Test all limits in the Nissan Navara
Test all limits in the Nissan Navara

Ready to humble

There was great excitement when Jeep revealed the Gladiator for the first time in 2018. The first units rolled off the assembly line in 2020 and caused an even bigger stir thanks to a ruggedly attractive design, a plethora of standard features, and great performance, both on the road and off the beaten track. Here in South Africa, the Gladiator was finally launched in June 2022. ANTON WILLEMSE SNR recently put it to the test.

We recently got the opportunity to get behind the wheel of the Gladiator for a week and while I expected to be impressed, I was not prepared to be wowed. This is no regular double cab bakkie! One of the things that I really liked was the fact that it has a character all of its own. It is different to its SUV siblings and one gets the impression that Jeep did a lot more than simply just slapping a load bin onto a revised five-door version.

The only problem with this is that the wheelbase is much longer (480mm) than other Jeeps on the market, and this adversely affects the Gladiator’s breakover angle. Normal hills and inclines become a problem as the vehicle gets beached at the top. And although the Gladiator comes standard with front, centre and rear diff locks, the extra length hampers its 4×4 capability too. However, as an overlanding vehicle it really is perfect and the payload of just under 700kg makes it very practical indeed.

Driving it is comfortable, with the Fox suspension keeping the wheels planted on the road and smoothing out most surfaces. But it is on trails where the Gladiator really comes to life. The 32” wheels allow for ample ground clearance of 282mm and the approach angle is a very acceptable 43.3 degrees. The departure angle sits at 26 degrees and the standard wading depth is 800mm.

The Gladiator is the vehicle a lot of overlanders have been waiting for. It is brimming with Jeep’s legendary ruggedness and go-anywhere appeal. With its 2.7-tonne braked towing capacity there aren’t many camper-trailers and caravans you won’t be able to hitch and go. Although the 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol Pentastar motor is not the most frugal – with a claimed fuel consumption of 12.4 litres/100km – it does provide ample power and torque (209kW and 347Nm) and a decent 0 100km/h sprint time of 8.5 seconds. 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.

The interior

All Gladiators come standard with an 8.4” touchscreen display featuring both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as satellite navigation. The upright dash has a macho feel, looking rugged and almost industrial, but it fits with the Gladiator’s weekend warrior spirit.

Navigating the infotainment system – both native and in Apple CarPlay or Android Auto form – is a breeze. The climate control switchgear feels well put together and is simple to navigate. Both the main screen and digital trip computer ahead of the driver provide a wealth of information and

functionality, including a nifty Off Road Pages section that adds data like pitch and roll, front sway bar and front/rear diff status, as well as engine details like coolant level and oil temperature.

While the cabin feels spacious and airy, it feels a little snug behind the steering wheel, especially if you’re tall. The footwell is impeded by the transmission tunnel and can feel cramped, with no dead pedal or resting place for your left foot. Rear legroom is good, even for adults, and headroom is similarly generous thanks to the boxy profile.

A great value package

At R1 329 900 – which is already up by R70 000 from its launch price in June last year – and you tend to think immediately it is expensive, but it’s not really. The Gladiator actually offers plenty as standard. 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 you can not only remove sections of the roof or the whole roof but also take off the doors and take off the windscreen. You get a vehicle that, without having to spend any extra money, will offer you something to fit your mood – whether it’s driving to a business meeting or kicking up sand in the dunes.

The verdict

The Gladiator is a real breakthrough for the Jeep brand. But I still wonder if this is actually a vehicle that I would take into the bush. Yes, it is pretty good off road – apart from the very long wheelbase and not so great break-over angle. And then there is the fuel consumption in town and off-road that is not on the fragile side of things. However, on the open road the vehicle does have decent fuel consumption and the road handling is not bad at all. Jeeps are very customisable and it’s no different with the Gladiator. Straight off the dealership floor the Gladiator would be great as an overlanding vehicle, but you would need someone else’s petrol card.

FAST FACTS

Model: Jeep Gladiator 3.6 Rubicon

Price: R1 259 900

Engine: 3.6-litre six-cylinder petrol

Power/Torque: 209kW and 347Nm

Transmission: Eight-speed automatic

Fuel consumption: 12.4 litres/100km (claimed)

0-100 kph: 8.5 seconds (claimed)

Payload capacity: 693kg

Things we like

✔ Comfy ride both on-road and off

✔ Interior space and functional packaging

✔ Looks cool, feels cool

✔ Three lockers, front centre and rear

Not so much

✘ Slow steering grows vague at speed

✘ Three-star ANCAP rating

✘ Hard to park in tight spaces

✘ Long wheelbase

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