Dual-cab ute has the attributes to drag Jeep back into favour
Seasoned individuals will remember John Alexander asking the question “Gladiator ready?” in the mid ’90s.
While the tennis legend was verifying if the human behemoths were ready for battle against hopeful challengers, it’s a phrase worth delivering when climbing aboard Jeep’s new dual-cab ute.
Essentially an elongated version the hardcore Wrangler four-wheel drive, Jeep is aiming for the lucrative dual-cab market.
That’s a good place to be hunting new followers. Australia’s top-selling vehicle is the Toyota HiLux, closely followed by the Ford Ranger. Mitsubishi’s Triton was also in the top 10 last year.
Jeep has suffered a tough run in recent years.
Targeted in various consumer smear campaigns and battling corporate scandals, the marque has studiously been working to rectify perspectives.
Extending the warranty to five years and placing greater emphasis on after-sales support has seen the market respond.
The Gladiator can only assist those fortunes.
Boasting a tough-as-nails exterior, the Rubicon version looks like it has come straight from the gym.
With the name emblazoned on the bonnet it comes off-road ready with massive knobby BF Goodrich rubber, Fox shocks front as well as front and rear locking diffs. Inside it has the best features from two lower grade models, including an 8.4-inch touchscreen linked to a nine-speaker sound system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, push-button start, bucket seats and a removable three-piece roof.
Black and white are the only two colours that don’t cost extra, while those attracting a $1035 premium are silver, granite, grey, green, red, burgundy and blue.
Services are capped at $399 each for the first five if you return to a Jeep dealer with annual or 12,000km intervals. Reliability has been addressed, and Jeep says it will provide lifetime roadside assistance support if buyers continue to service with its dealerships.
Warranty coverage meets the mainstream standard of five years or 100,000km. Mitsubishi doubles both those figures on its coverage, while the likes of Kia, MG and SsangYong are seven years and unlimited kilometres.
This hasn’t been a great genre for Jeep in recent times, particularly the Wrangler which was initially only awarded a one-star rating by safety authority ANCAP. Changes ultimately led to three stars being awarded to the Wrangler and that score carries over to the Gladiator.
Boasting an autonomous emergency braking system that can apply the anchors if the driver fails to act fast enough when a frontal collision with a vehicle is detected, it was marked down for not having the ability to identify pedestrians or cyclists.
Adaptive cruise control to maintain set distances from other vehicles in highway conditions, blind spot monitor and a warning if traffic is approaching when reversing are among the other standard inclusions.
There’s no lane keeping functionality to help steer the dual-cab between lines, emergency braking in reverse or a cross-junction warnings — all features which are now becoming commonplace in mainstream vehicles.
External door and bonnet hinges, along with internal straps on the doors showcase the rugged appeal of the Gladiator.
Throughout the cabin there are nods to a prestigious past and the present, like a Gladiator silhouette on the gear shifter, as well as motifs of the wartime Willys Jeep on the windscreen and each alloy wheel.
Visible bolts in the cabin are further flexing of the Gladiator muscle, along with the rubber mats designed for hosing off after adventurous travels.
Leather trim and heated seats found in the Overland model are abandoned in the Rubicon in favour of hardiness and off-road prowess. Yet it still has dual-zone aircon with vents in the back, and a touchscreen which is easy to navigate. Changing radio stations and altering the volume can be done fast via buttons on the back of the steering wheel.
When first aboard the Jeep ute it’s an interesting experience. The driver’s digital instruments start with an image of the wartime Jeep grille that morphs into a modern front-end version. The pedal compartment is narrow and the steering wheel close to the driver. Once accustomed it’s fine, just unconventional.
The electric windows are centrally mounted on the dash in the front, and behind the console in the rear.
Storage options includes a deep two-stage centre console, and upfront there are two USBs: a Type A (in the console) and another Type C as well as an auxiliary port. There are dual cupholders in the front, with a useful nook for phones between the two, while another two floor-based bottle holders in the back. One frustration is the lack of storage in the doors, just netting pockets.
The more time we spent in the Gladiator, the more fun it became.
Feeling narrow, yet long, it’s a lively and engaging drive.
Sending power to all four wheels is a 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine. It’s responsive off the mark and rightly feels hairy-chested and constantly ready for action.
It is a thirsty beast, with an official consumption figure of 12.4L/100km — our test proved only slightly higher at 12.9.
With those hefty all terrain tyres the steering can feel vague and the dual cab rocks and rolls in the corners, but all is forgiven when leaving the bitumen. The Gladiator Rubicon is nothing short of outstanding in the toughest of conditions.
Boasting an effective low-range four-wheel drive system, and electronically locking differentials front and back, the Rubicon laughs at tracks which leave other genuine off-roaders bogged to the axles.
Primarily built for weekend play rather than work duties, the payload is just 620kg while most rivals are pushing one-tonne. Towing maximum is 2721kg with a 10 per cent tongue download.
Overseas travels are on the backburner and I’m ready to see all parts of Australia … or maybe I’ll just stay home and just look the part.
Danger is my middle name. Nothing will stop me now.
FORD RANGER RAPTOR $82,812 D/A
Jumping sand dunes in a single bound. Another fine dual-cab that is off-road ready straight from the showroom with a 157kW/500Nm 2.0-litre 4-cyl twin-turbo diesel, 10sp auto. Also has good features and on-road manners.
VW AMAROK ADVENTURA 580 $79,073 D/A
An impressive performer courtesy of a 190kW/580Nm 3.0-litre V6 twin-turbo diesel. There is also a W580 version coming next month, honed by Walkinshaw Performance boasting retuned suspension and large Pirelli Scorpion ATR tyres, but pre-orders sold out fast.
A true smile-generator, it’s the most off-road savvy and toughest looking of the Gladiator bunch. While not perfect, it’s brilliant fun no matter what
AT A GLANCE
JEEP GLADIATOR RUBICON
PRICE $83,490 drive-away (expensive, but close to rivals)
WARRANTY/SERVICING 5 yr/100,000km, w’ty (OK); $1995 for 5 yrs (good)
ENGINE 3.6-litre V6 petrol, 209kW/347Nm (gutsy)
SAFETY 3 stars, 4 airbags, AEB, blind-spot monitor, adaptive cruise control, rear cross-traffic alert (not great)
THIRST 12.4L/100km (thirsty)
SPARE Full-size (perfect)
PAYLOAD 620kg (low)