WITH THE booming popularity of 4x4 utes and their high-performance offspring such as the Ford Raptor, HSV SportsCat and Colorado ZR2, it now seems that every time a new ute is launched the media jumps on to the possibility of hi-po variants.
Ralliart Tritons from Mitsubishi, Nismo Navaras from Nissan and TRD Hiluxes from Toyota have all been touted, but rarely do these equate to anything more than sticker and accessory packs with no real high-performance upgrades.
The latest ute off the blocks and the current crowd favourite is the Jeep Gladiator, and the crew over at jlwranglerforums.com are spruiking a hotted-up version of Jeep’s new pick-up. We heard whispers of such a truck at the SEMA Show last year but put them down to pipe dreams.
The Gladiator is already confirmed to have a Rubicon variant equipped with bigger off-road tyres, lower gearing, increased ground clearance, locking front and rear differentials and a disconnecting swaybar, all of which should make it the most off-road capable double-cab ute available straight off the showroom floor. The Rubicon’s ground clearance and live axles alone should ensure it’ll out-rockhop any of the one-tonne 4x4 utes popular in Australia.
Where the Gladiator would fall behind the likes of a Raptor, be it the F150 or Ranger, is high-speed off-road driving that is popular in the USA and to a lesser extent here. But that’s easily fixed. Ford partners with off-road-racing shock absorber specialists Fox Racing for the suspension on its Raptor models and there’s no reason Jeep couldn’t do the same with Fox or another company like King Off Road or Bilstein.
The heavier live front axle will be harder to tame than the IFS on most utes, but that’s something off-road racers have been overcoming for decades. There’s nothing stopping Jeep or any of the specialist suspension brands developing a desert-dashing package for the Gladiator.
The biggest engine offered with the Gladiator and Wrangler is the 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6, but we already know a V8 easily fits within the rails of the JL Wrangler. Again, there’s nothing stopping Jeep from factory-fitting a Hemi V8 or even the supercharged ‘Hellcat’ Hemi into a high performance Wrangler or Gladiator.
Hell, why not just bolt MOPAR’s latest 1000hp ‘Hellephant’ 426 crate engine in there for truly Herculean performance. Add on some fancy bodywork, wheel and tyres and the sky’s the limit for a high-performance Jeep.
Opinion: Where are the true performance utes?
The Jeep forums quote unnamed FCA insiders as saying prototypes of such a vehicle are currently in testing by Jeep, but it remains unconfirmed for production. They even went as far as computer-rendering what it might look like using a swag of currently available MOPAR accessories, as shown on the yellow mock-up pictured here.