2021 4X4OTY contender: Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

Can the Gladiator follow in the footsteps of the 4X4OTY-winning Wrangler?

2021 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

JEEP dropped the JT Gladiator pickup in Australia mid-year to deliver something all-new and fresh to the 4x4 market. Basically a ute version of the well-known Wrangler wagon, the Gladiator rides on a longer wheelbase and incorporates a bit of Ram truck rear-suspension design under it’s back end.

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Not a 4x4 ute in the same sense as the popular rigs like the Hilux or D-MAX, the Gladiator is more of a lifestyle ute rather than a workhorse due to its relatively low payload and towing ability.

The Rubicon is the off-road champion in the three-variant Gladiator line-up, and also the most expensive at $76,450. This one came with optional Punk’N paint ($1035); the Lifestyle Adventure Group ($3835); black wheels ($975); the Luxury Package ($2535); and a steel Front Bumper to take the total price to $86,455 (+ORC).

POWERTRAIN & PERFORMANCE

JEEP only offers the Gladiator in Australia with the one drivetrain, the 3.6-litre petrol V6 engine backed by the ZF 8-speed auto transmission. As the off-road variant, the Rubicon backs that up with the Rock-Trac 4x4 system that is fitted with 4.1:1 low-range gearing, on-demand (auto) 4WD, locked 4x4 high and low range; 4.11:1 geared, lockable final drives; a disconnecting front sway bar; extra underbody protection; and BF Goodrich KM3 mud-terrain tyres.

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The 209kW V6 surprises with its performance in the relatively large JT, helped no doubt by the low overall gearing that makes it sprightlier at the expense of fuel consumption. This aging engine received a new lease on life when Jeep fitted the 8-speed behind it, and the combo is a winner in both the JT Gladiator and JL Wrangler models.

ON ROAD RIDE & HANDLING

NO Gladiator is particularly a great on-road car but the Rubicon variant is even less so. It steers and rides better than the Wrangler wagon, thanks to its longer wheelbase and the addition of Fox Racing shock absorbers on the Rubicon only. 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.

OFF ROAD

LIKE so many other off-road vehicles that feel a bit lost when riding around town, the Gladiator Rubicon feels a lot more at home once you leave the blacktop behind. Again, the long wheelbase and quality shocks deliver a nice ride on gravel roads and good control over corrugations.

4X4OTY ROUTE: Vic High Country and beyond

The low gearing 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 lost of the available grip. On our hill climb, it scrabbled a bit when nothing was employed but low range, yet still drove it easily. With the lockers in and the sway bar out it drove up there without spinning a tyre, something no other car has done.

The long wheelbase compromises the ramp-over angle and the Gladiator found the top of every erosion mound on High Country tracks, even getting the rig high-centred on one of them requiring a push off. Thankfully, 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.

CABIN AND ACCOMMODATION

THE Jeep is one of those strange vehicles that manages to have an interior that feels smaller than the exterior size of the vehicle suggests would be the case. Climbing in to the Gladiator from any other double-cab ute and it instantly feels cramped and closed in by the large pillars, but once you get settled in you find it’s not so cramped and everything is well laid out and easy to reach. Except for the driver’s footwell – that’s cramped! The rear passengers’ seat is more spacious than most double-cab utes and has plenty of handy storage under it.

GLADIATOR READY: Sport S 

In this Rubicon trim with the luxury pack, the Jeep is very well-equipped with heated leather seats a big AV screen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

The one big thing the Gladiator has over any other double-cab ute currently on sale is that you can enjoy it as an open top, or which the roof removed all together.

PRACTICALITIES

THE Gladiator Rubicon only has a 620kg payload, so you are very restricted as to what you have onboard and in the tray, so need to keep it under consideration when loading up and equipping the JT. Likewise, the 2721kg towing capacity falls way short of the popular 4x4 utes available, so this really isn’t a load-carrying truck.

The tray is large in size but can’t carry a lot of weight, and it’s disappointing that there isn’t a 12-volt power outlet in there at this price. The fuel tank holds a 83 litres of petrol and you eat through that in two-and-a-half days of High Country driving before you’re looking for a refill. Thankfully the aftermarket should support this model well, so you should be able to get a long-range tank for it.

The Gladiator has heavy-duty front (only with the optional steel bumper) and rear tow hooks fitted, and wading depth is quoted at 760mm.

SPECS

ENGINE: Pentastar 3.6-litre petrol 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
STEERING: Electro-hydraulic
SUSPENSION: Live axles on links, coil springs, stabiliser bars (F/R)
TYRES: 255/75-R17
KERB WEIGHT: 2215kg
PAYLOAD: 620kg
TOWING CAPACITY: 2721kg
GVM: 2835kg
GCM: 5284kg
ADR FUEL CLAIM: 12.4L/100km
FUEL USE ON TEST: 18.2L/100km
FUEL TANK: 83L
DEPARTURE ANGLE: 25.1°
RAMPOVER ANGLE: 18.4°
APPROACH ANGLE: 40.7°
WADING DEPTH: 760mm
GROUND CLEARANCE: 249mm

 

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