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DRIVEN: Jeep Gladiator is no ordinary bakkie, it’s purpose-built for adventure

Published Jun 23, 2022

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Launch Review: Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

Johannesburg - The long-awaited Jeep Gladiator was launched in South Africa this week and with a price tag of R1 259 900, it is officially the nation’s most expensive bakkie. This has of course ignited many “is it worth it?” debates all over social media.

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Having spent most of a day with the new Jeep at its local launch staged in Gauteng this week, that question is not that clear cut because there’s really nothing you can directly compare this vehicle to.

The Gladiator is only sold in top-spec Rubicon form, which gives you some impressive off-roading kit, which we’ll get to later, and a feature-packed cabin.

The only engine option is Jeep’s normally aspirated 4.0-litre V6 Pentastar unit, paired with an eight speed autobox and producing 209kW and 347Nm. Sadly the 3.0-litre V6 diesel that’s available in some markets won’t be coming our way until South Africa’s diesel quality improves. Jeep claims a braked towing capacity of 2712kg for the Gladiator while the payload is listed at 693kg.

Being based on the Wrangler, the Jeep Gladiator offers a level of adaptability that you just don’t get with regular bakkies and SUVs. For starters you can fold the windscreen forward and remove the doors. And thanks to its three removable roof panels (a soft top is optional) it is also the only convertible bakkie on the market. Just perfect for those game drives or a spin on the beach (if you’re in a neighbouring country where it’s legal).

Serious off-roading credentials

Let’s just start out by saying that if you’re not planning to do some proper off-roading, then the Jeep Gladiator is not for you. But if bundu bashing is on the immediate bucket list then what you’re buying yourself is an immensely capable 4x4.

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Key bragging points include a 249mm ground clearance, 35-inch FB Goodrich off-road tyres, Fox aluminium shocks, Dana 44 front and rear axles with Tru-Lok locking differentials, which can be operated at the push of a button along with the sway-bar disconnect system which is exclusive to this segment.

Of course, there is also a good old fashioned Jeep Rock-Trac 4x4 system complete with a transfer case and a 4LO ratio of 4:1.

The vehicle has an approach angle of 43.6 degrees and departure angle of 26 degrees, while the breakover angle is listed at 20.3 degrees. Jeep has also installed a heavy duty off-road rear bumper and customers can order a steel winch-ready bumper for the front.

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Hitting the Hennops Trail

We got to put all its off-road credentials to the test on the gruelling Hennops Off-Road Trail near Hartbeespoort Dam on Wednesday.

The trail included some proper axle twisters and vehicle-swallowing ruts that saw the vehicles leaning over at angles that felt around 45-degrees, but the Gladiator just sailed through it all without any form of struggle or fuss. With the diff locks engaged it felt unstoppable through the dongas and the steep rock climb that awaited us at the end of the course.

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The 8.4-inch touchscreen audio system also has off-road pages, which show you everything from the direction and altitude to the vehicle’s pitch and roll angles and the status of the diffs and sway bar.

What’s it like to drive on tar?

However, as with some other hard-core bundu-bashers (the Suzuki Jimny springs to mind at the far smaller end of the scale) the Gladiator does present a few compromises on conventional tar roads. Thanks to those removable roof panels the cabin can get a bit noisy at highway speeds and its knobbly 35-inch BF Goodrich off-road tyres emit a distinctive hum at speed.

Performance is not necessarily brisk but the vehicle has enough power to comfortably cruise between cities at speed and overtake when necessary, although the engine will need to work hard at times, in which case it becomes quite noisy, but not in a bad way - this is a V6 remember!

You’re never going to expect frugal consumption in a vehicle of this nature but for what it’s worth our test unit drank around 17 litres per 100km, but in fairness we weren’t exactly trying to drive economically.

The over-assisted steering also feels relatively vague, but that’s something Wrangler drivers will certainly be accustomed to. On the upside, the ride quality remained comfortable over all surfaces, from high-speed highway stretches through to the dirt roads that were dotted throughout our route to the 4x4 trail.

Oh, and this is a really huge vehicle. We didn’t get to test how easily it parks in a conventional parking lot, but we wouldn’t put money on it being easy…

Well stocked, and thoughtful, cabin

Although the Jeep Gladiator is an adventure vehicle at heart, and thus not completely comparable with your plusher urban SUVs out there, it is rather well equipped.

Besides the comprehensive infotainment screen already mentioned, the Gladiator comes with a nine-speaker Alpine premium sound system, dual-zone climate control, heated leather seats, keyless-start, Adaptive Cruise Control and Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking.

To keep you connected and charged up there are USB and USB-C ports in the front and rear of the cabin.

The switches and gauges on the dashboard are pretty straight forward and mostly analogue, but there is a 7.0-inch driver information screen in the instrument cluster which can even display some of your off-roading information. You might however get a little annoyed with the electric window controls being on the centre console, but that is of course the price you pay for having removable doors.

On that note there are a lot of thoughtful little touches in this car that impressed us. The removable doors, for instance, have a recess that allow you to carry them under your arm if the window glass is down. There’s also a slot to store the vehicle’s key between the front console cup holders, which is so brilliantly simple yet absent from almost every other car out there. This is one of many thoughtful touches throughout the cabin. Oh, and you also get a portable bluetooth speaker for those spontaneous shindigs in the middle of nowhere.

Much thought has gone into the load bin area too. For starters it’s lined with a scratch-resistant layer, and other nifty features include a rigid roll-up tonneau cover and covered external power source.

A cargo management system is available too and Jeep has also installed lockable bins beneath the rear seat benches in the cabin, which can fold upwards to allow easy access to the bins or load bulkier items.

As mentioned, the Jeep Gladiator retails at R1 259 900 and comes with a three-year or 100 000km maintenance plan and five-year or 100 000km warranty.

IOL Motoring

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