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Car reviews - Jeep - Gladiator - Rubicon

Our Opinion

We like
Stand-out looks, off-road capability, extensive equipment list, long load tray, Uconnect media centre
Room for improvement
Cabin storage, on-road performance, fuel economy, payload and towing capacity, build quality

As good as it is off-road, the Gladiator Rubicon is pretty hard to live with on a daily basis

23 Aug 2022



EXCUSING a mild upgrade to its payload capacity – which at 693kg still trails every other four-wheel drive dual-cab utility on the market – Jeep’s Gladiator range is largely as it was when it landed here a couple of years ago.


For many, that’s a good thing. Afterall, the Gladiator is a good-looking machine with a long list of equipment, a long load bed and an enviable off-road ability. It also offers removeable roof panels and is immensely customisable – something most off-roaders truly appreciate.


But there is still no diesel option locally, cabin space remains tight, and build quality questionable. Our test example had rattles galore, a misaligned rear door, an exhaust manifold leak, ill-fitting carpets and a broken sun visor mount... Hardly an ideal example of a vehicle that exceeds $80k on the road.


For the money, however, the Gladiator actually offers a lot of kit. Standard inclusions such as leather upholstery, heated front seats, a heated steering wheel, body-colour fender flares, a removable hard-top roof and 18-inch alloy wheels are standard on the base grade.


The off-road focused Rubicon tested here gains Jeep’s Rock-Trac four-wheel drive system (which includes full- and part-time 4WD and 4.1:1 gear ratios in the low-range transfer case and rear axle), front and rear differential locks, electronic front sway bar disconnect, Fox dampers and 225/75 series (32-inch) BF Goodrich KM3 muddies on 17-inch alloys, as well as a forward-facing camera and adjustable tyre pressure monitoring.


The Rubicon’s fender flares and removable hard-top roof are black and its upholstery is cloth, while a ‘Redical Red’ splash of colour is applied to the dashboard.


Both variants feature an 8.4-inch touchscreen multimedia unit with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone mirroring, a nine-speaker Alpine premium audio system, keyless entry with push-button start and LED exterior lighting.


Driver assistance and safety technologies include adaptive cruise control with stop function, blind spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert and forward collision warning with autonomous emergency braking.


All Gladiators are powered by Jeep’s 209kW/347Nm naturally aspirated Pentastar 3.6-litre petrol engine, distributing outputs through an eight-speed automatic transmission built under licence from ZF.


Driving Impressions


Having sourced some of its rear suspension from the Ram truck line, it’s no surprise that the Gladiator Rubicon is somewhat agricultural on the road. That no-nonsense, all-live-axle four-wheel drive ability makes the “Wrangler ute” something of a wandering minstrel on meandering country roads, and on the unsealed stuff, it is something slightly more than a handful.


Still, these aren’t the conditions for which the body-on-frame Gladiator was designed to thrive – and it’s in turning away from the beaten track that this rough-and-tumble adventurer comes into its own.


Engage low range, uncouple the sway bars, lock the diffs and the Gladiator is yours to drive anywhere. In fact, were it not for the laws of physics we reckon it could pull itself up a vertical wall. The Fox shocks and long travel coils are compromised only by the length of the model’s wheelbase, and in our play pen north of Melbourne we found this was the only hurdle in what was otherwise easy going.


Sure, the thrashy V6 makes itself known, and the gearshifts are a little abrupt (OK, a lot abrupt), but the level of traction provided is nothing short of brilliant, even without adjusting the tyre pressures for our off-road jaunt.


Descending hills is equally carefree. The Gladiator’s disconnecting sway bars and long travel suspension enable it to keep all fours on the ground until things get gnarly, the gearbox braking available with such tall ratios (the crawl ratio is an astounding 77.24:1) meaning we never had to touch the brake – or reach for the hill-descent nannies.


The other upside to the breadth of gearing offered is that the shortcomings of the Pentastar V6 are largely disguised. This is an engine that needs to spin to work, so being able to gear down low gives the Gladiator its best chance of being able to grip up and go. Why the diesel couldn’t have been made for right-hand drive markets is beyond me…


The downside, though, is that revs equate to fuel use, and so does lots of weight (the Gladiator Rubicon weighs 2215kg kerb). Combine the two and the Gladiator struggles to stay on the polite side of 14 litres per 100km… considerably more than most diesel-powered dual cabs on the Aussie market. The fuel tank capacity is listed at 83 litres, which means you may achieve a cruising range of 600km – if you’re careful.


Jeep quotes off-road geometry of 40.7 degrees approach, 18.4 degrees ramp-over, and 25.1 degrees departure. The wading depth is listed at 760mm and ground clearance 249mm. The model on test can tow up to 2721kg braked, which is again a long way short of the dual-cab set’s 3500kg average.


The Gladiator might have its place… but unless you’re truly willing to compromise – or are fortunate enough to stick it away in the garage until your weekends roll around – then, like us, you’ll likely find it a bugger to live with.


Away from the bush it’s a beast to park, is hard to see out of and is terribly uncouth. The back seat is cramped and headroom tight, plus you struggle to hold a conversation at anything north of 70km/h, such is the driveline, road and wind noise present.


Given the off-road capabilities now offered in more civilised utes, the Gladiator is one beast we think its best saved for the purists. You’ve got to really want this car – and be fully prepared to accept that it is built for a purpose – to get the most from it, and dare we say, even enjoy it.


But, hey. It’s a Jeep thing, right?


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