Take one look at the Jeep Gladiator and you could be fooled into thinking this is just a Jeep Wrangler with a ute back.
The Jeep Gladiator may well be built on a chassis that is made for doing crazy off-road driving, and it certainly has a look that lives up to its oh-so-American name - including doors and roof panels that you can remove. This is the first convertible dual cab ute, after all. More than just the name and concept-car-becomes-reality-car looks, the Jeep Gladiator is all about lifestyle and entertainment. It’s the first Jeep pick-up truck since the Cherokee-based Comanche back in 1992, and that model was never sold in Australia.
But the Gladiator will be offered locally around the middle of 2020 - likely taking so long to touch down because the diesel engine version isn’t being built yet. Hardcore Jeep fans have been waiting a long time for this vehicle, others may say it’s uncalled for, unnecessary, or even unbelievable. But the question is: are you not entertained?
Let’s just make sure we don’t call this vehicle a Wrangler ute, because while it borrows heavily from that model, there’s quite a bit more to it than that. Let me tell you how.
The Jeep Gladiator has to be the most intriguing looking ute in the mid-size segment. From some angles, it pulls of its plus-sized dimensions quite well. This is a ute that stretches 5539mm long, rides on an enormously lengthy 3487mm wheelbase, and is 1875mm wide, while the height depends on the roof fitted and whether it’s the Rubicon or not: the standard soft-top model is 1907mm while the Rubicon is 1933mm tall; the regular hard-top version 1857mm tall and the Rubicon hard top is 1882mm. Suffice to say, all of these trucks are big boned.
It’s huge. Bigger than a Ford Ranger, Toyota HiLux, Isuzu D-Max or Mitsubishi Triton. In fact, it’s not far short of a Ram 1500 in length, and that division of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles has had a lot to do with the Jeep Gladiator under the skin.
Things like a strengthened chassis, essentially carryover five-link rear suspension, and a number of other design smarts - things like wider slats on the grille to allow better cooling because it’s designed with towing capability in mind, plus even a grille washing system and a forward-view camera with a washer system in case it gets covered in mud. Like our test vehicle’s did.
In truth it has all the Wrangler-ness you could want - there’s a folding soft top, a removable hard top (both of which are still to be confirmed for Australia, but both are likely to be optionally available) or a fixed roof. Plus you can rip the doors off or drop the windscreen down for a real open air experience.
And there are some really playful elements to the design, as well. Things like the imprinted dirt bike tyre treads in the headboard of the spray-in tub liner, plus easter eggs like the 419 area code stamp which denotes the Gladiator’s place of origin - Toledo, Ohio. There is set to be an extensive range of Mopar accessories available for the Gladiator - things like steel front bumper with winch, a sports bar for the tub, roof racks, tray racks, LED lights and maybe even a genuine bullbar could be offered.
And when it comes to tub dimensions, the length is competitive at 1531mm long with the tailgate shut (2067mm with the tailgate down - theoretically long enough for a pair of dirt bikes), while the width is 1442mm (with 1137mm between the wheelarches - meaning an Aussie pallet - 1165mm x 1165mm - still won't fit, just like most other dual cabs). The load floor height is 845mm at the axle, and 885mm at the tailgate.
The interior has its fair share of design flare, too - and we’re not just talking about the Willys Jeep motifs on the shifter and the edge of the windscreen. Check out the interior pics to see for yourself. It’s a spacious cabin, but not the most practical if you reallllllly value door pockets. There are mesh door caddies, but no bottle holders - the doors are designed to be removed and stored easily, so bulky excess plastics aren’t necessary.
But in the US having drinks while you drive (not those sorts of drinks!) is important, so there are cup holders front and rear, and there’s a small glovebox, a large covered centre console, and map pockets on the seat backs.
The front cabin design is very upright and pretty retro looking, if you disregard the prominent screen in the middle of the dash. All the controls are well placed and easy to learn, and they’re chunky and made of decent quality materials. Yeah, there’s a lot of hard plastic everywhere, but you might need to hose your Gladiator out if things get muddy when you’re running roofless, so it’s forgivable.
And space in the back row is very good. I’m six-feet (182cm) and sat easily behind my own driving position, with ample toe, knee and head room. The shoulder room is decent, too. Just make sure you get people sitting back in their seats if you’re going hardcore off-roading, as the rollbar that divides the cabin might come into play otherwise.
Some of the cleverest elements to the Gladiator are in the back seat, including fold-down seating with storage below that is lockable, meaning you can leave your disassembled ute unattended safe in the knowledge you’ll have securely stowed your stuff.
Then there’s the detachable Bluetooth speaker, which hides behind the back seat and can be taken with you when you’re camping or hiking. It’s waterproof, too. And when it’s locked in place in the speaker becomes part of the stereo system.
The media system depends on the model, with 5.0-inch, 7.0-inch and 8.4-inch Uconnect screens available. The latter two have sat nav available, and the largest screen can include Jeep’s Off Road Pages app, which shows you important four-wheel drive info such as angles and outputs. The systems all come with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto included, as well as Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. The sound system has eight speakers as standard, nine if fitted with the removable one.
It’s a while before we’ll see pricing and specs for the Jeep Gladiator, despite the fact US pricing and details have been announced. However, if we were to glance into the patented CarsGuide crystal ball, here’s what we’d likely see: a three model line-up with the Sport S version kicking things off at about $55,000 plus on-road costs, an Overland model at about $63,000, and a range-topping Rubicon version around $70,000.
That’s with the petrol engine - expect the diesel model to cost a bit more. That said, the standard equipment list is set to be fairly well stocked, and we expect it to mirror what we’ve seen fitted to the Wrangler.
That should mean a Sport S model with17-inch alloy wheels, auto lights and wipers, push-button start, reversing camera and rear parking sensors, a leather-lined steering wheel, cloth seat trim, and 7.0-inch media screen. If there was going to be a model with a soft top as standard, this would be it.
The Overland mid-spec model will likely be sold with a removable hard top, and will add extra safety gear (see the section below), as well as upgrade to bigger 18-inch wheels. There’ll likely be LED headlights and tail-lights, plus it’ll get front parking sensors and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. An 8.4-inch media screen upgrade is likely, which also includes sat nav, and the interior will gain leather trim, heated seats and a heated steering wheel.
There is expected to be a broad range of genuine accessories offered for the Gladiator range, with Mopar stepping up to offer a number of unique add-ons including a lift kit. It’s not clear yet if we’ll be able to get the skinless doors due to Australian rules - but all models will have a fold-down windscreen.
At launch in Australia there are expected to be two options to choose from. The first - and the one we sampled on test outside Sacramento, California - is the familiar Pentastar 3.6-litre petrol V6 engine, which produces 209kW of power (at 6400rpm) and 353Nm of torque (at 4400rpm). It will only be offered with an eight-speed automatic, and will only be offered in four-wheel drive. More on how it performed in the driving section below.
The other choice set to be sold in Australia is a 3.0-litre turbo-diesel V6, producing 195kW and a healthy 660Nm of torque - class-leading outputs by a sizeable margin, with the nearest rivals being the Merc X-Class V6 (190kW/550Nm) and the VW Amarok V6 (up to 200kW/580Nm). Again, this model will come with a standard eight-speed auto and part-time 4WD.
There won’t be any manual transmission version sold in Australia, nor will there be a 2WD/RWD model.
What about a V8? Well, it could be on its way in the form of a HEMI 6.4-litre, but we’ve learned that such a model would require major work to meet crashworthiness standards. So, if it happens, don’t bank on it anytime soon.
The Rubicon will likely be offered on 17s with aggressive all-terrain tyres (probably 32-inch rubber from factory), and it’ll cop a full kit of off-road-spec additions: locking front and rear diffs, a disconnecting front sway bar, heavy duty Dana axles, rock sliders around the lower edge of the vehicle, and it gets a unique winch-capable steel front bar. There’ll be a few other differentiators for the Rubicon like Jeep’s “Off Road Pages” app in the media screen, plus model-specific graphics on the bonnet.
The towing capacity of all Gladiator models sold in Australia is set to be pegged at 750kg for an unbraked trailer, while braked trailer capacity will be up to 3470kg, depending on the model.
The kerb weight of the Gladiator automatic models ranges between 2119kg for the entry-level Sport up to 2301kg for the Rubicon. Gross combined mass (GCM) is set to be lower than many other utes, at 5800kg for the Sport, 5650kg for the Rubicon, and 5035kg for the Overland (the latter of which runs a lower axle ratio for more road-focused driving - 3.73 vs 4.10). To be totally frank, I didn’t expect the Gladiator to be anywhere near as good as it actually is. It’s really, really, really good.
It could well be the new benchmark for ride comfort and compliance - and while you might expect that given it doesn’t have leaf spring rear suspension setup (it runs a five-link coil setup), it is considerably more compliant and composed over bumpy sections of road than any ute I’ve driven. And it was unladen. I imagine things would be even better with a few hundred kilos of gear in the rear.
The 3.6-litre engine is perfectly adequate, offering strong response and smooth power delivery, even if it likes to rev hard and the eight-speed automatic transmission can hang on to gears a little too long. That’s often been the case with this powertrain configuration, which could be familiar to those who have driven a petrol Grand Cherokee.
The four-wheel disc brakes offer excellent stopping power and good progression to the pedal, and throttle pedal is well calibrated, too, whether you’re on or off road. I’d much prefer more steering weight on centre, as it’s quite light and requires quite a bit of constant correction on the highway. But it is predictable and consistent, and that’s something you can’t say of all live-axle vehicles out there.
My other minor bugbear is the amount of wind noise that intrudes at highway speed. You might expect some, given it’s about as aerodynamic as a block of flats, but it’s the mirrors and up around the A-pillars that have the most noticeable rustle at pace. Hey, I’d be removing the roof or folding it back most of the time, anyway.
Let’s cover off the important off road specs before we get to the off road review. If you want the ultimate, you need to get the Rubicon, which has an approach angle of 43.4 degrees, a break-over/ramp-over angle of 20.3 degrees, and a departure angle of 26.0 degrees. At the rear there are integrated rock rails to protect the lower edges of the tub. The wading depth for Gladiator Rubicon models is 760mm (40mm less than a Ranger), while ground clearance is claimed at 283mm.
Non-Rubicon models have approach angles of 40.8deg, break-over angles of 18.4deg, departure angles of 25deg, and ground clearance of 253mm. The Rubicon we tested sat on top of 17-inch wheels with 33-inch Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tyres (285/70/17), and in the US there are factory-fit 35-inch AT tyres available, at a cost. It’s unclear if we’ll get those locally.
Unsurprisingly, the Gladiator Rubicon was a beast off road.Unsurprisingly, the Gladiator Rubicon was a beast off road. Over a purpose-built off-road track the brand constructed on a multimillion-dollar property outside Sacramento, the Gladiator proved its immense capability - it scrambled down a 37-degree descent and made use of its body-length rock rails in the process, and readily plowed through deep clay-lined ruts even with clogged A/T rubber underneath. It’s worth noting our cars had the tyre pressures dropped to 20psi. There were Jeep advisers along the route that were not only directing the best way up or down the trickiest sections, but also informed the driver when to use the rear diff lock, or the front and rear diff locks in combination, as well as the electronically disconnectable sway bar fitted as standard to Rubicon.
We didn’t get a chance to do an on-road drive in the Rubicon model - which gets variant-specific Fox shocks with hydraulic bump stops - but they performed exceptionally well off-road. The Jeep Gladiator hasn’t been crash tested as yet, but given the Wrangler it’s based upon managed a nasty one-star ANCAP crash test rating from Euro NCAP late in 2018 (the model tested didn’t have auto emergency braking), the Gladiator may not be a high scorer when it comes to star ratings.
That may matter to you, or it may not, and we can understand both points of view. But the fact is that many of its contemporaries have upped their safety game, and most have five-star ratings - even if they were awarded years go. Australian versions of the Gladiator are expected to follow the path laid down by the Wrangler in terms of safety equipment specs.
That should mean items like adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitoring will be available, likely on the top spec only, and there is no lane departure warning or lane keeping assist, nor are there auto high-beam lights. There will be forward collision warning available, but it isn’t clear yet if full-spec auto emergency braking (AEB) with pedestrian and cyclist detection will be offered.
There are four airbags (dual front and front side, but no curtain airbags and no driver’s knee coverage) and electronic stability control with hill descent control. If you’re thinking of the Gladiator as a lifestyle family truck, you’ll be pleased to know there are dual ISOFIX child seat anchor points and three top-tether attachments.
Exact details are still to be confirmed, but you can expect either a five-year or seven-year warranty on the Gladiator. Hopefully it’s the latter, as Jeep has some baggage in terms of reliability on some of its models. Frustratingly for buyers, there is no capped price servicing plan, but who knows - there may be by the time the Gladiator launches in 2020, but it will likely carry six-month/12,000km intervals. There’d want to be, and if it happens it will likely include roadside assist cover, as the brand currently covers owners who service their cars through Jeep.
I have to be honest - I was pleasantly surprised by the Jeep Gladiator. It isn’t just a Wrangler with a different back end on it, though it has the capability of that model and the capacity for taking all your stuff with you. Unlike a lot of the other competitors that dominate the sales charts, this isn’t a work ute with lifestyle aspirations - no, the Gladiator could be the first true lifestyle ute without work pretences. Admittedly it can deal with a reasonable load and can tow a lot, but it’s more about fun than function, and it truly delivers on that front.
The score doesn’t really reflect how much I liked this vehicle, but we have to rate it against our criteria, and there are still a few unknowns. Who knows, the score could rise when it gets to Australia, depending on pricing, spec, fuel use and safety gear.