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Jeep Gladiator Rubicon: Thoroughbred off-road warrior

By Ghaith Madadha - Oct 04,2021 - Last updated at Oct 04,2021

Photos courtesy of Jeep

Introduced for the 2020 model year, the Jeep Gladiator marks the iconic American brand’s long-awaited return to the pick-up market since the Comanche’s 2001 retirement. Resurrecting Jeep’ 1962-88 pick-up nameplate, the modern Gladiator is in effect a double cab mid-size pick-up version of the latest JL-series incarnation of Jeep’s defining Wrangler SUV. 

Capable as a work truck but more of a lifestyle vehicle for most, the Gladiator is, however, at its best in Rubicon specification — as driven — where several off-road oriented hardware upgrades raise its game far above that of a run-of-the-mill workhorse.

Practical proportions

A thoroughbred with extensive off-road equipment and mod cons including a removable roof unique among pick-ups, it is hard to pin down a direct competitor to the Gladiator Rubicon. Somewhat comparable to much pricier off-roaders like the Land Rover Defender or lifestyle-oriented off-road pick-ups like the Ford Ranger Wildtrak, the Gladiator Rubicon’s closest competitor is, however, its own 4-door Wrangler Rubicon SUV sister. Near identical in most deign, capability and practicality considerations, the Gladiator is, however, the significantly more attainable of the two, by virtue of its pick-up body and relevant local duty classifications.

Virtually unchanged from detachable front bumper to C-pillar, the Gladiator shares the same utilitarian, upright and traditional Jeep design cues as the 4-door Wrangler, from iconic bonnet and wheel-arches and 7-slot grille to flat panels and exposed hinges.

Immediately recognisable as a Wrangler relation, but with a 1,000-litre cargo bed at the rear instead, the Gladiator is, however, significantly longer at 5,539mm. Longer than the Wrangler 4-door by 657mm, the Gladiator is more aesthetically proportioned, with its 178mm longer rear overhang better complementing a 479mm longer wheelbase and unchanged, exceptionally short front overhang.

Eager and responsive

Powered by Jeep’s familiar but excellent naturally-aspirated 3.6-litre V6 Pentastar engine — as available in Jordan — the Gladiator Rubicon develops 281BHP at 6,400rpm and 260lb/ft torque at 4,400rpm, and is estimated to be capable of approximate 9-second 0-100km/h acceleration and around 160km/h maximum. High revving, the Gladiator’s engine is smooth and eager to its 6,600rpm limit, and provides great throttle control to feed in exact power increments. Eager and progressive, the Pentastar’s delivery nevertheless also proves responsive from idling and through mid-range, with much of its torque broadly available across the rev range. 

Carrying is hefty 2,301kg mass with unexpected verve and versatility throughout a wide range of engine speeds and driving conditions and inclines, the Gladiator’s intuitively tuned 8-speed automatic gearbox deserves much recognition for unfailingly delivering the right gear for the right moment, which even makes use of manual mode shifting redundant for most circumstances. Driving the rear wheels for best fuel efficiency of around 12.4l/100km, combined, the Gladiator Rubicon’s transfer case however features a 4WD Auto mode, which allows for extensive off-road use and additional traction on tarmac when necessary.

Off-road hero

Dispatching most off-road situations easily in 4WD Auto mode, the Gladiator Rubicon also features lockable high and low range 4WD for more demanding situations, in addition to lockable rear and front axles, to maintain traction in extreme circumstances. Built using rugged body-on-frame construction and riding on tough front and rear live-axles with coil spring suspension for good axle articulation, the Gladiator Rubicon also receives chunky high profile off-road tyres and Fox dampers with hydraulic rebound stops for demanding off-road work. Disconnecting anti-roll bars meanwhile significantly improve wheel articulation and comfort off-road.

As close to unstoppable as regular production vehicles get, the Gladiator Rubicon is truly effortless off-road, with talents far exceeding most drivers’ needs or nerves. A very short front overhang allows for an excellent 43.4° approach angle, and with good front visibility and front camera, the Gladiator Rubicon is easy to place on road. Providing generous 283mm ground clearance, the Gladiator Rubicon enjoys good 20.3° break-over and 26° departure angles despite is significant length, which however slightly reduces manoeuvrability in some narrow trails compared to 4-door and especially nimble 2-door Wrangler versions.

Unexpected abilities

Great off-road as expected, the Gladiator Rubicon, however, proved much more dynamically adept than expected given its length, weight, height and off-road oriented chassis and knobbled tyres. Turning in, the Gladiator seems like it is building up to understeer into sharp corners, but instead grips hard and with some agility due to its engine being positioned far back. Leaning less than expected through corners, the Gladiator offers comparably good body control and near ideal weight balance. Meanwhile, coming back on throttle early, one can even induce slight but progressively telegraphed and easily controlled tail slides.

Unlikely rewarding on-road, the Gladiator Rubicon delivered surprisingly good but safe fun, with its busy steering offering better than expected road feel, while an un-intrusive stability control system allowed a more fluent driving experience. Reassuringly good in braking, the Gladiator Rubicon’s ride quality is slightly busier than more car-like vehicles. However, it is more settled, refined and stable than many pick-ups and some other SUVs. Ride quality is forgivingly comfortable in most circumstances, but slightly firm over sudden harp cracks and bumps. Stable at peed, wind noise is however more evident inside.

Comfortable and convertible

Pleasantly honest and rugged inside in build, materials and styling, the Gladiator Rubicon’s cabin comfortably seats five, and is notable for good rear headroom, which makes up for short rear door width. In front, the Gladiator’s tapered bonnet reduces outer footwells, but this is compensated for with the use of a comparably slim centre console. Driving position is comfortable and supportive for long hours, if not the most highly adjustable there is. Side and rear visibility is meanwhile ably aided by big mirrors, blind spot and rear crosspath warnings, and reversing camera and sensors.

Stylised in design, the Gladiator Rubicon cabin features intuitive off-road and other controls and buttons, separate gearbox and transfer case levers, and an upright dashboard with user-friendly Uconnect infotainment system with off-road gauges. Refined inside for the most part, the well-packaged boxy body is, however, highly versatile, and allows for a unique safari-like roll cage surrounded alfresco driving experience, with easily detachable roof panels and doors and flat fold-down windscreen, using a simple toolkit. Detached bolts are stored in a specific compartment in the rear under-seat storage compartment.

TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS

Engine: 3.6-litre, in-line, V6-cylinders

Bore x Stroke: 96 x 83mm

Compression ratio: 11.3:1

Valve-train: DOHC, 24-valve, variable timing

Maximum engine speed: 6,600rpm

Gearbox: 8-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive

Driveline: Low ratio transfer, locking front, centre and rear differentials

Gear ratios: 1st 4.71:1; 2nd 3.13:1; 3rd 2.1:1; 4th 1.67:1; 5th 1.28:1; 6th 1:1; 7th 0.84:1; 8th 0.67:1

Reverse/final drive/low ratio transfer: 3.3:1/4.1:1/4:1

Power, BHP (PS) [kW]: 281 (285) [209] @6,400rpm

Specific power: 77.9BHP/litre

Power-to-weight: 122.1BHP/tonne

Torque, lb/ft (Nm): 260 (353) @4,400rpm

Specific torque: 97.9Nm/litre

Torque-to-weight: 153.4Nm/tonne

0-100km/h: approximately 9-seconds (estimate)

Top speed: approximately 160km/h (estimate)

Fuel consumption, city/highway/combined; 13.8-/10.7-/12.4-litres/100km

Fuel capacity: 83-liters

Steering: Power-assisted rack & pinion

Steering ratio: 13.3:1

Lock-to-lock: 3.24-turns

Turning circle: 13.65-metres

Suspension: Solid axles, coil springs, Fox gas-charged dampers with hydraulic rebound stops, electronically disconnecting anti-roll bars

Brakes, F/R: Ventilated disc, 330 x 28mm/disc, 345 x 22mm

Brake calipers, F/R: twin-/single-piston

Tyres: LT255/75R17

Price, on-the-road: Starting from (Sport)/as driven (Rubicon): JD 40,000/JD58,000 (without insurance)

 

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