Jeep Gladiator 2020 rubicon (4x4)

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon review: Australian launch

At last, a local drive!

Rating: 7.6
$65,400 $77,770 Dealer
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Is Jeep's new 4x4 ute the new gold standard in high-end off-roaders? We head deep into the bush to find out.
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It’s been a long time between drinks for Australians wanting a Jeep 4x4 ute, but the wait is finally over. The 2020 Jeep Gladiator has arrived, and we have a Punk’n Orange Rubicon specification to sample.

When a new model lands in Australia, vehicle manufacturers will normally whisk motoring journos away somewhere for a couple of days with a curated drive program and product presentation on the agenda.

These strange times mean that 'normal' thing can’t happen at the moment. Instead, we’ve got a short two-day window of opportunity to see what this Gladiator is made of, and we are left to our own devices. Picking up the Gladiator on Monday morning, we load up with camping gear and head bush. We need to cram in as much action as possible before its return at 5pm Tuesday.

Good news, then, that Jeep has selected the off-road-focussed Gladiator Rubicon for us to look at. That’s $76,450 worth of Jeep ute before you factor in on-road costs. Perhaps signalling Jeep’s intentions in Australia, this pegs the Gladiator Rubicon just below the Ford Ranger Raptor ($76,490).

We’ve got a lot of options ticked on this model, which pumps that price northward. Throw in the Lifestyle Adventure Group ($3835), Rubicon Luxury Package ($2535), steel front bumper ($1625) and optional Punk’n Orange hue ($1035), and you’re looking at $85,480 before on-road costs.

That’s big money for a 4x4 ute, no doubt. However, Australians have proven over the past few years that whether it’s factory-fettled or aftermarket modified, they’re happy to spend the big bucks in this segment.

It’s an interesting proposition. Combine the iconic looks, heritage and off-road ability of a Jeep Wrangler, but blend in the size and practicality of Australia’s favourite 4x4 utilities. But does it translate into a winner? Let’s first look at some numbers.

Putting it at odds with the rest of the 4x4 ute range, the Gladiator is available only with a petrol engine. Jeep has buried hopes of a diesel engine any time soon, even though it will be available in other markets (America and Europe) with a 600Nm diesel V6.

That leaves only one engine for Australia: a familiar 3.6-litre petrol V6 that Jeep calls ‘Pentastar’. It’s good for 209kW at 6400rpm and 347Nm at 4100rpm. Running through an equally well-known eight-speed ZF automatic gearbox, Jeep quotes 12.4L/100km on the combined cycle.

We couldn’t match this number, however. After two days of highway driving, payload testing and plenty of low-range 4WDing, our computer indicated 17.5L/100km. Granted, our use was hard use. However, a diesel with more torque on offer would probably use nearly half that amount.

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The Jeep Gladiator is long. Very long, in fact – 5591mm makes it longer than most mainstream dual-cab utes, but still a couple of hundred millimetres shy of a Ram 1500. The wheelbase is nearly as long, however, with 3488mm between front and rear hubs. While the Gladiator has the same width as a Wrangler (1894mm), wider differentials yield more wheel track (1636mm front and rear).

Using smatterings of high-strength aluminium around the body, the Gladiator Rubicon weighs around 200kg more than a respective Wrangler Rubicon, which is also a significant 709mm shorter. Kerb weight for our test vehicle is listed at 2215kg.

Going bigger, and now referred to by Jeep as a ‘truck’, things like payloads, towing capacities and other numbers go under the microscope. With a GVM (gross vehicle mass) of 2835kg, the Gladiator Rubicon has a payload of 620kg. That’s much lower than a typical 4x4 ute, and even 130kg shy of a de-rated Ranger Raptor. Safe to say, if you need something to haul heavy gear on the daily, look elsewhere. And for those wanting to fit accessories, keep a keen eye on your weighbridge ticket. I wonder if the aftermarket will be able to offer a GVM upgrade?

The Gladiator’s braked towing capacity of 2721kg is decent, although behind many other 4x4 utes and only 226kg better than a Wrangler. A GCM (gross combination mass) of 5284kg means at full payload, you’ve got 2448kg of braked towing capacity. And when towing the maximum amount, your payload is reduced to only 348kg. Let’s just say this Gladiator is more lifestyle ute than work ute, then. By my metric, it’s probably fallen a bit short of the ‘truck’ pub test.

We were keen to put the Gladiator to the test by towing something heavy, but our test vehicle was missing a towbar. So, that test will have to wait.

Standard kit across all Gladiator variants includes dual-zone climate control, an 8.4-inch infotainment display (with navigation, digital radio, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto), keyless entry and push-button start, LED headlights, and adaptive cruise control with stop function. The Rubicon differs from the entry-level Overland with 17-inch alloy wheels and 32-inch off-road tyres (more on those in a sec) in place of 18s.

The Gladiator Rubicon’s standard interior is more basic, whereas Overland specification gets a premium interior treatment as standard.

A lot of the Rubicon’s party tricks are mechanical, however. While the Gladiator gets bigger differentials with thicker axle tubes, the Rubicon scores 4.1:1 gear ratios and a 4:1 transfer case. Just like the Wrangler Rubicon, you’ve got a 77:1 crawl ratio, which is much lower than just about anything else. Throw in front and rear electric locking differentials, along with a disconnecting front swaybar.

For those who love the nerdy 4x4 numbers, the Gladiator gets new ‘AdvanTek’ Dana 44 equivalent differentials, with 210mm front and 220mm rear ring gear size.

Why the Gladiator Rubicon is such a confident off-roader isn’t just traction and gearing, however. Good ground clearance and a low centre of gravity, combined with great protection and plenty of balanced articulation, make this 4x4 ute much more stable and confident than anything else.

Like a Wrangler, the Gladiator’s front axle sits a long way forward and improves the approach angle to 40.7 degrees. Despite being so bloody long, the 25.1-degree departure angle is tidy, and is protected by a smartly designed slider/bumper.

Breakover angle suffers most with the Gladiator. It’s relatively meagre at 18.4 degrees thanks to that mammoth wheelbase. Thankfully, the belly is well protected with strong rock sliders and underbody bash plates. While it does bottom out a fair bit off-road, it’s also quite happy to slide without hanging up. Most prone to catching are the rear lower control arms.

The Gladiator’s wading depth is rated at 760mm, and ‘running’ ground clearance is listed at 249mm. We’re guessing this is measured honestly (unlike others) around the differentials and lower shock mounts.

Australian-delivered Gladiators get smaller tyres compared to their American counterparts. While bigger 285/70R17 rubber is employed in the USA, we get a smaller, narrower and less common 255/75R17. The fact that the Gladiator’s main competitor, Ford’s Ranger Raptor, gets the bigger 285/70 rubber makes it hurt a little more. That 255/75 equates to 32.1 inches of diameter and 10.0 inches of width.

Like the Ranger Raptor, the Gladiator’s off-road ability is much improved through the fitment of off-road-focussed rubber. Instead of BFGoodrich’s well-regarded KO2 all-terrains, the Gladiator goes all in with KM2 mud-terrains. Newer-generation KM3s would be better again, but the tyres are regardless great for off-roading.

While a lot of this is a facsimile of the smaller and cheaper Wrangler Rubicon, the Gladiator does get some special gear. There’s a heavy-duty cooling package with a redesigned seven-slot grille that improves airflow. The brakes are also bigger (330mm x 28mm front, 350mm x 22mm rear rotors) to help accommodate bigger towing capacities and GVMs. The Gladiator also gets unique ‘Off-Road+’ modes, along with the forward-facing (and very crisp) TrailCam camera and 'Selec-Speed' off-road cruise control.

A completely different rear suspension puts to bed any suspicion that this is just a stretched and chopped Wrangler. With many components borrowed from the Ram 1500, the rear end has beefier control arms and bushings, with geometry that lends itself better to load hauling and towing. The rear coil springs have a progressive rate, and the bump stops are nice and big.

The Gladiator also gets some nice Fox-branded shock absorbers, bigger and aluminium-bodied, which would help with heat dissipation. These measure in at two inches of diameter. There isn’t the same internal floating piston and internal bypassing à la Ranger Raptor, but they’re a solid improvement nonetheless.

You'll notice a nice suppleness on the blacktop, which is no doubt helped by that big wheelbase. Not having a big payload to accommodate leaves the shocks and springs on the softer end of the spectrum, yielding compliance over bumps even with heavy mud-terrain tyres. Perhaps the biggest improvement over a Wrangler is the loss of highway wandering. The Gladiator sits nicely in your lane, and lets you punch out big kilometres without fuss.

You'll have to take the wheelbase into account for your tight turns, with a relatively wide 13.6m turning circle.

In particular, the Gladiator feels absolutely at home on high-speed dirt. It feels stable and planted, with a nice response through the steering wheel. At the same time, bumps are soaked up nicely, even at highway pressures.

It practically goes without saying, but the Gladiator is still an impressive off-roader. While that long belly lets you belly-out reasonably easily, the amount of stability, balanced articulation and control that the Gladiator gives you behind the wheel lets you push very hard off-road. Being so long, low and wide, the Gladiator needs to be doing something very, very silly to get a big weight shift.

We aired down to 10psi (we needed to go that low with LT-construction tyres) for some rock crawling, and while we needed to navigate around the long belly a few times, the grippy tyres rotating so slowly and flexing nicely, we could drive some very steep rock climbs.

We continued on driving through muddy ruts and side angles on a track you wouldn’t want to take a 'typical' 4x4 ute along, but managed to belly-out quite firmly on a big felled log. If I drove it differently (read: better) with a little more momentum and wheel speed, the Gladiator probably would have made it over. But I got it stuck, and we had to eventually winch it backwards.

It’s a serious obstacle: a good challenge for any of a handful of new 4x4s out there, and way too hard for most. While it showed the big shortcoming of an extra-long wheelbase, I’m still very impressed by the Gladiator off-road.

Off-roading aside, this new ute needs to compete in another discipline. To test out the payload, we called in a favour through Pete at Ourimbah Landscape Supplies. With a half tonne of ballast on board and a passenger up front, I was using practically all of the available payload.

Crawling underneath saw some leftover bump stop spacing for up-travel, and jumping behind the wheel left a mostly positive experience. A half tonne isn’t record-breaking for a 4x4 ute, but you probably wouldn’t want to run much more in a standard Gladiator. Although progressive-rate, the springs and shocks have a relatively soft tune that aids comfort and refinement, but lets you notice the weight in the tub. It’s a solid pass, but the Gladiator is not as proficient a hauler as other 4x4 utes.

Putting aside the whole no-diesel thing for a second, the Gladiator’s petrol driveline is an enjoyable experience. It’s smooth and flexible, giving plenty of responsive power when you want it. The eight-speed gearbox is a pearler, as well. Shifts are smooth and fast, and when loaded up, the gearbox lets the engine hold revs nicely. When working hard, either off-road or loaded up, fuel usage will be an issue.

The Gladiator’s fuel tank size of 83L is similar to most other 4x4 utes. However, you might not get much more than 500km from a tank, if you are working it hard and/or slowly. If you did manage the claimed 12.4L/100km, you’ll make 669km before needing a refill (it takes 91-octane, by the way).

While a petrol Gladiator might suit American tastes, where fuel is cheaper and service stations more plentiful, it's easy to see that a diesel power plant would greatly improve the appeal of the Gladiator to Australian 4x4 ute buyers.

Let’s decode the options packages on this Gladiator. For the near four-grand asking price, the 'Lifestyle Adventure Group' does bring a lot of upgrades. There’s a ‘Trail Rail’ tie-down system in the tub, along with a roll-up tonneau cover and spray-in bed liner.

This package also brings lockable storage bins and a wireless Bluetooth speaker under and behind the rear seats, and four auxiliary switches installed into the dashboard. Jeep goes to the effort of fitting an uprated (700-amp) battery and (240-amp) alternator to help power your future accessories. Not bad value, actually.

The Luxury Package is a bit more straightforward, with heated leather seats replacing the standard cloth trim, heated steering wheel and body-coloured fenders.

When all thrown in together, the Gladiator’s interior is a nice mix of upmarket feel and practicality. The big infotainment display is bright, crisp and easy to use, and aided by a 7.0-inch TFT multifunction display in the dashboard. Between both screens, you have access to a stack of information and useful controls.

There isn’t a mountain of storage in the front row: two cupholders, small glovebox and decent centre console. Flexible netting on the doors is somewhat useful, as is the space on top of the dashboard. There are two USB points up front, plus a USB-C point and an auxiliary audio jack.

The second row of the Gladiator is more spacious than most other 4x4 utes, with plenty of leg room and toe room on offer. Head room is good as well, but taller folk will bang their head on the Gladiator’s internal frame when leaning forward. Although the seat base is a little narrow, I found myself to be quite comfortable in the second row.

Get rid of passengers and you score some handy lockable storage under the seat squabs. Along with the stadium-style fold, the back seats also flip down for some extra versatility. And if you have the option ticked, you’ll find the Bluetooth speaker lodged in here. It’s made by Alpine, and is surprisingly big. Along with cranking out tunes, it can also be used to charge devices on a USB cable.

Like the Wrangler, the Jeep Gladiator has the unique claim to fame of having removable doors, roof panels and a fold-down windscreen. Playing to the ‘lifestyle’ angle of the Gladiator, it’s something very unique to Jeep. Although, pay attention to your local road rules and regulations before you go yee-hawing down the road with half of your Jeep back at home in the shed.

In terms of safety, the Jeep Wrangler’s three-star ANCAP rating hangs over the not-yet-tested Gladiator like a bad omen. Considering how much is shared between the two at the front, we don’t hold high expectations for the Gladiator. However, we’ll have to wait and see.

Jeep’s version of autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is standard, which doesn’t have pedestrian or cyclist detection. The Gladiator also gets rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring, plus four airbags.

The Jeep Gladiator comes with a five-year and 100,000km warranty, along with a free roadside-assistance service. Servicing a Jeep Gladiator is kept simple with a capped price of $399 every year for the first five years. That totals $1995, making it a mite more expensive than some other 4x4 utes.

You could argue that the Gladiator marches to the beat of its own drum, or you could argue that it has missed the mark of the broader 4x4 ute segment. Many buyers will scorn the lack of a diesel option, which is the lifeblood of the segment. The Gladiator’s payload and gross combination masses also seem underdone for the segment, if one is looking for equal servings of work and play. The 79 Series LandCruiser isn’t exactly quaking in its boots.

The Gladiator overdelivers in other areas, however. While a Ranger Raptor might disappear over the horizon bashing up the Old Ghan, the Gladiator is without peer for hardcore low-speed and technical off-roading. 4WDers will love the combination of live axles, coil springs and locking differentials, which no other 4x4 has from the factory floor.

Others will also love the tech and trick features, many of which are new for this segment. The infotainment system is one of the better units and gives plenty of information and customisation to sift through. It’s also much more refined and comfortable than most other 4x4 utes, with a suppleness afforded by soft progressive coils and quality shocks below that iconic sheetmetal.

The Jeep Gladiator is far from perfect, and it’s not exactly outstanding value. However, the Jeep Gladiator stays true to its unrelenting off-road roots in an appealing 4x4 ute package. It’s undeniably special, and will stand apart from the crowd without trying.

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