Car Reviews

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon review Australia

Finally, the all-new Jeep Gladiator arrives in Australia. Here is our first-drive review of the Rubicon.

THE GOOD:  Uncompromised off-road ability, good on-road composure and comfort, nails the adventurous fit-for-purpose brief.

THE BAD: No diesel option, a more affordable entry model would be welcome.

IN A NUTSHELL: Sure, it isn’t a competitor to work utes with one-tonne payloads and 3.5-tonne tow capacities…but it smashes the bar for off-road ability and comparative ride comfort, with loads of power and a comfortable cabin.

The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon Review

By mid-2020, Australia’s first dual-cab ute with removable doors, roof and windshield will be available to buy. It’s an all-new model from Jeep, the brand that once built utes almost thirty years ago and decided to have a crack at building utes again. They call it the Gladiator.

It’s a tough-sounding name and one which historically defined an underprivileged man who had to fight just so he could live… Suitable then, given how rusted on Australian’s can be to their dual-cab 4×4 utes, and how the Gladiator will have a tough fight ahead to break ground. Though this one is different.

 

Jeep explains in detail how it’s not a Wrangler with a tray plugged on its back, even if that’s what it looks like – and not a negative given the Wrangler is an icon for adventure and off-roading. However, check out that seven-slot grille upfront again and you’ll see the gaps are wider for more efficient cooling and that from the A-Pillars back it’s a different beast.

What does the Jeep Gladiator cost and what do you get?

There are two variants available: Overland and Rubicon, and they mirror much of the spec you find in the Wrangler.

The Overland starts at $75,450 plus on-road costs, and the Rubicon costs $76,450 plus. At launch, a fully specced Gladiator First Edition is available priced at $86,450 plus on-road costs.

Equipment available includes leather seats, 8.4-inch infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, the latest USB-C charging and connectivity ports, keyless entry and push to start ignition, forward-facing camera and reversing camera, removable doors and roof, folding windshield, wireless and waterproof Bluetooth speaker, plenty of rail and storage options in the tray, alloy wheels, heated seats and steering wheel, dual-zone climate control, electric adjustment on the front pews and a big safety kit including AEB, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-path detection, front and side airbags, electronic roll mitigation, adaptive cruise control and speed limiter.

Specifically, the Overland comes with McKinley Leather Seats with Overland logo, Selec-Trac Active 4×4 system, heated front seats and steering wheel, 18-inch alloys, removable body colour hard top roof, LED headlights/taillights/DRLs and fog lights, body colour fenders and a nine-speaker Alpine sound system.

The Rubicon uses Tru-Lok front & rear locking differentials, front sway-bar disconnect, Fox aluminum-bodied 2-inch diameter shocks front and rear, forward-facing TrailCam for off-roading, selectable tyre-fill alert and 17-inch alloys with 32-inch 255/75 R17 BFGoodrich tyres.

The limited Rubicon Launch Edition adds Launch Edition badging, leather-wrapped instrument panel with Rubicon red stitching, gloss black 17-inch alloys and the lifestyle adventure pack which includes cargo management with trail rail system, lockable rear underseat storage bin, roll-up tonneau cover, spray-in bedliner, auxiliary switch bank (4 Programmable Switches), 240-amp alternator, 700-Amp maintenance-free battery and a wireless bluetooth speaker which charges automatically when fixed behind the rear seat.

Paint colours available are Diamond Black, Bright White, Billet Silver Metallic, Firecracker Red, Sting Grey, Hydro Blue, Granite Crystal Metallic, and exclusive Gladiator colours Gobi and Gator.

What’s the Jeep Gladiator interior like?

The Gladiator mirrors much of the JL Wrangler design inside, with Overland models feeling a little more plush than the Rubicon. For the Rubicon, it’s a robust yet inviting interior design. The Launch Edition is the nicest, though.

There’s plenty of red highlights and handlebars in the Rubicon that suit its off-road chops, but it’s also filled with soft-touch door panels, plump bolstering on comfortable seats and a great infotainment system. It also has plenty of mod-cons like a heated steering wheel and seats, USB connections (USB-A and C) and rear air vents for back seat passengers. It’s certainly packed for features inside, regardless of trim level.

The driving position is set high and the seats are comfortable, with firm bolstering that help when off-road. The rear seat has a Bluetooth wireless speaker under it that automatically charges when put back. A cool feature when camping or needing some portable tunes on the beach. Another feature for off-roaders are four blank accessories switches on the dash that hook up to an easy to access fuse panel – great for adding winches, lights and other extras yourself.

The infotainment system measures 8.4-inches wide and is a stunner, with bright clear graphics that look great at night and in the middle of the day. While it has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which is one of the best connections for phones on the market, the standard system doesn’t slack off. There are plenty of sophisticated menus and options that make sense and look good (so many systems today are pretty plain), and the off-road maps for the Rubicon are a unique extra in the model and perfect for off-roading in the middle of nowhere. The system also brings up controls and diagrams for things like climate settings.

Attached to the infotainment system is a standard eight-speaker or more powerful Alpine nine-speaker system with a 552w subwoofer. The latter goes up loud but retains clarity. There’s also the mentioned waterproof wireless speaker built by Alpine that tucks away underneath the rear seat for impromptu tailgate parties.

How much space is there in the Jeep Gladiator?

It’s bigger than Texas inside and a great car for going places with a tonne of gear. In fact, we plan to do an extensive, lonely, off-road getaway to test how good it is at hauling and off-roading soon.

The wheelbase for the Gladitoar grows 492mm longer than the Wrangler (and the car itself measures 787mm longer overall) so you have a comfortable cabin with great legroom front and rear, and then a big tray in the back that’s thoughtfully designed. The spray-in liner is a great addition as it keeps lose items from sliding about, and looks smart.

In the cabin, the headroom is terrific, though you can pop the roof off in three easy clicks. There’s also a fabric fold top that simply folds back – good if you don’t have space for storing the pop-off roof. For precious cargo, inside are deep storage bins (some lockable) in the centre console and under the seat.

The tray measures 1524mm long and can fit a full-size spare wheel with up to a 35-inch tyre on it underneath. And you can customise the liner – spray it, fill it with the ‘Trail Rail Cargo’ load system, use the tie downs, split it with a divider, and cover it with a tonneau. It also has under-bed lighting.

What engine is in the Jeep Gladiator?

 The only engine available is a 3.6-litre Pentastar petrol V6 engine, mated to an eight-speed automatic transmission. A diesel option looks firmly off the cards due to production restraints for right-hand drive.

But the petrol motor does well to spin up quickly with its 213kW of power and pulls strongly from a relatively modest 353Nm of torque. On the freeway it’ll kick down for overtaking that you wouldn’t consider in most four-cylinder diesel utes, and from a standing start there’s no comparison. 

The rated braked tow capacity is 2721kg and payload is 620kg, with a gross combination mass (GCM) of 5284kg. That means the Gladiator isn’t the workhorse of a normal dual-cab ute like the Ford Ranger, Toyota Hilux, Mazda BT-50 or Mitsubishi Triton. We’ll bring you a tow test soon, but keep in mind this is more a lifestyle ute, ready to tow a trailer with a bike but not a huge caravan.

There are tow and payload capacity increase packs available in the US but not announced yet for Australia.

Is the Jeep Gladiator good to drive?

Compared to ladder-frame, leaf-sprung dual-cabs the Gladiator rides impressively. Underneath is a stretched version of the Wrangler’s ladder frame chassis that adds the finer qualities engineered into the RAM 1500. That includes rear upper and lower control arms in a five-link coil suspension setup with Fox shock absorbers (on all four points) that the Wrangler misses out on.

Other improvements include dynamic engine mounts, hydraulic body mounts, and high strength alloys for decreased lateral movement.  

It gives a subtle, smooth ride that’s head and shoulders above the juttery ride you’d get from a one-tonne ute. There’s a touch of roll but it’s fine when cruising and stable around corners. The long wheelbase gives a solid platform and helps with softening the ride, though the turning circle around town is pretty large.

While the steering is fine (and improves in feel when off-roading), it’s not as polished as the class leaders. But it’s a minor gripe, and braking feels good from the larger diameter brakes. Probably the only gripe is that the footwell doesn’t have a great dead foot area on the left when sitting on the highway, though it isn’t uncomfortable either.

Is the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon good to drive off-road?

The Rubicon model is better equipped for offroad use than the Overland. It has more capable 255/70 Bridgestone Dueler HT 685 rubber wrapped around 17-inch strengthened alloy wheels, and a raft of other additions.

For a standard vehicle, the Rubicon is highly equipped even further, with Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock front and rear diff locks and electronic swaybar disconnect. Low range can be accessed by way of 4:1 transfer case with a 77.2:1 crawl ratio, which is brilliant for slow going. The approach angle is 40.7 degrees, breakover angle 18.4 degrees, and departure angle 25 degrees. Ground clearance is 282mmm and the wading depth 763mm.

We’ve taken the Rubicon into some very slippery terrain and rock crawling, and it excels in tough environments. It’s supremely capable for an off-the-showroom off-roader, and much of its capabilities are easily accessed via toggle switches and buttons. One of the modes is a terrain selector that changes traction requirements of the surface you’re on.

A challenge can be the length when going through bush tracks that aren’t wide and squiggle around tracks. There is, however, a front-facing camera that lets you see what’s under the big nose – also particularly useful for the bouldering and passing crests.

How safe is the Jeep Gladiator?

The Jeep Gladiator has not been tested by ANCAP. While the Wrangler scored a three-star ANCAP, from speaking with the head engineer of the Gladiator program in the US, this ute is a different intrinsic structure at key areas so we won’t draw any parallels as to how it will perform.

Safety equipment available includes AEB, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, blind spot monitoring and automatic wipers and headlights, which are all up with the best in class.

What are the Jeep Gladiator alternatives?

The closest ute in terms of off-road credibility and on-road compliance (and compromised tow and payload capacity) is the Ford Ranger Raptor. Beyond that, there is the Toyota Hilux, Holden Colorado, Mitsubishi Triton, Isuzu D-max, Mazda BT-50 and LDV T60. All of those are 4×4 dual-cab utes and some offer pumped-up off-road accessories as standard.

Editor's Rating

How do we rate the interior and practicality?
How do we rate the value?
How do we rate the controls and infotainment?
How do we rate the performance?
How do we rate the ride and handling?
How do we rate the safety?

2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon pricing and specs

Price From $76,450 (plus on-roads) Warranty 5 years/100,000km Engine 3.6L petrol V6 Power 213kW Torque 353Nm Transmission 8-speed auto Drive four-wheel-drive Body 5591mm (l); 1894mm (w); 1909mm (h) Kerb weight 2215kg Seats 5 Spare Full-size spare

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2 Comments

  1. June 20, 2020 at 7:31 pm — Reply

    4 stars for safety! – are you serious?
    How does a chat with a US Jeep engineer convince you that the Gladiator deserves a 4-star safety rating, when the Wrangler on which its chassis and body is based has a mere 3-star rating? The “different intrinsic structure at key areas” of the Gladiator simply refers to stretching the donor Wrangler’s chassis and body panels – which can have no significant positive impact on the safety rating, especially on frontal side impact performance.
    I can readily accept that the Gladiator would perform well off-road, but it seems that the huge turning circle, limited payload, relatively low tow rating and more importantly the anaemic but thirsty Penta engine would make it difficult to justify the relatively large asking price. So I guess I’m also struggling with an overall score of 4 stars.

    • July 3, 2020 at 2:22 pm — Reply

      The chassis has more in common with the RAM 1500 than it does the Wrangler, based on what FCA have stated anyway. Unfortunately the RAM does not have an ANCAP rating either, though it may score quite well given it’s size and equipment.

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Alex Rae

Alex Rae