South African motorists (mainly farmers) were exposed to the Jeep Gladiator nameplate way back in the 1960s, when it was basically a no-nonsense, single cab bakkie with impressive off-road capability. This new Jeep, based on an extended Wrangler platform, is nothing like that.
The 2022 Jeep Gladiator, launched in mid-June, is so many things rolled into one. It’s an outlandish looking lifestyle vehicle, a dirt-road sports off-roader and a reasonably spacious double-cab pick-up all rolled into one. Plus, it also has extremely serious rock-climbing credentials too!
On the one hand, “Lifestyle” is what this Gladiator is all about. Based on an extended version of the Wrangler platform, with its traditional separate chassis and body construction, it comes with various roofing configurations that include a hard top with removable panels, a soft top that is said to be easily erectable, and doors which are removable for the ultimate off-road experience.
Yep, you heard right: The lightweight aluminium doors are designed to be easily removable for the ultimate sporty off-road experience. In similar vein, the windscreen is designed to be folded flat – if the mood grabs you. And what’s more, the load bay at the back is large enough to accommodate two medium-sized, off-road motorcycles, as long as you are willing to fold the (aluminium) tailgate down.
The Gladiator, like all Jeeps from the traditional Wrangler lineage, uses the 3,6-litre naturally-aspirated Pentastar petrol V6 engine, introduced in 2010. It produces a healthy 209 kW and 347 Nm of torque and emits a lovely six-cylinder soundtrack when you accelerate hard through the gears. Talking of gears – there are eight of them in the sophisticated fluid-drive automatic – used in conjunction with Jeep’s sophisticated off-road-orientated Rock-Trac 4×4 system, which incorporates a low-range transfer case and diff locks for both front and rear axles.
In two-wheel-drive high range the Gladiator accelerates impressively and cruises beautifully, with the automatic ’box enabling extremely smooth shifts and acceleration on demand without any lag as the gearbox effortlessly selects an appropriate gear ratio.
The top two ratios are of overdrive spec, which means you can cruise at very low revs at the 120 km/h speed limit, and overall, during our launch, we achieved a very respectable fuel consumption in the 15,5 litres/100 km range. This included hard driving on dirt roads, off-road trail crawling and rock climbing.
On fast dirt road driving the Gladiator is extremely impressive in the way it deals with bad road ripples and potholes, thanks to high-spec Fox dampers used front and rear. The five-link coil rear suspension also helps, as does the fact that compared to the Wrangler four-door model, the wheelbase has been extended by 493 mm, so directional stability is extremely impressive.
In rock-crawling situations, the Gladiator provides fearless ability for even the novice off-road driver, as long as you remember to engage low range four-wheel- drive and use the diff locks when the surfaces is unduly rocky or muddy. The Gladiator comes with no less than four skid plates for under-floor protection, and the side-mounted rock rails provide body protection from rocks intruding on the trail from the side.
Inside the Gladiator is cleverly-conceived of traditional Jeep accents and modern hi-tech, and the vehicle lacks nothing in terms of the latest infotainment and electronic driving aids. The Jeep traditional gear is integrated perfectly with the high-tech stuff, and gives the feeling that the Jeep does what it does naturally without trying too hard.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the Gladiator, for me, was the feeling of overall solidity of the vehicle, despite extensive use of lightweight aluminium in many of the body panels. The trim items in the cabin are high-end, and what’s more, there is really usable space for five adults in this super-capable rendition of the double-cab theme.
With all these attributes, the price of R1 259 900 seems realistic enough, and with Jeep’s loyal customer base very much a factor here, I see the Gladiator becoming a big hit in the upper echelons of the double-cab power structure. That price does include a five-year/100 000 km warranty and a three-year-100 000 km maintenance plan.
By Stuart Johnson