There’s no doubt Jeep is an emotive name. For off-road automotive fans it’s legendary.
For new car buyers struck by the much-chronicled reliability and recall issues of recent years it’s a curseword.
And if you’re an environmentally conscious supporter of light footprints and zero emissions, then Jeep is just one example of a whole breed of big, heavy SUVs you despise.
Which brings us to the Gladiator. At more than 5.5 metres long, Jeep’s first modern-day entrant in the ute market makes one hell of a statement. What it is depends on your perspective.
What is it?
In essence, the Gladiator is what we know in Australia as a 4×4 dual-cab utility. Popular examples of the breed include the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger – the two best-selling vehicles in Australia today.
Like them, the Gladiator has the versatility to carry up to five passengers, a load in the tray and tow a substantial amount as well.
However, its numbers aren’t that impressive. While vehicles in this class can carry up to one tonne and tow up to 3500kg, the Gladiator offers 620kg and 2721kg.
The Gladiator has a lot in common with Jeep’s most capable off-roader, the Wrangler. It shares the same basic platform, but it is stretched and has a different rear suspension to help cope with loads in the tray.
The Wrangler shares its drivetrain with the Gladiator too. Our sole choice in Australia will be a 3.6-litre petrol V6 mated to an eight-speed auto and a 4×4 system that includes low-range gearing for really gnarly work. So, no diesel, which is really a must-have in this class in Australia. We might get one later.
Why is it important?
Rather than simply replacing another model, the Gladiator expands the Jeep line-up. So that means it has the potential to attract fresh customers into showrooms. That’s good news for a brand whose sales in Australia have slumped dramatically in recent years.
And if you’re going to pick a segment to get into there’s few better than 4×4 dual cab, which appeals to private and fleet buyers and doubles as a work and play vehicle for many self-employed tradies.
How much does the Jeep Gladiator cost?
Unlike the HiLux, Ranger and their many rivals, there isn’t going to be any cheap versions of the Gladiator. But a big percentage of dual cab sales are sold at the top-end anyway. These days you can spend $80,000 before accessories – and lots of people accessorise.
So while Jeep has yet to announce pricing ahead of the April local launch, a starting point beyond $60,000 is expected for a two-model range that will comprise the Overland and hard-core Rubicon off-roader.
What does the Jeep Gladiator get?
Along with pricing, a detailed equipment list remains unannounced for Australia.
One thing we do know is the Australian-spec Gladiator will be the first in the world to get standard autonomous emergency braking (AEB), which is a crucial safety feature.
But don’t expect this vehicle to gain glowing safety reviews. Most likely it will be awarded three stars out of a possible five in the all-important ANCAP test.
Jeep claims the Gladiator offers more than 80 safety and security features including blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, adaptive cruise control, electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation and forward and rear-facing cameras.
Comfort equipment should include leather trim, heated seats and steering wheel and the easily understood Jeep Uconnect infotainment system, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
Mechanically speaking, the 3.6-litre engine makes 209kW and 353Nm and is claimed to chew through fuel at an average rate of 12.4L/100km. That’s pretty hefty, yet it’s bound to be optimistic if you start indulging in some off-road work or towing.
What do we like?
The Gladiator does best what Jeeps are renowned for. It heads seriously off-road and copes with really tough conditions very efficiently.
Our drive in the south island of New Zealand coincided with the pre-Christmas floods and the Gladiator sailed – sometimes literally – through the mud, slime, rocks and river crossings without ever getting fussed.
If this sort of stuff really floats your boat (sorry!), then the Rubicon is the version to buy. It’s not only got an impressive 4×4 system, it adds a front sway bar that disconnects for more wheel travel.
The Gladiator is also a much nicer place to be than utilitarian Jeeps of yore. That’s because it gets the same cabin as the new Wrangler. So it’s not only higher quality, it has some really smart storage ideas.
The Gladiator also has the ability to become a convertible. The roof is removable, as are the doors, while the windshield folds down for that bugs in your teeth experience.
What we don’t like
The load carrying and towing capacities are a big deal, as is the lack of a diesel engine. A lot of people will be put off by those shortcomings.
The sheer size of the Gladiator makes it a real challenge for urban use. It really does need those cameras!
And on the open road, while it’s a better drive and ride than the Wrangler, it’s not anything special. A Ranger would run rings around it.
That applies in a straight-line too. The petrol engine likes to rev when low-down pulling power (torque) is what’s really required. Throw in a 2.3-tonne kerb weight and there’s another reason the Gladiator’s fuel consumption claim is optimistic.
Buy it or not?
The Gladiator is a specialist vehicle. If you’re an urban dweller that rarely travels beyond the bitumen don’t let your heart rule your head – look elsewhere.
The same applies if you’re a grey nomad wanting to take your ‘castle on wheels’ caravan on that round Australia trek. There are better towing and torque choices.
Where the Gladiator excels is venturing deep into the bush. It will help you take friends, camping gear and some toys to really enjoy the great outdoors.
Consider it a big vehicle for a big country. A really big vehicle, in fact.