FIRST DRIVE | Jeep Gladiator enters the double cab fray - at R1.26 million

23 June 2022 - 08:28
By Denis Droppa
The American bakkie’s doors and roof can be removed for an open-air experience.
Image: Supplied The American bakkie’s doors and roof can be removed for an open-air experience.

There’s a new American double cab bakkie in town, and it has some novel tricks up its sleeve including the ability to go topless and doorless.

The Jeep Gladiator is a 4x4 double cab based on the Wrangler SUV and, like its cousin, it has a removable roof and doors, making it the country’s only convertible bakkie. Its removable three-piece hard top has quick-release latches that enable fast removal and installation. Alternatively, customers can experience open-air driving with an included soft top roof that can be partially or fully opened, and a windscreen that folds down.

Available in a single “trail-rated” Rubicon model priced at R1,259,900, the Gladiator is a fully-fledged off-road vehicle with selectable four-wheel drive, a low range transfer case, solid front and rear axles and lockable front and rear diffs. The sway bar can be electronically disconnected for improved off-road suspension travel and it has an 800mm water wading depth.

The Gladiator has a load rating of 693kg.
Image: Supplied The Gladiator has a load rating of 693kg.

With a macho design that can be described as large-and-in-charge, the boxy Gladiator is styled with typical Jeep tropes including the iconic seven-slat grille, round lights and slab sides with flared wheel arches.

Its below-average 693kg payload suggests it is not primarily a workhorse but more of a lifestyle vehicle for carrying items like dirt bikes and jet skis. It also has a 2.7-tonne towing capacity if you want to add boats and caravans to the list.

In terms of interior stowage it has some novel solutions including lockable storage nooks under the rear seats. The rear backrests can be folded flat and the seat cushions flipped up to cater for different passenger/cargo needs.

The rear seats offer excellent legroom and, like the exterior, the cabin has an industrial-strength vibe with robust grab handles and chunky controls. Everything has a sturdy feel, while soft-touch panels and leather seats give the interior a high-class air.

The Gladiator comes fully loaded with comforts including heated front seats, heated steering wheel, a digital instrument panel, reversing camera and a touchscreen infotainment system to mention a few. Its safety arsenal includes stability control, blind-spot monitoring and adaptive cruise control.

Rear seats can be folded or flipped up, with lockable storage bins underneath.
Image: Supplied Rear seats can be folded or flipped up, with lockable storage bins underneath.

Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator is powered by a normally-aspirated 3.6l V6 petrol engine which is paired with an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Outputs of 209kW and 347Nm provide ample muscle to shift the burly bakkie, which is nearly 5.6m long and weighs a hefty 2.2-tonnes.

The V6 has a satisfyingly linear power delivery and sounds good, especially with the optional sports exhaust system fitted — one of many accessories available. It is a rather thirsty beast with an official rating of 12.4l/100km, while the test vehicle averaged over 14l.

The chunky 255/75 tyres whoosh vocally on tar and there’s also some wind noise due to the bakkie’s chunky shape. The Gladiator is not the last word in acoustic refinement but it rides much better on tar than the shorter-wheelbase Wrangler, feeling less jittery and providing better high-speed stability.

The ride quality is excellent, particularly on bumpy roads. The high-profile tyres and five-link coil suspension with Fox shock absorbers make the Gladiator float gracefully over craters and ruts, making this Jeep seem purpose-built for continent-crossing expeditions over rough terrain.

It’s a sturdy-feeling and stylish cabin.
Image: Supplied It’s a sturdy-feeling and stylish cabin.

A jaunt through the tough Hennops off-road trail near Hartbeespoort confirmed the Gladiator’s impressive all-terrain abilities. It scrabbled through deep dongas, steep climbs and loose rocks like a mountain goat, backed up by some impressive numbers: an approach angle of 43.6°, breakover angle of 20.3°, departure angle of 26° and ground clearance of 249mm.

Shifting between two- and four-wheel drive and high- and low-range is done by an old-fashioned gear lever instead of the button-operated systems that are becoming de rigueur in modern bakkies. The front and rear diff locks are selected by a switch, however.

I wouldn’t wish to parallel park it but otherwise this behemoth is quite easy to manoeuvre thanks to its light steering. Its lack of a driver footrest is annoying, however, and it’s an unwelcome quirk that it shares with the Wrangler.

With its American flavour the Jeep Gladiator makes an interesting new alternative to hard-core off-road bakkies such as the Ford Ranger Raptor and Toyota Land Cruiser 79.

There is a worldwide waiting list for Gladiators and about 35 units a month are allocated for SA. The price includes a five-year/100,000km warranty and three-year/100,000km maintenance plan.