Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review – First Drive

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The Jeep Gladiator has finally arrived in Australia, available in two flavours we’ve taken the Rubicon for a blast in the bush to see if it was worth the wait.

Australian Jeep fans have been waiting for the Gladiator to get here for a long time, watching as US buyers mod them and enjoy them. Yeah, the Gladiator’s been available in the US for a long time already.

But it’s finally Down Under and we’re wondering what you guys think of the price. Sure, this ain’t your average dual-cab, but at $75,490 plus on-road costs for the Overland and $1000 more for the Rubicon we’re driving, the Gladiator ain’t cheap. It costs around the same as a Ford Ranger Raptor. But then, I guess, almost no other dual cab has the same emotional appeal as the Gladiator. And if you don’t already have a car waiting for you at the docks, well, you’ll be waiting until October for the next shipment to arrive. Thanks coronavirus.

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Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

Just a Wrangler with a tray, right?

Nup. Not by a long shot. Sure, the styling is more or less the same as the Wrangler but it’s more a cousin than a sibling. And there are some visual cues that set the two apart, if you know what to look for…you ready?

The seven-slot grille is a Jeep hallmark but the grille on the Gladiator at the one off the Wrangler. The slots are wider on the Gladiator because Jeep wanted to get extra airflow into the engine for those who tow. See, in the US you can tow almost 3500kg with a Gladiator. Not in Oz, here we’re limited to a maximum braked capacity of 2721kg. And our payload is lower too.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

And it gets better… Our Gladiator Rubicon rides on a 32-inch tyre here whereas the starting point in the US is 33s. And the Gladiator will take a 35-inch tyre without a worry. The guards to bumper extensions on our cars aren’t on US models and, to be honest, if I owned a Gladiator Rubicon they’d be the first things, along with the rear mud flaps, to be removed. Only you can’t because, if you did, the vehicle would be considered unroadworthy. Yep, you need to leave the guard extensions and the mudflaps in place to avoid feeling the long arm of the law.

My tape measure says it’s big

I mean, I’m one of those guys that always carries a tape measure, don’t you? And when I used it to measure the Gladiator, well, let’s just say it was lucky the thing ran to eight metres. Let’s talk numbers. The Gladiator measures 5539mm long which is longer than a Ford Ranger which measures just 5426mm long. And the wheelbase of the Gladiator is heaps longer than the Ranger, 3487mm versus 3220mm. And it’s just shy of a metre longer than the Jeep Wrangler.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

So, if you’re comparing the Gladiator with the Wrangler, the biggest difference, despite the fact the Gladiator gets a tray is the room in the back seat. In fact, against any other dual-cab, except for things like a RAM, the Gladiator is like a limo with a good 100mm more rear seat legroom.

But while the Gladiator is huge, it’s tray is actually smaller than that of a Ford Ranger. Again, with my tape measure, I got 1531mm long and 2067mm to the end of the lowered tailgate. The loading height (how far it is off the ground) is 885mm with the tailgate down and the width of the opening is 1270mm. There’s 1137mm between the wheel arches.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The tub itself has a brilliant spray-in liner that feels like Raptor Coating; it’s both grippy and easy to keep clean. I know because I had the Rubicon for three days during this test and got it properly filthy.

The interior is as adventurous as the exterior

Just like my Wrangler, you step inside the Gladiator and feel as if you’re sitting right up against the dashboard with the windscreen only a few centimetres further away from your face. It’s a Jeep thing.

The front seats are comfortable and all the controls are easy to reach and there’s acres of room in the back. I was able to climb in behind the driver’s seat set to suit me and I had heaps of room to stretch out, and I’m a big unit.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

And the back seat offers some cool features like the fact it’s got a full width storage compartment with sliding partitions. And there’s a wireless Bluetooth speaker in the back that’s waterproof (you could leave it in a puddle for 30 minutes and it would still work), so you can take your tunes with you like an old-school ghetto-blaster. And the rear windscreen has an opening window like the one in a Navara, only you’ve got to open and close it with your own hands, or you could use someone else’s hands to do it if you’re busy.

There’s okay vision all the way around but this is a big rig so there are pinch points, meaning the front (Trail-Cam only on Rubicon) and rear cameras are super handy as are the rear parking sensors. There are no front sensors on the Rubicon because of the steel bumper which is way better than the plastic park bench on the Overland variant.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The audio system on the Rubicon is awesome, so awesome that I’d often stay in the car to listen to the end of a song; I’m a sentimental fool and a slave to the beat. 

Was cold but I still got topless in the Gladiator (seat heaters and steering wheel heater is awesome) and getting the top panels off is pretty easy and there’s a big bag to store them in. This is a one person job. Removing the rear section of the hardtop, though, is a two-person job. You remove eight bolts and lift the thing up and off. You’ll need somewhere to leave it while you’re out and about and hope that it doesn’t rain. But, you know what, there’s no other dual-cab that you can take the top off.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The windscreen is easier to lower than a JK Wrangler, you just remove the wipers (sounds harder than it is) then just undo few bolts and swing it down. The rear view mirror stays put and the wind in the hair and bugs in your teeth experience is amazing when you’re on a private road only. Listen to Uncle Bobby, it ain’t legal to drive on the road with the windscreen dropped.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

So there’s no diesel in Oz?

Nope, seems a bit nuts for a vehicle like this but I guess the world is turning its back on diesel and wheelers are going to have to accept that petrol and then electricity will be the only motivation soon. Still, right now, diesel is easier to get you hands on in the outback and is a lot safer to transport. Moving on.

The engine is a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 making 206kW at 6400rpm and 347Nm of torque at 4100rpm. An eight-speed automatic transmission is bolted onto the engine and gets power to the ground via Jeep’s Rock-Trac Active On-Demand 4×4 system, with heavy-duty third-generation Dana 44 front and rear axles with a “4LO” ratio of 4:1. Tru-Lok locking differentials are standard.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The auto-equipped Gladiator we get ends up with a low-range crawl ratio of 77.2:1 which is less than the manual version but still unbelievable when you’re in technical terrain. Plonk it into first gear and the thing will literally inch its way down a hill at a real slow walking pace.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The engine is nice and lusty when you’re up and running but it feels a little soft down low on the road, a supercharger would transform the thing. And it needs a bigger fuel tank, we managed to get down to low 11s with a mix of town and country driving but that left us looking at a range of just 500-odd clicks which ain’t enough for this sort of rig.

What’s the Gladiator Rubicon like to drive?

Better than you might think and way better than the Overland. Compared to the shake, rattle and roll you get in a JL which has a tendency to skip across the road on mid-corner bumps (as scary as it sounds), the Gladiator is a lot smoother. That’s probably as much down to the length of the thing as it is to the Fox-branded suspension which gives it much better control and compliance. Indeed, whether you’re on road or on a fast dirt road, the Gladiator Rubicon is a lot smoother and more composed than a JL. But it ain’t in the same league as a Ranger Raptor.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

Drive the Gladiator on dirt in 2HI and it’ll steer from the rear. It’s a very smooth progression into oversteer and never feels out of control; a lift off the throttle is enough to straighten the thing out. Drop it into 4HI Auto or 4HI and oversteer antics are killed with neutral, faster driving experience taking its place. Sure, fast gravel roads were way safer in four-wheel drive but drifting the Gladiator Rubicon was a hoot. The fact you can run it in 4HI Auto on the road adds an extra layer of safety that few of the other part-time 4×4 dual-cabs offer.

Mentioned the tyres earlier, you get a 32-inch tyre, BFG muddies on Australian cars, which are awesome but why do we get a smaller tyre? In the US, the Gladiator Rubicon runs a 33 as standard. After posting this article suggesting it was simply Jeep Australia’s call on the smaller tyre, and asking several times before, we heard from Jeep Australia which said the 32-inch tyre on Australian Gladiators was an ADR requirement. 

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The problem with the smaller tyres is that it reduces the rampover angle of the Gladiator meaning it’s easy to catch the belly as you’re driving over obstacles (ground clearance is a claimed 249mm). And it’s the same at the back, the overhang is pretty big and the smaller tyres mean you can drag the bum. That said, the rear bar has a neat set of steel sliders to help slide the bum over lumps in the road and the muffler is tucked high up out of the way. With its swaybar disconnect, the articulation in slow-speed technical terrain is unbelievable and combined with the BFGs grip, or lack of it, is never an issue.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

The Gladiator cops similar issues as the Wrangler and that is the front steering dampener sits too low and is prone to catching on the ground. You can get a bracket from the guys at Double Black Offroad to flip it up out of the way…this should be a standard feature. And the rear trailing arm sits low and off-road we found it would scoop up mud and even catch in some terrain. Some sort of skid plate would help protect it.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Specifications

Price $76,450+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 Steel Fuel Tank 83L Thirst 12.4L/100km combined

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Bobby Salt is a maverick. A man that can't be pinned down to just one genre. He's been mucking about with cars, 4x4s, skateboards, bikes and R/C cars for more than 20 years. He loves drifting as much as getting dirty in a 4x4. Bobby is MotoFomo in human form.
jeep-gladiator-rubicon-review-first-driveAfter three days with the Gladiator Rubicon I came away feeling that it definitely does what it says on the tin. It ain’t perfect and for most people a ‘regular’ dual cab like a Ranger or HiLux might make more sense but they feel cheap by comparison. But if you want the Jeep experience and need more room than a Wrangler offers and with the practicality the tray brings then go and take a look at the Gladiator Rubicon. It isn’t cheap and the fact we only get 32s and not 33s as standard is annoying, because it makes tweaking the Rubicon to suit your adventure needs a little harder.


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