JEEP'S recent Gladiator pick-up might come in a range of models, but it’s the off-road-ready Rubicon variant that really cements its place as the king of go-anywhere utes.
The JT Gladiator stands out from a crowded mid-size pickup market with its unique Jeep styling, live axles front and rear, and a focus on lifestyle over utility use, with the Gladiator Rubicon leaving no questions as to its intentions.
POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE
NO matter what model variant you choose, all JT Gladiators in Australia have the same driveline. That’s the 3.6-litre petrol V6 Pentastar engine backed by the ZF eight-speed auto transmission and a four-wheel drive system that offers full-time, part-time 4x4 with high and low range.
Jeep tells us that the V6 diesel engine that is about to be offered in the USA won’t fit in a right-hand drive car. Where that leaves us for the rumoured Hemi V8 is yet to be clarified.
Where things get exciting on the Rubicon model is that the transfer case has a super low 4.0:1 gearset for low range which, when combined with the 4.11:1 gears in the final drive, makes for a great low-range crawl ratio.
This super-low overall ratio makes for more driver control and torque multiplication when driving off road. Those final drive units are housed in Dana 44 axles and have driver-selectable locking differentials, again for improved driver control when off-road.
Those low gears help the V6 mill in low-speed off-road work as it’s not exactly bulging with torque muscle. The engine does its best work up higher in the revs where it’s almost sporty and quite enjoyable on road but needs the low gearing for off-road grunt. The Rubicon gearing is so good that the lack of torque rarely becomes a problem as it does in the other, less off-road spec Gladiator models without the low gears.
The eight-speed transmission does an excellent job of keeping the engine spinning up where it works best and does so without raising any questions or quandaries. The overall performance is sufficient for the type of vehicle that the Gladiator is, although far from exceptional.
The V6 diesel engine fitted in the USA or the V8 petrol as fitted by the aftermarket and in Jeep’s own concept vehicles would go a long way to rectifying this and broadening the JT’s appeal to a wider market.
ON ROAD RIDE & HANDLING
THE Gladiator Rubicon benefits from Fox Racing shock absorbers over the OE shocks in the Overland and Sport models, and these do a great job of controlling the wallowing we noted in the Overland tested last month.
But the JT remains a body-on-chassis light truck with a high centre of gravity, live axles and, on the Rubicon, mud-terrain tyres, so it’s never going to be a sports car. Nor does it pretend to be – the Rubicon is made for off-road use.
The ride quality is pretty good and better than in a Wrangler thanks to the longer wheelbase of the ute. It is again improved by the quality Fox shocks.
LIKE so many other off-road vehicles that feel a bit lost when riding around town. The JT Rubicon feels a lot more at home once you leave the blacktop. Again the long wheelbase and quality shocks deliver a nice ride on gravel roads and good control over corrugations. We reckon it would feel even better with 500kg in the tray, but you can’t carry any more than that if you want to have passengers as well.
The low gears and disconnecting front sway bar allow the Rubicon to slink its way over rough and uneven ground without lifting a wheel, while the lockers ensure the mud tyres make the most of the available grip. Full-length rock rails protect the sills in-between the doors, while an extra set of rails at the rear protect the ends of the bed which does overhang a fair bit.
The long wheelbase and overhang at the back mean the JT Rubicon is not as good off-road as its JL Rubi stablemate, but it is probably the best low-speed off-road ute you can buy off the showroom floor.
CABIN & ACCOMMODATION
FROM the front seats, the inside of the JT is standard JL Wrangler fare. It’s a well-appointed and mainly well-laid-out cabin and dash that’s loaded with features. It is a bit cramped for bigger drivers though, especially around the pedal area where there’s nowhere to rest your left foot.
The only real difference for the Rubicon over the Overland Gladiator is the inclusion of the controls for the locking differentials and front sway bar disconnect. They are down low on the left side of the centre stack in a less-than-ideal spot. It’s a shame Jeep couldn’t see a way to move them over to the driver’s side for right-hand drive.
The rear seat in the Gladiator feels to have more room than that in the Wrangler, and the lockable storage space under the seat is a handy inclusion.
WE mentioned earlier the problem of carrying anything more than 500kg in the large tray of the Gladiator as it only has a 620kg payload. This means you are very restricted with what you have on board and you need to keep it under consideration. That’s without any accessories or bigger tyres fitted!
The 2721kg towing capacity is less than average as well, so the Gladiator really fails at being a load-hauling ute, backing up Jeep Australia’s call that this is a “lifestyle vehicle and not a workhorse”.
The tray is large in size and can carry a lot of lightweight stuff; it’s just the truck for your balsawood business. The cabin accommodates four passengers comfortably, while three adults in the back seat is a squeeze; the fuel tank holds a handy 83 litres; there are heavy duty front and rear tow hooks fitted; and the wading depth is quoted at 760mm.
ONE would expect the first job of any heavy duty pickup truck would be to haul a load, but the folks at Jeep obviously didn’t get that memo. Even with rear chassis and suspension design borrowed from the Ram pickup, the Gladiator falls short on load and towing capacities expected in a mid-size ute.
Instead Jeep has given us a great lifestyle pickup that is awesome off-road while being more practical than a Wrangler. Few people will see value in a $90K ute that can’t carry what a $40K one does every day, but they won’t be getting the picture of what a Jeep is all about. As they say, “It’s a Jeep thing” and if you don’t get it then you never will.
APPROACH ANGLE: 40.7°
RAMPOVER ANGLE: 18.4°
DEPARTURE ANGLE: 25.1°
GROUND CLEARANCE: 249mm
WADING DEPTH: 760mm
ENGINE: Pentastar 3.6-litre V6
MAX POWER: 209kW at 6400rpm
MAX TORQUE: 347Nm at 4100rpm
TRANSMISSION: 8-speed automatic
TRANSFER CASE: Rock-Trac with full-time and part time 4x4 and low range
CRAWL RATIO: 77.24:1
SUSPENSION: Live axles on links, coil springs, stabiliser bars (f/r)
BASE WEIGHT: 2215kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 2721kg
ADR COMBINED FUEL USE: 12.4L/100km
FUEL USE ON TEST: 12.7L/100km
FUEL TANK: 83L
BASE PRICE $76,450
PRICE AS TESTED $84,488
2020 Jeep JT Gladiator Rubicon
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