The Jeep Gladiator has finally made it Down Under and we’ve spent a little bit of time this week in both the Overland and Rubicon variants.
Few cars bound over a speed hump as well as the new Jeep Gladiator Overland. Thank the uber long wheelbase for that one. With a full 3488mm between the front and rear wheels there’s a more leisurely approach to big bumps that would have shorter cars pitching and diving.
It also helps that the Gladiator – which shares most of its makeup with the iconic Wrangler – rides on coil suspension all round. With some exceptions – including the Ford Ranger Raptor that is the Gladiator’s most natural competitor – rival utes mostly use leaf springs on the rear. Those leafs are typically terrific at carrying a load but can buck over bumps, especially without much weight on board.
The Gladiator is not a typical ute
You get that looking at it. It’s the only pick-up that can be turned into a convertible, with three removable panels for the full open-air experience. The front panels are easy to clip out while the rear requires a tad more muscle and a torx screwdriver. If you’ve got the time and really (really) like fresh air you can even lower the windscreen and remove the aluminium doors, although there’s a lot more effort (and cables) involved with those.
Of course, you pay for the privilege of being different. While a more affordable Gladiator Sport S arrives later in 2020, for now there’s a choice of two models, each with a premium price. You can choose chunky and super capable with the Rubicon, at $76,450, plus on-road costs. Or a few more luxuries and a tad more basic on the off-road kit with the Overland which we’re looking at here, $75,450, plus costs.
Each gets smart key entry, active cruise control and an 8.4-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There’s also an optional removable Bluetooth speaker – included in the limited run Launch Edition – that allows the tunes to accompany you to the campsite. As expected, the sound is a bit thin, but it punches hard enough and should liven up the last few beverages.
In the Overland there’s also 18-inch alloy wheels, leather, heated seats and a heated steering wheel. The Rubicon does without those luxuries and instead gets 17-inch wheels shod with chunky BFGoodrich mud terrain tyres. The chrome grille highlights also disappear (for body colour) and the wheel arch flares are blackened for contrast.
The Rubicon also gets competition-inspired Fox shocks, a unique Rock-Trac four-wheel drive system, locking diffs front and rear and disconnecting sway bars for better articulation. There’s also a forward-facing “TrailCam” for off-roading. Those planning on mods will appreciate the optional quartet of accessory buttons for wiring light bars, fridges and lights.
What’s the Gladiator Overland like to drive?
This taste test came in the Overland (Bobby drove the Rubicon), which has nothing like the visual wow factor of the Rubicon. The near-5.6-metre-long body lends itself to some off-road bling, and the Overland doesn’t have a whole lot of that. Then again, many will no doubt see it as a blank canvas…
But the Gladiator does start off strongly with the way it deals with bumps, again thanks to that long wheelbase (it’s about half a metre longer than a four-door Wrangler). It sets up the character of the car, while the rear coils help keep the tail settled nicely, especially when compared with most dual-cab utes on the market.
That also makes it a solid choice along brisk trails, where it deals impressively with rocks, drains or dips. Less impressive is the ride once you throw busy surfaces into the mix. Things can get jiggly. Along with steering that’s vague but predictable it makes for a truck that’s more at home on really rough roads or when cruising.
Speaking of rough, the Gladiator is predictably great off-road. There’s loads of wheel articulation and once you choose four-wheel drive – even using the Overlander’s Selec-Trac 4×4 system – it ramps up the traction. For regular rock-hopping and crawling it’s highly accomplished. Yet while there’s 249mm of ground clearance, that long wheelbase makes it easier to scrape the belly if you’re trying to roll over a log or a steep pinch of rocks or dirt.
Good to drive but what’s the engine like?
As for the engine, it’s different to anything that could be called a competitor. Whereas the dual-cab ute market is almost entirely powered by diesel, the Gladiator goes for petrol propulsion in the form of a 3.6-litre V6.
It’s a punchy mill with 209kW, so if you step on it and rev it out it’ll build pace nicely. But it doesn’t have that low-down urge of a diesel, instead needing more revs on board to pull up hills. There’s 347Nm to play with but it arrives at 4100rpm, so there need to be revs built into the equation; an eight-speed auto with nicely spaced ratios, albeit with a lurch down into those lower gears that reminds you of the effort.
The Overland is more about lifestyle than workhorse
Jeep pitches the Gladiator as more of a lifestyle truck, one more likely to be adventuring rather than rocking up to the worksite. But there are limitations on that, too – and a lot comes down to the suspension.
The Overlander’s payload is just 527kg; that includes humans, luggage and whatever toys you want to throw in the rear (there are even tyre indents in the front of the tray to help lineup trail trail bikes). The payload of the Rubicon steps up to 620kg, which is marginally better but still light-on by ute standards.
Similarly, towing is only OK. The claimed tow capacity is 2721kg, which is well short of the 3500kg of many dual-cabs (to be fair, it’s better than the 2500kg of the Raptor). Utilise all that tow capacity (with 10 percent on the tongue) and payload drops to as little as 255kg.
So, the Gladiator is a very different proposition in a crowded market. It brings innovation and different thinking in some areas but it trades those off with some of the attributes many traditionally look for in a ute. There’s nothing like standing out from the crowd, though.
2020 Jeep Gladiator Overland Specifications
Price $75,450+ORCs Warranty five-years or 100,000km Service Intervals 12 months or 15,000km Safety Not Tested Engine 3.6L V6 Petrol Power 206kW at 6400rpm Torque 347Nm at 4100rpm Transmission Eight-speed automatic Drive Part-Time 4×4 with low-range Dimensions 5591mm long 1894mm wide 1909mm high 3488mm wheelbase Angles 40.1 degrees approach 18.4 degrees rampover 25.1 degrees departure Ground Clearance 249mm claimed Wading Depth 760mm Spare Under-Slung Full-Size Fuel Tank 83L Thirst 12.4L/100km combined
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