The Jeep Gladiator is an old acquaintance.

The last time we drove one, we managed to get it bogged. How embarrassing . . . the first time in 25 years of road testing vehicles that this had happened to us.

And here the Gladiator is again, sitting in the driveway, waiting patiently to go for a drive — like a dog that wants to go for a walk?

But where to go? Where do you take a 4×4 when it’s pouring rain and you’re not real keen on getting bogged (again)?

It’s an interesting question in the context of Gladiator, which is a hard-core, utilitarian style 4×4 that frankly is not really suited to much else, definitely not the narrow confines of a shopping centre carpark.

Launched here in 2020, it’s a tough-looking customer; a dual cab, five-seat utility with plenty of off-road cred designed to compete with the likes of Ford Ranger Raptor, Toyota Hilux Rogue, Nissan PRO-4X Warrior et al – or maybe it’s the other way round.

Gladiator shouts look at me, especially finished in bright lemon yellow!

Like the Wrangler Unlimited on which it is based, there’s little compromise involved, although it does come with plenty of icing on top.

Wrangler’s removable roof panels are retained, along with a windscreen that folds flat and lightweight aluminium doors that can be removed.

Two versions are offered: city focused Night Eagle, priced from $73,450 and the bush-bashing Rubicon priced from $82,250 — both figures before on-road costs.
Premium paint adds $795, with a choice of three option packs: Trail Ready ($2000), Lifestyle ($2950) and Premium ($2950).

A spray on tub liner and soft tonneau cover are optional.

Our test vehicle was the hardcore Rubicon with all the bells and whistles. The big difference between Gladiator and other utes is that it is a purpose-built off-roader, unlike competitors that start life as commercial vehicles.

The deal breaker, at least for us, is that there’s no diesel. Gladiator is available only with a 3.6-litre petrol V6 that’s sure to suck fuel.

In fact, the only Jeep you can get with a diesel these days is the top of the line Compass.

In fairness, however, Jeep has started to offer hybrid alternatives and its first fully electric model the Avenger is due later this year.

Rubicon features 17-inch alloys with BF Goodrich Off-Road rubber, dual zone climate air with rear vents and heated leather seats along with a heated steering wheel.

There’s also LED lighting front and back, LED daytime running lights, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming rear view mirror, plus front and rear parking sensors.

Gladiator comes with a 5-year/100,000km warranty, lifetime roadside assistance if you service the vehicle through Jeep and needs to be serviced every 12 months/12,000km.

Infotainment consists of a smallish 8.4-inch touchscreen, 7.0-inch driver info panel and premium 9-Speaker Alpine audio, with built-in navigation, Bluetooth phone and audio, AM/FM and DAB+ digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The lower dash offers USB-C, USB-A and AUX ports, along with a 12 volt outlet (with two lights but no power outlet for the tub).

A removable bluetooth speaker is hidden under the rear seats.

The 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 generates 209kW of power at 6400 rpm and 347Nm of torque at 4100 rpm, with drive to the rear wheels in two-wheel drive mode through an eight-speed automatic transmission fitted with auto engine stop-start.

Sadly, Gladiator still carries a three-star safety rating.

Maybe like the Land Rover Defender, it’s time for a complete re-design?
Standard safety equipment includes four airbags (two front and two side), with adaptive cruise control and autonomous emergency braking (city and interurban), with forward collision warning, blind spot monitor and rear cross path detection.

Lane Keep Assist (LKA) and Emergency Lane Keeping (ELK) systems are not available.

The Australian 4×4 market has been traditionally dominated by Toyota and Nissan.
But there’s plenty of alternatives in the rapidly expanding 4×4 dual cab utility section of the market.

Rather than a work vehicle, Gladiator is very much a lifestyle choice, with a clear
focus on recreation.
It’s about grabbing your mates and going bush for the weekend, with your dirt bikes in the back, and plenty of room for the rest of the gear.

But you need to do this sort of thing often, or have deep pockets, to justify the cost of putting a Gladiator in the garage — because it’s not much good for anything else.
At 5591mm in length, Gladiator is long, 71cm longer than the four-door and almost 1.3 metres longer than the original two-door Wrangler.

Parked side by side with a Hilux it looks about the same length, but is actually 27cm longer, which could make the difference between getting in the garage — or leaving it outside.

It’s also 21cm longer than Raptor, but still 24cm short of a so-called ‘full-size’ truck such as the RAM 1500.

Gladiator’s length can pose problems when it comes to parking and manoeuvring, with a sweeping 13.6 metre turning circle that will see you forced to make plenty of three-point turns.

Convex exterior mirrors make judging distance to objects difficult.

You see one thing in the mirrors and another in the rear view camera, which can be a trifle confusing.

Weighing in at 2242kg, aluminium is used to reduce weight and boost fuel consumption, including the doors, door hinges, hood, fender flares, windshield frame and tailgate.

Hollow track and stabiliser bars, aluminium engine mounts and steering gear also help to reduce weight.

Gladiator can carry 693kg and can tow a 2721kg braked load.

The inside is a mix of old and new styling with a traditional flat dash that contains a square touchscreen and old-style analogue instrument gauges that flank a central information panel, though speed can be displayed digitally.

The driver sits close to the wheel and the swap from left to right hand drive hasn’t been seamless, with a smaller driver’s side footwell that has no room for a footrest.

Because of this it is possible to bump the gear lever with your left knee, inadvertently putting the transmission into manual mode.

The back seats can be folded to reveal additional lockable storage underneath and the whole lot can be hosed out if it comes to that, with removable carpet and drain plugs.

With an 83-litre tank, fuel consumption is rated at 12.4L/100km, giving Gladiator a theoretical range of 670km.

After 560km of mixed driving, we were getting 13.5L/100km which is a little steep for our liking.

On a long motorway run this dropped as low as 12.0L.

Gladiator is a feisty thing, fun to drive with a decent turn of speed, but we would have preferred a diesel.

The steering is rubbery and it has a tendency to wander if left unchecked, but the ride is surprisingly compliant and unlikely to generate too many complaints.

Watch out in the wet, however, as the rear end can become a bit of a loose goose.
It will spin the rear wheels off the line and provide some anxious moments if you hit it too hard coming out of a corner.

Rubicon features a long list of 4×4 accessories, with a high/low range Rock-Trac Active On-Demand 4×4 system with a traditional, short stubby transfer lever.

Highlights include heavy duty Dana axles, Tru-Lok front and rear electronic diff locks, electronic front sway-bar disconnect, 77.2:1 crawl ratio and Fox aluminium-bodied two-inch diameter shocks front and back.

With an approach angle of 40.7 degrees, break over angle of 18.4 degrees, departure angle of 25.1 degrees and a ground clearance of 249mm, it has a wading depth of 760mm.

An Off-Road+ Button automatically adjusts throttle, Selec-Speed Control, Traction Control, Transmission Shift Mode.

It has two modes: 4HI for for higher speed sand performance and 4LO for very low speed rock hopping manoeuvres

Gladiator gets the “Trail Rated” stamp of approval testifying to its 4×4 capabilities, but as we have shown previously its meaning is somewhat dubious.

Gladiator is the definitive toy.

A plaything for those with plenty of pocket money and a hankering for adventure.
But it’s not the most comfortable car in the world and will easily wear out its welcome if you use it as your daily driver. Don’t say we didn’t warn you.

Looks: 8.5
Performance: 7.5
Safety: 6
Thirst: 6
Practicality: 6
Comfort: 6.5
Tech: 7.5
Value: 7
Overall: 6.9

Jeep Gladiator Night Eagle 3.6L V6, $73,450
Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 3.6L V6, $82,250
Note: These prices do not include government or dealer delivery charges. Contact
your local Jeep dealer for driveaway prices.

SPECIFICATIONS (Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol, 8sp
automatic, 4 4, dual cab utility)

Capacity: 3.6 litres
Configuration: Six cylinders V configuration
Maximum Power: 209 kW @ 6400 rpm
Maximum Torque: 347 Nm @ 4100 rpm
Fuel Type: Unleaded petrol
Combined Fuel Cycle (ADR 81/02): 12.4 L/100km

DRIVELINE: 8-speed automatic, Rock-Trac Active On-Demand 4 4

Length: 5591 mm
Wheelbase: 3488 mm
Width: 1894 mm
Height: 1905 mm
Turning Circle: 13.6 metres
Kerb Mass: 2242 kg
Fuel Tank Capacity: 83 litres

Front: Ventilated disc
Rear: Disc

Five years/unlimited kilometres

About Chris Riley

Chris Riley has been a journalist for 40 years. He has spent half of his career as a writer, editor and production editor in newspapers, the rest of the time driving and writing about cars both in print and online. His love affair with cars began as a teenager with the purchase of an old VW Beetle, followed by another Beetle and a string of other cars on which he has wasted too much time and money. A self-confessed geek, he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions - at the risk of sounding silly.
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