Way back in the 60’s and 70’s Jeep built the Gladiator. It became an icon. A big, tough, no nonsense go anywhere pick-up, with a look that wasn’t going to get it confused with anything else on the road.
50 years later, they have revived the name, but have they revived the icon.
In it’s homeland it’s almost a compact, out here it stands out in a very crowded ute market, with its looks, presence, convertible fun-factor, and blatant off-road personality.
And it’s big, and when you get it out and about in the Urban Jungle, it’s very big!
Actually the Gladiator is at a real disadvantage in the carpark, its size – we’re talking 5 meters long here – and hard to see front guards, make parking an exercise in caution, but let’s face it, anything with a 40.7 degree entry angle, and 26 degree departure isn’t aimed at the expressway, or mall car park anyway.
But get it out where it’s supposed to be, and it comfortably goes where mere mortal utes are totally out of their depths. Sadly we didn’t get it full wilderness, actually not even close (sob), but even in the neighbours orchard we had the odd “hard way” access tracks, that are usually restricted to the side by sides, to get some idea of its capability.
The almost full width tailgate provided great access to the rear of the tray, and the roll-up tonneau cover made the whole ute concept work very well in it’s “farm truck” guise, but the high sides created quite an access issue at times.
Although the overhang from the new Jeep Gladiator’s semi wellside tray brings the departure angle back a bit from the Wrangler it grew from, with the big flares that make up half of the rear guards, that deck doesn’t suffer from as much intrusion of the arches into the load space as usual – the rumour is that the deck was designed to accommodate a quad bike – and carrying capacity is much more controlled by weight than size.
Those big flares also add to the classic “step-side” image of the Gladiator, and at times it could have done with the steps themselves!
But getting back to the weight carrying limitations of the Gladiator opens up the discussion of what it does do so very well, to get that load to where it needs to be.
Long travel coil springs, and race style shock absorbers aren’t by any stretch of the imagination ideal for weight carrying or, for that matter towing, but Jeep, realising that the Gladiator wasn’t going to be hitting the tradie market, specced the truck up for the leisure/adventure sector, where it really has no direct competitors in NZ.
There is so much to this vehicle, that to try to cover it all would take a small novel. And that’s just for the Overland model, the middle of a three option range, from the “Less is More” Sport to the “I want it All” Rubicon, with it’s top of the range Rock-Trac Active On Demand 4WD System.
So we are just going to concentrate on the experience of our time with it, and our impressions of working and playing in it. With a bit of tech thrown in. And let the photos fill in some of the gaps.
The Overland runs the Selec-Trac 4WD System, with Hi-Low transfer case, 3rd generation Dana 44 Diffs, and full time torque management programmes.
All three models in the NZ range carry Jeeps “Trail Rated” badging.
Under the bonnet the 3.6L V6 Pentastar engine delivers 209 Kw and 347 Nm, the torque coming in right down low in the rev range, delivered through an 8-speed ZF Auto and Selec-Trac 4WD set-up. This combination really does deliver supreme off road crawling performance.
You can hear the engine putting in the effort at times, but in a growly sort of way, that fits the environment nicely. Rumours of a V8 option have been on the horizon since even before the Gladiator hit the market in the states – make mine a Hellcat please!
On the highway it’s a lot better than you would expect a solid front end US truck to be. Sure, it tends to follow the road contours a bit, but it is pretty well tied down, and even empty provides a more than acceptable ride. It is a lot nicer to be in than most of its rivals.
Additionally, it is long, and it is wide, so it corners flat, and is relatively untroubled by bumps, corrugations and the like. As you would expect, in the dry it tends towards understeer when the driver gets a little overconfident.
Inside is probably where it’s off-road heritage has become a bit more civilised. But it is still remarkably practical. Rubber mats line the bottoms of the cubby holes, the floor mats dome into place, and it all comes together in a rather stylish package. But you would still feel quite at home in the bush with it.
What we have missed out so far, is that it is a convertible – in real Jeep fashion. The roof comes off, all four doors come off, and the windscreen folds flat. I challenge anyone to sit in it in full play mode, and not grin!
Stripping the doors and roof off may not seem to be a particularly practical sort of thing to want to do with a Ute, but in the orchard it was amazing just how much easier all that accessibility made working with it.
Jeep obviously want owners to make the most of this fun factor, not only do they provide lots of lockable waterproof boxes and cubbies for secure storage, but there is even a specific hardware store container for all the bolts and stuff from the doors and roof when they are off.
With everything back on, you get a feeling of security that few other vehicles can offer. With the H3 Hummer, and, to a lesser extent Toyotas FJ cruiser, I described it as being like driving a cave. The high, square dash, shoulder high doors and big pillars give a real “I’ve got this” feeling that matches that first impression it gives.
While the appearance Gladiator certainly wasn’t every-one’s can of Bud, the interior experience was. Seriously roomy, not particularly luxurious, but impressively comfortable. With some very neat and stylish touches that have come across from the Wrangler.
Like the rims on the light dimmers, and the detail on the steering wheel, and the positioning of the info screen. Best of all though, is that the removable doors has brought the window winder controls onto the centre console, well away from open doors in the rain.
There is even enough space for Jeep to install a set of Auxilliary Switches in the there too, for the extra accessories, radios and lights so often required by this class of vehicle.
It has quite a heritage to live up to, but 2021 is a long way from 1961, and what it takes to become an icon has come just as far, so has this new iteration of the name got what it takes to become iconic in it’s own right?
With it’s stand out looks, unassailable off-road ability, thinly disguised practicality, and just plain Jeepness, we reckon it has. It’s a Jeep thing – you wouldn’t understand!