There are several ways to describe the new addition to the Jeep family, huge Jeep, goliath off-roader, even Wrangler UTE, but all you need to know is that Jeep is calling it the most capable 4×4 in its class and to be fair, there’s probably not a mountain out there it can’t conquer – but how does it handle the school run? Jeep New Zealand gave us the keys to the Overland version to find out.
Okay, so I didn’t actually take my son to school, however, I didn’t throw on some camo gear and head for the hills either. Since I’d already heard how the Rubicon handled the rugged South Island terrain and both the Overland and Rubicon models sport the ‘trail-rated’ badge (think all the ‘go anywhere, do anything’ Scout badges rolled into one) its adventure prowess should be unquestioned, but is it everyday-usable?
Of course, there is the matter of its size to get out of the way, after all, it IS the elephant in the room. My driveway is possibly larger than many out there but Gladiator’s 5.5m length was still a bit of a handful. The big Jeep’s turning circle isn’t exactly set up for tight spaces either but the electric-hydraulic steering is a breeze to turn so the 20-point turn took way less than the predicted hour to complete (yes I do jest). Parking takes forethought, whether it’s parallel, malls or supermarkets, but on the positive, most other vehicles do give you a wide berth.
It stands 1.91m tall too with a wading depth of 760mm, so unless you happen to be an NBA star, don’t expect to be able to wipe the roof clean (or even see it), unless you remove it, I’ll get to that in a moment.
Style wise the Gladiator is unmistakably and timelessly Jeep, in fact, front on you could be looking at the 7-slat grille of a Wrangler but it’s when you get to the rear that this new Jeep comes into its own. It boasts a 5ft flatbed for you to run riot with. It will apparently take 95% of all motorbikes and seriously most toys you have in your shed (and probably the shed too). My model came ‘non-slip’ coated and not only does the rear tailgate contain the stop light (as the roof can be removed), but comes with a Jeep grille and headlights ‘easter egg’ too.
Now, about the panel removal. On a hot sunny day and should you so choose, the Gladiator can be transformed into an open top lovers heaven. Not only do the front roof panels come off (targa style) in three easy moves but there’s a Jeep tool kit to remove the whole rear roof section, remove the doors and drop down the windscreen, so if you like the wind in your hair, then this is the vehicle to own.
Both the Rubicon and the Overland are powered by the same 3.6L V6 Pentastar engine that’s good for 209kW and 347Nmand the same 8-speed auto gearbox, however, the Overland is more (ahem) economical with 11.2L/100km and lower emissions at 260g/km. The differences between the models go further still, with the Rock-Trac 4×4 system being included in the more wilderness loving Rubican versus the (still VERY capable) Selec-Trac system in the more domesticated Overland.
The Overland boasts leather furniture as standard, plus leather steering wheel (heated) and a wrapped dash. It comes with a 9-speaker Alpine stereo for those that are more acoustically minded and there’s even a removable Bluetooth speaker behind the rear seats. Exterior body panels such as the wheel arches are body colour-coded and the wheels are 18-inch.
Aside from being gradually modified over the years, the (Wrangler-shape) Jeep is an iconic a sight on the road today as it’s ever been, but the Gladiator, with its flatbed ute/truck look simply adds an extra dimension or two. On the road, its sheer size dwarfs other vehicles but somehow it doesn’t seem too huge being behind the wheel. A lot of the Gladiator’s length comes from an extra 500mm in wheelbase and this itself seems to make the Jeep feel well settled on the road. The steering is still a little vague but much improved on previous Wrangler models and I assume that a true off-roader requires a little play in the wheel.
There is a fair amount of road noise when travelling on the open-pored country roads but less than I expected and with such creature comforts as heated seats, adaptive cruise control, U-Connect and a premium sound system, life in the Gladiator is not a bad place to be.
Rest-assured, Jeep New Zealand’s new Gladiator is not going to be for everyone but I guess that is the point, it takes the popular ute concept and injects it with growth hormones, it takes the iconic Wrangler and gives it ‘truck/ute’ appeal, it takes the Jeep to a whole new level and truly brings the brand’s Gladiator nameplate of the early sixties back – with a vengeance.