Ever since Jeep Philippines brought in the Wrangler, it's been a big seller for the company. Sales shot up, even more, when they brought in the five-door JK Unlimited model. These days, not a day goes by when you see at least one Wrangler on the road.
With the Wrangler being a bit of a common sight nowadays, those looking for something more exclusive want a different kind of Jeep. At the same time, some want to enter the Jeep life but want something with more attitude, practicality, and capability. Jeep's response to that is the all-new Gladiator.
The Gladiator is Jeep's first pick-up in nearly 30 years since the Comanche. On paper, it seems to offer the best of both worlds. You get the rugged looks and capability of the Wrangler, plus the practicality of a pick-up with the Gladiator. What's not to like, right?
At a glance, the Gladiator looks like a Wrangler with a stretched wheelbase and a bed tacked on at the back. For the most part, you're correct with that impression. Even the rear doors look straight out of the Wrangler, but that's not a bad thing. If anything, it looks even more imposing than its SUV counterpart. And Jeep says there's more than meets the eye underneath.
What we have here is the Rubicon model so it comes with a load of off-road goodies. The Gladiator Rubicon comes with chunky mud-terrain tires, unique alloy wheels, tow hooks at the front and rear, plus a prominent hood decal to remind everyone that you're in the top-spec model. It has all the classic cues you expect from a Jeep, but LED lighting at the front and rear brings it right into the modern era. Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator looks retro, but it's more like an evolutionary design building on the original 1941 Willys'. In some ways, it's even like the Porsche 911, with a design that traces its roots to the original article.
Of course, it wouldn't be a pick-up review if we don't look at the bed. Now, you have to remember that the Gladiator is more of a lifestyle pick-up rather than a workhorse you'll see at a job site. The bed is shallow, so stacking items will be limited. Thankfully, it's long enough at over 1.5 meters long, which is about the same as the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, and Isuzu D-Max. But the Gladiator isn't comparable to those trucks. If anything, it's in a class of its own here in the Philippines. Besides, you don't get detachable panels in any of the pick-ups mentioned above.
While we're on the topic of the bed, it has a soft-opening tailgate which is a neat novelty feature. Also, there are LED lights to make loading in the dark a lot easier. A bed liner is standard, and so are tie-down hooks. However, payload capacity is limited to just 544 kilograms. You'll have to go for the Gladiator Sport to get the 725-kilogram capacity.
So why is the payload like that? It's because the Rubicon rides on Fox dampers and a unique suspension setup that makes it more off-road-oriented than the lower-spec variants.
You can still load your expensive mountain bike, luxe camping gear, or even your wife's expensive plants on it.
Inside, it's pretty much the same as the Wrangler. What you get is a no-nonsense cabin. There are no swooping lines or acute angles in here. The dashboard is flat and squarish and the door panels are almost bare.
However, it gets a lot more toys compared to the Wrangler Sport we tested in the past. For instance, the infotainment screen is larger and the seats are trimmed in leather. The instrument cluster is still analog for the most part, but you get a bigger multi-information display. You also get a host of charging ports at the front and rear for a total of five.
The U-Connect infotainment system also has more functionality which you'll appreciate if you go off-road often. It has something called Off-Road Pages and it shows you a host of data and real-time information relevant to off-roading. It displays the status of your sway bars (which can be disconnected electronically on Rubicon variants), the steering angle, the off-road mode engaged, an altimeter, tilt and roll angles, and more.
But the Gladiator still delivers classic off-roader charm inside. There's no fancy electronic dial to engage the four-wheel-drive system. And don't bother with an electronic parking brake as the Wrangler has a mechanical handbrake. It's also a bit of a jungle gym inside because of the exposed rollbars so watch your head when you're climbing on board. The Rubicon doesn't come with step boards so you'll have to use your legs getting inside and out. Thankfully, there are grab handles to make it a little bit easier. Like the Wrangler, you don't get a footrest. Power adjustable seats? Forget about it. At least you have a reverse camera, which is probably the highest-resolution rear cam we've seen in recent history.
Space won't be much of a problem although taller drivers might find themselves a little too close to the steering wheel. If you're not a six-footer though, then you'll find that the Gladiator will be more than enough inside. The same is true for the back seats but the narrow seat cushions would make it a tight squeeze for five. The Gladiator comes with storage bins under the rear seats, which should be enough for relatively small items. Also, the Gladiator features something we haven't seen in pick-ups in a long time, a sliding rear window.
Now for the engine and there's only one option at the moment. The Gladiator Rubicon is powered by a 3.6-liter V6 that's good for 285 PS and 352 Nm of torque. Shifting is courtesy of an eight-speed automatic transmission, which is the same one used in a variety of Jeep models. Sadly, the six-speed manual isn't available in the Philippines, but perhaps you can order one if you ask Jeep Philippines nicely.
Like the Wrangler, driving the Gladiator is a bit of a rolling contradiction. You look at it and you'd think you're in for a rough-riding and back-breaking experience but it's just not the case here. The ride, while firm, is relatively pliant. Cabin noise is well suppressed given that it has detachable panels. Wind and tire noise does seep in, but that's expected from anything with barn-door aerodynamics and mud-terrain tires. But the biggest surprise here is the light, effortless steering. You won't get tired driving the Gladiator, even after hours on the road or off the road. That said, the Wrangler still rides better and more daily-friendly.
As for performance, it's adequate at best. It's not that the Gladiator is slow, but the 3.6-liter V6 has to carry 2.3 tones worth of steel (and aluminum panels). Still, it can deliver a decent punch when you step on the gas pedal a little deeper, but it won't set any speed records anytime soon. With six cylinders and a lot of weight on board, the fuel economy isn't great. In the city, it registered 5.5 kilometers per liter but it does get up to about 7 kilometers per liter on a good day. In lighter traffic, it does get up to 11 kilometers per liter. Then again, you don't buy a Gladiator if fuel economy is one of your top priorities.
On-road handling isn't the forte of the Gladiator, but it's something you'd expect from something that looks like, well, this. The light steering is devoid of feedback and you have to correct it to stay in between lanes. And while it can take on corners, it will do so begrudgingly. Let's just say it's a good thing it doesn't come with an off button for stability control. The reason for its truckish handling is its front suspension. It still uses a live axle, which is great for trails but not smooth on asphalt.
Speaking of trails, it's where the Gladiator shines. Wet mud and slippery rocks are no match for the Gladiator. Steep inclines are no problem too, even when the mud turns into goo. Ride quality off-pavement is excellent, thanks to the Fox dampers on all four corners, and its capabilities can make off-road rookies feel like a hero. That said, you have to be a little more cautious when taking the Gladiator on trails. It's over a foot longer than the Wrangler, so be wary of potential snags at the back.
Despite its imperfections, the Gladiator will charm you with all its quirks, features, and capabilities. At the same time, it's brash, unashamed, and unapologetic, as if it doesn't care about what other people say about it or its on-road shortcomings. Do you want a luxurious experience? You're looking at the wrong car. If the Gladiator were a person, it will probably say “I am what I am and I'll do what I want”. Take it off-road and you'll probably fall in love with it the minute you climb your first steep hill.
But now we have to get to the subject of price, and it's quite a shock. The Gladiator Rubicon starts at Php 4,790,000, an eye-popping price for an eye-popping pick-up. Sure, there's the base Sport at Php 3,890,000, but it's still quite a leap from Wrangler prices. Some will dismiss it as an expensive toy, but what a toy, this truck.