In a market flooded with SUVs and bakkies, buyers are spoilt for choice, particularly in terms of double-cab offerings. However, one brand has been conspicuously missing… until now that is. Almost three decades after the Comanche was discontinued, Jeep re-entered the bakkie fray with the introduction of the Gladiator. Anton Willemse Snr attended the local launch and reveals all.
When the Jeep Gladiator was first revealed in 2018 it caused quite a stir amongst diehard fans. Two years later the first units rolled off the production line, just in time for the brand’s 80th anniversary in 2021. It made its South African debut in June 2022 as a true representation of the brand values of freedom, authenticity, adventure and community. This is 100% Jeep and 100% bakkie. The Gladiator is based on the same platform as the Wrangler JL and after a bit of driving, we quickly realised that this is a formidable off-roader, capable of conquering most obstacles. Available locally in Rubicon guise only, it is fitted with a 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar engine that offers 206kW and 347Nm of torque. Currently, there are no other engine options, but the big wigs at Jeep SA did not completely reject the idea of a diesel version for the region.
Getting behind the steering wheel of the Jeep feels familiar. The cabin doesn’t veer from the traditional Jeep interior. Everything is still exactly where you would expect it to be. The infotainment screen with the two air vents next to it still pays homage to that iconic Jeep frontend. However, that 8.4-inch screen is linked to a satellite navigation system and a nine-speaker Alpine audio system that offers plug-in Apple Carplay and Android Auto. There is a large 7-inch driver display between the two analogue dials for the speedometer and rev counter. There are numerous driver safety features such as adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and all the usual gimmicks we have come to expect in vehicles such as this. The vehicle can easily accommodate a driver plus four passengers. And as a nice little extra each Gladiator comes with a detachable Bluetooth speaker. Driving it is comfortable, with the Fox suspension smoothing out most surfaces and keeping the wheels firmly planted on the road. However, it is on trails where the Gladiator really comes to life. The 32-inch wheels allow for ample ground clearance of 282mm and the long wheelbase does help in some cases, although it is also probably the Gladiator’s Achilles heel.
At 3 487mm the wheelbase of the Gladiator is almost 500mm longer than that of the four-door Wrangler and affects the break-over angle. This gives you only 20.3°, but the approach and departure angles are still a very capable 43.3° and 26° respectively, while the standard wading depth is 800mm.
With rear, centre and front lockers, the Gladiator is built with one thing in mind and that is to go off-road. During the launch, we did a bit of the Hennops 4×4 trail and I was seriously impressed. The articulation on the vehicle is insane. With minimal effort we were able to manoeuvre through huge dongas triggering massive wheel lifts and body roll, but the Gladiator was able to crawl through without any real hiccups. However, the break-over angle was an issue at times. Fortunately, the Gladiator comes standard with robust protection underneath in the form of some decent skid plates and rock sliders. They’re probably not as thick as the ones available as aftermarket options, but they’re good enough to offer ample protection. Slightly bigger tyres should also give you that little bit extra in terms of the break-over angle.
And that is the beauty of the Gladiator – it is customisable. Most Jeeps are uniquely kitted out to represent their owners. Straight off the showroom floor it might not be a rock-crawler but add bigger wheels and a few of the accessories available and it’s in the rock-crawling and weekend warrior picture.
The Jeep Gladiator, in my opinion, is the vehicle many Jeep fans have been waiting for. This is for the guy that loves overlanding but didn’t want a Jeep SUV. This is a formidable platform and although the payload is just under 700kg, there is still enough space and weight to use for a great overlanding vehicle. In addition, the towing capacity is 2.7 tonnes braked, which is ample to tow most off-road caravans or camper trailers.
With a price tag of R1 259 900 the Gladiator sounds expensive, but all things considered it’s not. It offers plenty as standard in this vehicle. At that price, you get two roof options, a soft and a hard top. Yes, you get both! You get three lockers – rear, centre and front. You get a vehicle that not only allows you to remove the roof in sections or in its entirety, but also take off the doors and even the windscreen. You get a vehicle that – without having to spend any extra money – will offer you something to suit your requirements, whether it is driving to a business meeting or kicking up sand in the dunes.
The Gladiator is a real breakthrough for the brand. As stated earlier it offers new opportunities to Jeep fans. And with canopies and other accessories already in development from local suppliers, it will stay true to the customisability of the Jeep. I can’t wait to see the first Gladiator tackle the dunes of the Namib or doing a river crossing in the Moremi. As former US President, Ronald Reagan once said: “If people don’t start buying Jeeps they’ll never know about the great places in life they can drive to!” Indeed, Mr President – let’s get to those great places!