Road test: Jeep Gladiator
Does the perfect adventure car exist? After spending a day on (and off) the road with the Jeep Gladiator, Andrew Bain believes so.
The Jeep Gladiator is a real-life Transformer. On Australia’s only convertible ute, the roof panels pull off in seconds, but that’s just the start of its potential metamorphosis, albeit with a catch. On this big beast, all the doors can also be removed. “But that’s illegal in Australia,” Launceston Jeep’s sales dealer tells me with a smile. The windscreen, too, can fold down. “But that’s illegal in Australia,” he notes again.
On this chilly winter morning, none of these options is a consideration anyway. A pall of fog sits heavy over kanamulaka/Tamar River, and the air temperature in Launceston is -1°C. “Set the temperature to 22 degrees,” I tell the Gladiator, relying on voice command, and it warms quickly, even as ice still coats the ute’s tailgate blanket and our mountain bikes. In a big ute market, the Gladiator is literally one of the biggest things.
At nearly 5.6 metres in length, it’s more than 25 centimetres longer than the Toyota Hilux and 15 centimetres longer than the Ford Ranger. It’s also one of the widest 4WDs on the market, with one of the highest cabins, providing a cockpit-like driving experience.
Released in Australia in 2020, the dual-cab, petrol-only Gladiator derives heavily from the Jeep Wrangler, at least from the back seat forward. But it’s the tub at the back that defines and distinguishes this vehicle.
Gladiator in name, and gladiatorial in appearance, it’s the first ute from Jeep in almost 30 years (since the Comanche was discontinued in 1992), and it’s a vehicle that has only playtime in mind – you’re unlikely to see tradies revving through town in a Gladiator. This is foremost a lifestyle ute, and what says lifestyle and playtime in Tasmania more than a road trip to Derby?
In Launceston, we load our bikes into the Gladiator’s tub, which is millimetres shorter than those in the Hilux, Ranger and Volkswagen Amarok, but still ample, and set out for the born-again mountain-biking town.
It would be rude to leave Launceston and not spend time at kanamaluka/Tamar River. With the Gladiator’s remote start, the engine is running before we’re even in the car, and we head immediately north, flirting with the riverbank through Rosevears.
In the river mist, yachts hover like ghost ships, and the sun only breaks through as we cross Batman Bridge, the Gladiator’s engine humming its pleasure as we pick up speed past the skeletal winter vines through Pipers River.
Recent surf reports entice us to detour to Tam O’Shanter Bay, but Bass Strait has calmed and flattened. We head on for coffee at the Bridport Cafe, arriving like a barge out front, and then it’s time to test the Gladiator in what should be its natural arena.
On the headland beyond Bridport, dirt roads deviate into the Waterhouse Conservation Area, climbing through the dunes towards Waterhouse Point, where farmland turns to bush and then scrub. For such a large vehicle, the Gladiator rolls smoothly along the tracks – it feels more car than truck – with the vehicle’s long wheelbase holding it steady and comfortable as we head out to Waterhouse Point. Here we stop for a while, staring across Bass Strait to the mountainous silhouette of Flinders Island, with only sea eagles for company.
As the drive continues east, across one of Tasmania’s emptiest corners, it’s a chance to settle into cruise control, of which the Gladiator has three modes, including adaptive, which allows us to maintain a pre-selected distance from any vehicle ahead.
Multi-zone climate control means that we remain a warm bubble inside a cold world. The playfulness of the Gladiator is reflected in the interior, with its polished dash and retro dials framing the centrally mounted, 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, which features crystal clear front and rear cameras, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and a range of apps. Most fun of all is a detachable wireless Bluetooth speaker fitted into the rear seatback, providing mobile music in and even out of the car – Jeep jives wherever you are.
Pricing: From $80,094 (drive-away)
Body style: 4-door dual-cab ute
Fuel consumption: 12.4 L/100km (combined)
Engine type: 3.6L Pentastar V6 with ESS
Transmission: 8-Speed Automatic
Drive type: Selec-Trac Active On-Demand 4x4
Max. power: 209kW
Max. Torque: 347Nm