BUYERS GUIDE - UTES & CAB CHASSIS MEDIUM
Jeep has re-entered the Australian 4WD ute market after an absence of 35 years. The newly announced Gladiator is based on the Wrangler four-door, but with an extended wheelbase.
In its March press release Jeep claims the 2020 Gladiator is the first Jeep light truck to be brought to Australia, which, of course, is rubbish.
Hundreds of imported CJ10s, J10s and J20s were converted to right hand drive at a dedicated factory in Brisbane in the years 1978 to 1985.
Some models were even called ‘Gladiators’.
When Chrysler took over Jeep, the project was abandoned.
When owned by American Motors, Jeep had several cracks at competing with Land Rover and Toyota 45 Series utes and tray backs in the early 1980s, without success.
Problems included supply shortages, a fragmented dealer network and product quality. One dealer suggested to the Brisbane Jeep execs that they issue life jackets with every Jeep, because of the propensity to let in rain water!
We can remember testing a J20 ute in the early 1980s. It had some fit and finish issues, but performed well on and off road and was much more comfortable than a Landie or 45.
This vehicle had a soft top and was optimistically painted in Australian Army khaki, but the Army went for Land Rovers instead.
For Jeep’s sake, we can only hope that the 2020 effort has more success.
The initial release models were 100 Launch Edition vehicles, scheduled for May 2020 availability and all in top-shelf Rubicon specification, with limited edition badging and design accents. Forecast RRP was a heady $86,450!
Lower spec’ Overland models were scheduled for release later in 2020 and a diesel is in the pipeline.
“Australia is the first right hand drive market to receive the Gladiator, which is a one of a kind lifestyle truck offering an open air experience,” said Guillaume Drelon, director of brand and product strategy.
“For the first time in Australia, adventurers can experience the heritage and dependability of a Jeep truck.
“The first Jeep truck, the Willy (sic – should read ‘Willys’) Overland, was built in 1947, but Jeep trucks were never made available in Australia, until now with this special Launch Edition Gladiator,” Mr Drelon said. (Note that he’s director of brand and product strategy, not director of Jeep history!)
The Jeep Gladiator Launch Edition came in a choice of three colours, Diamond Black, Bright White and Firecracker Red, with body colour fenders and body colour hard top; 17-inch mid-gloss-black aluminium wheels; steel front bumper; black leather-trim seats; heated front seats and steering wheel; Trail Rail System; lockable rear under-seat storage bin; roll-up tonneau cover; sprayed bed-liner; auxiliary switch bank with four programmable switches and 240-amp alternator.
Rubicon-spec’ off-road capability came courtesy of a Rock-Trac 4WD system; heavy duty, third-generation Dana 44 axles with 4.10:1 final drive ratio; Tru-Lock locking differentials and 4:1 transfer case gearing, giving overall reduction in first low of 77.2:1.
The Rubicon package also included electric front sway-bar disconnect.
Inside the cabin was Jeep’s fourth-generation Uconnect system with 210mm touchscreen; Apple CarPlay and Android Auto; a nine-speaker Alpine premium sound system; keyless entry; forward facing TrailCam camera; blind-spot monitoring; rear cross path detection; ParkSense rear park assist system, advanced brake assist; forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control.
Power came from Chrysler’s 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine, providing 209kW of power and 347Nm of torque and driving through a ZF eight-speed automatic transmission.
Being based on a medium-wagon chassis the Gladiator had a meagre payload of 620kg and a maximum towing capacity of 2722kg.
We take no issue with the towing capacity, because 2.7 tonnes is more than enough trailer weight behind any medium-sized crew-cab ute, but the payload is limited by the fact that the Gladiator’s five-link, coil-sprung rear end comes from the RAM 1500, not the higher-rated RAM 2500.
A couple of good ol’ boys, two trail bikes, a full fridge, full fuel tank and a pair of swags and your Gladiator will be at its rated gross mass! It’s no long-distance bush-expedition vehicle, but should suit cashed-up city dwellers who want a weekend excursion machine.