’s not a Wrangler with a tray plugged on its back, even if that’s what it looks like – and not a negative given the Wrangler is an icon for adventure and off-roading. However, check out that seven-slot grille upfront again and you’ll see the gaps are wider for more efficient cooling and that from the A-Pillars back it’s a different beast.
What does it cost and what do you get?
We’ll get two variants: Overland and Rubicon. And yes, they very much mirror the spec you’d find in the Wrangler.
Pricing is yet to be announced, but we expect it won’t be cheap. Using equivalent pricing from the Gladiator and Wrangler on sale in the US, the Gladiator Overland could – depending on specification – start at around $65,000. The Rubicon – the variant which looks toughest and has a lot more off-road parts in it – will be more expensive, perhaps around $75,000 plus on-road costs. While that’s lots of money for ute, there are more expensive dual-cabs on the market.
Equipment available includes leather seats, 8.4-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, keyless entry and push to start ignition, forward-facing camera and reversing camera, removable doors and roof, folding windshield, wireless and waterproof Bluetooth speaker, plenty of rail and storage options in the tray, alloy wheels, external power source for 240v plugs, heated seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, electric adjustment on the front pews and a big safety kit including AEB, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
The Rubicon is similar to the Wrangler version, adding Rock-Trac (over the standard Command-Trac), full-time 4×4, Dana 44 axles, bigger all-terrain tyres, front and rear diff lock, a 77.2:1 crawl ratio and an electronic sway bar disconnect among other enhancements.
What’s the interior like?
If you want to get a good feel for what the Gladiator ute is like inside, go and jump in a new JL Wrangler. Mirroring much of the wagon’s appearance, the Gladiator has a robust yet inviting interior design. There’s plenty of red highlights and handlebars in the Rubicon that suit its off-road chops, but it’s also filled with soft-touch door panels, plump bolstering on comfortable seats and a great infotainment system. It also has plenty of mod-cons like a heated steering wheel and seats, USB connections (USB-A and C) and rear air vents for back seat passengers.
We spent a good two days inside covering hundreds of kilometers on and off-road and enjoyed sitting in it. Some of that is because of the compliant ride quality, but also because it’s a good cabin to be in.
How much space is there?
This thing is big. The wheelbase grows 492mm longer than the Wrangler’s (and the car itself measures 787mm longer overall) so you have a comfortable cabin with great leg room front and rear, and then a big tray in the back that’s thoughtfully designed. The headroom is terrific, though you can pop the roof off in three easy clicks if you’re transporting a giraffe.
The tray measures 1524mm long and can fit a full-size spare wheel with up to a 35-inch tyre on it underneath. And you can customise the liner – spray it, fill it with the ‘Trail Rail Cargo’ load system, use the tie downs, split it with a divider, and cover it with a tonneau. It also has under-bed lighting and a 400watt, 230v socket suitable for Australian plugs.
For precious cargo, inside are deep storage bins (some lockable) in the centre console and under the seat.
What’s the infotainment like?
Jeep’s 8.4-inch uConnect infotainment system is a great screen to use. The graphics look sharp and the colours pop, even in direct sunlight with the roof off. Connectivity options include Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, SD card, DAB radio, and Bluetooth. They all work well.
Attached to the infotainment system is a standard eight-speaker or more powerful Alpine nine-speaker system with a 552w subwoofer. The latter goes up loud but retains clarity. There’s also the option for a waterproof wireless speaker built by Alpine that tucks away underneath the rear seat, where it charges automatically for use when your camping… or having a tailgate party.
What’s the engine like?
For now, the only donk available inside the Gladiator is a 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6 engine, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. There’s no word yet on a diesel option.
But the petrol motor does well to spin up quickly with its 213kW of power and pulls strongly from a relatively modest 353Nm of torque. On the freeway it’ll kick down for overtaking that you wouldn’t consider in most four-cylinder diesel utes, and from a standing start there’s no comparison. We also had a listen to the exhaust notes with the optional MOPAR pipes that the Gladiator can be equipped with, and it brings a throaty texture missing in the modern dual-cab ute scene that’s quite unique.
Towing capacity is a bit iffy, and we didn’t get the chance to lug anything behind. The rated braked tow capacity will be anywhere from 2700kg up to 3469kg if a tow pack becomes available (or standard); there’s no confirmation on what spec Australia will receive.
Payload is 620kg standard, increasing to 725kg with the tow pack. This somewhat highlights it’s use as an adventure four-wheel drive and less as a work horse.
Is it good to drive?
Underneath the Gladiator is a stretched version of the Wrangler’s ladder frame chassis that adds the finer qualities engineered into the RAM 1500. That includes rear upper and lower control arms in a five-link coil suspension setup with Fox shock absorbers (on all four points) that the Wrangler misses out on.
Other improvements include dynamic engine mounts, hydraulic body mounts, and high strength alloys for decreased lateral movement.
The result is that the Gladiator drives with confidence and composure on any surface, quick to change direction but unsettled by mid-corner bump and sharp edge corrugations. You can bomb down a riding road with reasonable speed and there’s a surety in the body roll and balance as the 2300kg machine changes direction.
Ride comfort when cruising is good too, the longer wheelbase advantageous over the Wrangler, and a step above just about anything you’d find in this class.
While the steering is fine (and improves in feel when off-roading), it’s not as polished as the class leaders. But it’s a minor gripe, and braking feels good from the larger diameter brakes.
And how good is it offroad?
Our off-roading test was only in the Rubicon model, which is better equipped for offroad use than the Overland. It has more capable 255/70 Bridgestone Dueler HT 685 rubber wrapped around 17-inch strengthened alloy wheels, and a raft of other additions.
The approach angle is 40.7 degrees, breakover angle 18.4 degrees, and departure angle 25 degrees. Ground clearance is 282mmm and the wading depth 763mm. We don’t doubt either, having driven across New Zealand soon after major road flooding which required wading through waist-high waters. And some bouldering put both the ground clearance and underbody protection (including rock rails) to the test, both of which cleared basketball-size rocks without fuss.
The Rubicon is highly equipped with Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock front and rear diff locks and electronic swaybar disconnect. Low range can be accessed by way of 4:1 transfer case with a 77.2:1 crawl ratio, which is brilliant for slow going. We went all the way with locking down the Wrangler for a slippery 90-degree turn into a fast-flowing water crossing over boulders and up a steep incline on the exit. It was no sweat for the Gladiator at a crawl and likely overkill. Grip was always sure, and the wheels rarely slipped. It was also the sort of offroading that requires a moment to pause and assess, so it was impressive how easily the Gladiator drove through.
Added to the mechanical additions is a more advanced terrain type mode for the Rubicon for selecting electronic presets that suit traction requirements of the surface you’re on. And there’s a front-facing camera that lets you see what’s under the big nose, particularly useful for the bouldering in deep trenches.
The Gladiator is shaping up to one of the most off-road capable utes available in Australia on the showroom floor, and for most buyers, there won’t be much if anything more you need.
How safe is it?
The Jeep Gladiator has not been tested by ANCAP.
Safety equipment available includes AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring and automatic wipers and headlights. It seems likely the Gladiator will be loaded with all of the essential safety assists for Australia.
What are the alternatives?
The closest ute in terms of off-road credibility and on-road compliance (and compromised tow and payload capacity) is the Ford Ranger Raptor. Beyond that, there is the Toyota Hilux, Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu D-max, Mazda BT-50 and LDV T60. All of those are 4×4 dual-cab utes and some offer pumped-up off-road accessories as standard.
2020 Jeep Gladiator pricing and specs
Price From $65,000 (estimated) Warranty 5 years/unlimited km Engine 3.6L petrol V6 Power 213kW Torque 353Nm Transmission 8-speed auto Drive four-wheel-drive Body 5539mm (l); 1875mm (w); 1857mm (h) Kerb weight 1301kg Seats 5 Spare Full-size spare