JEEP GLADIATOR

FIRST OVERSEAS DRIVE

MATT RAUDONIKIS

UNLEASH HELL FROM THE TRAY!

J

EEP’S NEW Gladiator pick-up lands in Australian dealers mid-year, but Jeep shipped a handful of the muscular 4x4s to New Zealand’s South Island, to to give us a taste of this

Wrangler-based ute drives.

The vehicles on offer were lefthand-drive US-spec Gladiator Rubicon models with Jeep’s full arsenal of offroad weaponry. This includes: Dana live axles front and rear, fitted with extralow 4.1:1 gears and locking centres; 4.1s in the transfer case for extra-low crawling ratios; a disconnecting front anti-roll bar; 33-inch off-road tyres and Fox Racing shock absorbers.

Australia will get an ‘Internationalspec’ JT Gladiator, which means the transfer case will also offer full-time 4x4 as well as 2WD, and 4x4 locked high and low range. Smaller 255/75R17 tyres are likely to replace the 33s on our variants, much to the dismay of offroad enthusiasts.

Full local specs and pricing are yet to be revealed but we can tell you that it will come in two variants – Overland and Rubicon – and be powered by the 213kW and 353Nm, 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar engine backed by the eightspeed transmission. No manual or diesel option, for now at least.

Jeep officials were quiet when asked if we’d get the 2.2-litre four-cylinder diesel we have in the Wrangler Rubicon, or the 3.0-litre V6 diesel the US market has in its Wrangler. Jeep may instead fit its 4xe plug-in hybrid powertrain recently unveiled in Wrangler; part of its aim to be the greenest SUV brand and offer electrified options on all models by 2022.

In a market crowded with same-same dual-cab 4x4 utes, the Gladiator’s big points of difference are its live front axles in lieu of the standard IFS, and that it’s the only one with a fully removable roof. Or you can simply remove the front sections to let the sun shine in. Want to take the openair motoring experience further? The windscreen folds flat to the bonnet, and the doors are removable.

If you’ve ever driven a JL Wrangler, you’ll be at home behind the wheel of the JT Gladiator; the view over the bonnet, the layout of the controls, audio and HVAC are all identical between the two siblings, as well as the sound, feel and performance of the engine and transmission. It’s an engine that likes to rev for the best performance – less than ideal for lowspeed off-road driving but entertaining on open roads, sealed or otherwise.

On gravel roads, the long 3487mm wheelbase gives the JT Gladiator a more planted and stable feel on the terrain than its shorter wagon sibling. This also improves the ride quality on rougher ground. The Fox shocks fitted to Rubicon models on this drive in Queenstown delivered a more controlled ride and handling than what we’ve come to know on the Wrangler. The steering is still light and vague in places, which is typical of Jeep’s off-road vehicles and keeps the driver on their toes.

The Gladiator’s rear seat is fairly upright, like many rivals in this class of vehicle. But there’s heaps of headroom, and more legroom in the back than there is in a Wrangler.

The Gladiator is an important vehicle for Jeep, and for FCA Australia as its brands struggle for mainstream favour here. Limited load capacity and the lack of a diesel option could be decisive factors in its fortunes.

MATT RAUDONIKIS

Model Jeep JT Gladiator Rubicon 

Engine 3604cc V6 (60°), dohc, 24v 

Max power 213kW @ 6400rpm 

Max torque 353Nm @ 4400rpm 

Transmission 8-speed automatic 

Weight 2300kg (estimated) 

0-100km/h 9.0sec (estimated) 

Economy 13.1L/100km 

Price $70,000 (estimated) 

On sale June 2020 (estimated)

PLUS

Off-road ability; LWB lifts ride stability

MINUS

Towing and load capability; Oz diesel?

Watch this space

Gladiator’s cargo bed measures 15255 x 1295 x 445mm (LxWxH), which is large but is limited in capacity when compared to the 4x4 utes that are popular here now. The maximum payload of the Rubicon is just 620kg while the popular utes rate between 850kg and 1100kg. Likewise the 2171kg towing capacity falls well short of the 3500kg that models like the Hilux, Ranger and Colorado all offer.