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Jeep Gladiator 2020 review: Rubicon off-road

There's a lot of hype about the Gladiator, Jeep's first ute in a long time, and there's a lot riding on its anticipated success. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) Australia is hoping the Gladiator can take on Australia's segment leaders, such as the Toyota HiLux and Ford Ranger, or at least rise to the top of the brand's sales charts, but let's see how that pans out.

We won't have to wait too long as Jeep's five-seat dual-cab "convertible pick-up truck" (Jeep's description, not mine), is expected to be launched in Australia in the second quarter of 2020. There's no word on how many pre-orders have been taken yet.

Australian journalists drove US-spec Gladiators at a special preview drive event staged in New Zealand in December 2019.

At this event, I drove a Gladiator Rubicon, which I'll focus on in this yarn, and an accessorised "Mopar-enhanced" Gladiator Rubicon.

So, is the Gladiator actually any good? Read on.

Does it represent good value for the price? What features does it come with?

A Gladiator line-up has not yet been confirmed for Australia but it will likely include entry-level Sport S, mid-range Overland and the top-spec Rubicon.

No details on official pricing were available when we drove the Gladiator but I reckon you can expect to pay from $70,000 for the top-spec Rubicon.

The big news is: Jeep reckons Australia will only get the petrol Gladiator. There will be no diesel. Jeep officials have shrugged off any suggestions by journalists that not offering an oil-burning variant was a serious misstep for the diesel-loving Australian market. Is their decision simply peculiar and perhaps temporary? Let's wait and see.

No Australian specifications or pricing for the Gladiator were made available at this event, but keep an eye on CarsGuide because we'll have those details as soon as they're available.

Australian journalists drove US-spec Gladiators at a special preview drive event staged in New Zealand in December 2019. Australian journalists drove US-spec Gladiators at a special preview drive event staged in New Zealand in December 2019.

As for the US-spec Gladiator Rubicon we drove: it has a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine and an eight-speed automatic transmission.

Standard Wrangler Rubicon features are all here including off-roading gear such as Falken all terrain tyres (but likely BF Goodrich Mud Terrain tyres for Australia), a rock-stomping 77.2:1 crawl ratio, front and rear locking differentials and a swaybar disconnect system.

Other features include cloth seats, 8.4-inch touch-screen multimedia system with sat nav and the cluey 'off-road pages' mode, as well as Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, LED lights, 230V inverter, and 17-inch alloys.

Driver-assist aids include AEB, blind-spot monitoring, full-speed forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, tyre-pressure-monitoring, hill-start assist, hill descent control and more.

The Rubicon also gets a forward-facing off-road camera to help find your way when taking on low-speed 4WDing.

Is there anything interesting about its design?

Jeep's global president Christian Meunier reckons the Gladiator shares Wrangler DNA but is more like "a cousin" than "a brother" to the iconic 4WD. If it's a cousin, it's a pretty close first cousin, if you know what I mean, because it looks very much like the Wrangler.

Take a look at the accompanying photos and make up your own mind.

The front end is distinctively Wrangler-esque and the rest of it, well, looks like someone has force-rammed a ute tray onto the rear of a Wrangler. But before you get all offended on behalf of Jeeps everywhere – what I just wrote was actually a compliment – this is a pretty cool-looking unit, with a real mission-ready presence.

The Gladiator is bigger than most utes on offer in Australia at the moment – except something like the Ram. The Gladiator is bigger than most utes on offer in Australia at the moment – except something like the Ram.

So, what's it like, in the metal?

For starters, at 5539mm long, it's massive. The Gladiator is bigger than most utes on offer in Australia at the moment – except something like the Ram.

And it effectively carries over the retro look from the Wrangler. It's plain to see in all aspects of the Gladiator that people who actually live the outdoors life have designed it: it has a squared off and tough exterior and its interior is very easy to spend time in and all controls are easy to locate and operate – even if you're busy bouncing around during hard-core of-roading at the time.

What are the key stats for the engine and transmission?

I spent the lion's share of my time at this event driving the US-spec Gladiator with 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine (209kW@6400rpm and 353Nm@4400rpm) and eight-speed automatic transmission – which we already drove in the US back in April 2019.

Anyway, that's a well-proven combination in the Wrangler proper and it turned out fine in the Gladiator as well, never often found wanting.

The Pentastar V6 engine has plenty of punch, though it can be a bit flarey. The Pentastar V6 engine has plenty of punch, though it can be a bit flarey.

How practical is the space inside?

The interior is wrap-around snug like it is a JL Wrangler. No surprise.

Fit and finish is top-notch and everything inside is solid and chunky and substantial, including all dials, knobs and switches.

Storage solutions are spare but adventure-prepped, such as tensioned net pockets on the doors and in the seat-backs, and small grippy spaces for your many bits and pieces.

In terms of keeping devices charged and ready, there are two USB ports and a USB-C port up front and two for back-seat passengers.

Seating is pretty good all-round although those taller folk among us should mind their heads on the lumpy ceiling.

What's it like as a daily driver?

The US-spec, left-hand drive Gladiator is pretty composed on-road. We've driven the Wrangler Rubicon many times and it's surprisingly good on-road and so it goes that the Gladiator, essentially a longer version of that, feels even more stable and settled in and around town, as well as during open-road cruising.

As mentioned, the Pentastar V6 engine has plenty of punch, though it can be a bit flarey, but the eight-speed auto helps to generally deliver that evenly and at the right times.

Its next-level off-road capability means that’s where it finds its sweet spot: off-road. Its next-level off-road capability means that’s where it finds its sweet spot: off-road.

A few niggles: visibility is a bit pinched in every direction, steering is a bit floaty on bitumen and at speed, the throttle is touchy, and the Gladiator's 13.5m turning circle can add a tricky dimension to off-roading if you're on tight tracks.

Our Gladiator Rubicon was riding on 33-inch Falken Wildpeak A/Ts (all-terrains) on 17-inch wheels, but the most recent Australian Rubicons I was in were shod with BF Goodrich Mud Terrain tyres.

What's it like for touring?

Pretty bloody good. For something straight out of the showroom, this will be one of the most capable 4WD utes available once it lands in Australia. So, well and truly Trail rated then.

It's built rugged and capable with a body-on-frame design, reinforced chassis, coil springs, five-link suspension and the Gladiator has a 4x4 set-up that, in a standard vehicle, is second to none: 4:1 low-range (contributing to a 77.2:1 crawl ratio), front and rear diff-locks, heavy-duty third-generation Dana 44 front and rear axles, sway-bar disconnect, and decent off-road tyres.

It’s built rugged and capable with a body-on-frame design. It’s built rugged and capable with a body-on-frame design.

Its next-level off-road capability means that's where it finds its sweet spot: off-road.

Because of the Gladiator's 3487mm-long long wheelbase, you do have to drive with more concentrated focus over severe obstacles – things like steep-sided rocks and deep ruts – because if you don't, it tends to hit and scrape on the ground.

It does have four substantial underbody skid-plates, as well as rock rails, to soak up any off-road hits.

Because of the Gladiator’s 3487mm-long long wheelbase, you do have to drive with more concentrated focus over severe obstacles. Because of the Gladiator’s 3487mm-long long wheelbase, you do have to drive with more concentrated focus over severe obstacles.

The onboard off-road pages media-screen app, replete with 'Drivetrain', 'Accessory gauges' and 'Pitch & Roll', is pretty handy for keeping an eye on things – and for trying to max out the severity of the off-road angles you take on.

Overall, the Gladiator is a good fun thing to drive and very capable.

The tray's load space is 1442mm wide – 1137mm between the wheel-arches so not wide enough for a pallet – and it is 1531mm long. 

For something straight out of the showroom, this will be one of the most capable 4WD utes available once it lands in Australia. For something straight out of the showroom, this will be one of the most capable 4WD utes available once it lands in Australia.

Load height is 885mm at the tailgate.

The Gladiator has a claimed 725kg payload – less than most dual-cab utes available in Australia – and a maximum braked towing capacity of 3470kg*. (* These figures are based on US claimed capacities.)

How much fuel does it consume?

What safety equipment is fitted? What safety rating?

What does it cost to own? What warranty is offered?

The Wrangler has a five-year/100,000 km warranty, including unlimited kilometres, five-year capped-price servicing and lifetime roadside assistance as long as you get serviced by a Jeep dealer – so expect something similar for the Gladiator.

Also expect a likely servicing schedule at six-month/12,000km intervals.

The Jeep Gladiator is great off-road, as expected, and surprisingly good on-road. The Jeep Gladiator is great off-road, as expected, and surprisingly good on-road.

The Jeep Gladiator is great off-road, as expected, and surprisingly good on-road.

It's built well, looks good, is a ton of fun and is very capable but I'll hold off on a final judgement on the Gladiator until I've driven an Aussie-spec version to see what's truly like for work-and-play duties here in Australia.

$76,450

Based on new car retail price

VIEW PRICING & SPECS

Daily driver score

3.5/5

Adventure score

4.3/5

adventureguide rank

  • Light

    Dry weather gravel roads and formed trails with no obstacles, very shallow water crossings.

  • Medium

    Hard-packed sand, slight to medium hills with minor obstacles in all weather.

  • Heavy

    Larger obstacles, steeper climbs and deeper water crossings; plus tracks marked as '4WD only'

Price Guide

$76,450

Based on new car retail price