DRIVEN | If you love brawny bakkies, Jeep's Gladiator will be nirvana for you off-road

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  • Jeep's Gladiator arrives in SA three years since its global debut.
  • Shares underpinnings with Wrangler and RAM 1500 heavy-duty truck.
  • It goes anywhere, packed with every feature you could want in a 4x4.
  • For motoring news, go to Wheels24

"My name Is Maximus Decimus Meridius, Commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions and loyal servant to the True Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next."

Ok, it's a bit cheesy to open the piece with one of the greatest monologues from one of the most outstanding motion pictures of all time, Gladiator (2000). Still, I've just returned from a blistering bundu-bashing excursion in a vehicle bearing the namesake. Yes, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is finally in South Africa, three years since it set the double-cab segment alight with fierce off-road purpose.

Like Maximus in the film, the Jeep Gladiator does not back down from a fight. But why should it, as it's built to best the best off-roader Jeep has ever made. Under its skin, upfront, it shares some commonality with the Wrangler, while most of its rear underpinnings come from the heavy-duty RAM 1500. As far as double-cabs go, beefy doesn't come meatier than this. Let's tuck in.

2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

Surprisingly comfortable on the road

The Gladiator combines rugged utility, versatility and functionality. It features Jeep's, arguably, industry-leading Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems, third-generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock electric front- and rear-axle lockers (diff locks), a Trac-Lok limited-slip differential, and a segment-exclusive sway-bar disconnect wrapped up in bespoke BF Goodrich off-road tyres.

On the road from the launch venue at Forum Homini in the Cradle of Humankind to our off-road excursion at the Hennops 4x4 Trail in Hartbeespoort, it proved compliant on the road. It doesn't roll or pitch too much on the street, making the ride pleasant. The steering manners on the road are also respectable as it doesn't feel as lazy when negotiating bends and turning compared to traditional double cabs.

Fitted with heavy-duty Fox shock absorbers (two-inch units) and tremendously heavy-duty suspension components, you'd expect it to feel uncomfortable on the road, but it's not. In fact, thanks to its rigidity and meaty wheels and tyres, you gain confidence on the road being able to bash through those unavoidable potholes without having to replace your spleen, tyre, and rim. Overall, you'll be pleased with its ride and handling on the tarmac, especially if you're already driving a double cab.

2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

An unstoppable force in the dirty stuff

After a quick driver briefing to maintain safety on the course, we hit the Hennops Dongas playpen, littered with deep ruts and chassis twisters. We've tested off-roaders here in the past, but this time, with all the Gladiator's driving aids, it was a very different experience.

Simply engage 4L to access the low-range gears via a dedicated shifter, press Offroad+ on the centre console and lock the diffs. You can control the off-road driving aids via the high-resolution touchscreen or press the hard keys on the console; it's up to you. Either way, once you've put the vehicle into its hardcore setting, you simply choose a safe line through your obstacle and apply gentle throttle. The car sorts out everything, managing the traction at each wheel to let it grip or slip as needed.

READ: Pritesh Ruthun | This is the most disappointing car driven in 2021

2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

During a few obstacles, I thought, this is it, I'm going to roll, but the Gladiator maintained its composure more than me. It simply gobbled up dongas, mud ruts, inclines, descents, axle benders and kept ticking. We had 10 Gladiators in our fleet, and none of them threw a warning sign or let any of the testers down. Jeep says it boasts an approach angle of 43.6 degrees, a break-over angle of 20.3 degrees, a departure angle of 26 degrees, and a ground clearance of 249mm, allowing the Gladiator to go anywhere. And it can, as it proved at the launch.

The Gladiator's body-on-frame design uses advanced materials and engineering to be lightweight yet stiff and durable. Compared with a Jeep Wrangler four-door, Gladiator's frame is an additional 787mm longer while the wheelbase is 493mm longer. The longer wheelbase and the bed's positioning centre behind the rear axle centreline enable better weight distribution and a more comfortable and composed ride when carrying cargo. Jeep engineers lengthened the prop shaft, brake, fuel lines and exhaust system to accommodate the changes needed to make the proven body-on-frame design work.

2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon can be fitted with more than 200 MOPAR accessories.

The only convertible double-cab you can buy

There's so much that makes the Gladiator a compelling proposition. Added to the fact that it comes with everything you need to enjoy it as a day-to-day vehicle, with a plethora of safety and convenience features, you can blow the doors, roof and windscreen off it for a total open-air experience.

The Gladiator comes with a hard top that can be removed in sections or entirely. You can leave it open to the elements or slap on the soft top that comes with it. The doors are lightweight and designed with grab handles so you can safely store them in the garage at home. Jeep includes a multitool and a box under the rear seat for the bolts you remove when turning the truck into a convertible. Also, tucked away under the seat is a portable Bluetooth speaker that charges in its cradle. You can pull this speaker out and use it at braais or around the house during loadshedding. Nifty.

One of the best things about taking the roof off is the benefit of hearing the Gladiator's V6 sing. Yes, it's powered by Jeep's tried-and-tested 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 that's been around since the early 2000s. It provides plenty of performance on the road and off with 209kW and 347Nm on taps. They say it sips approximately 12.1 litres per 100km in a combined cycle, but during the launch with heavy off-roading, highway and low-speed road work, our vehicle averaged 15.7l/100km. That's thirsty, sure, but if you can afford this Tonka truck, I'm sure fuel cost is not a challenge.

2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
2022 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon

Well worth its asking price...seriously

At R1 259 900, the Jeep Gladiator is the most expensive double cab you can buy with purpose-built off-road capability. It might not be able to carry more than 700kg in its load box, but it can tow up to 2712kg with its Max Towing package. 

You can't avoid this car if you live for off-road adventures and want something that adds to your driving capabilities. It makes 4x4 trail driving so easy; you simply point and squirt. It's almost like a cheat code for off-roading and is ideal if you just want to get in and go. No fussing about with lift kits or aftermarket rubber - just buy the Gladiator and hit the trails as is.

It comes with a three-year or 100 000km Maintenance Plan and a five-year or 100 000km mechanical warranty from Jeep, which is now part of Stellantis. According to the company's spokespeople, the Gladiator leads the charge for the Jeep brand in SA as it rekindles the fire with new products and dealer network investment. They also said that the global demand for the Gladiator is very high, so they are only coming in limited numbers for now. Jeep expects 35 new Gladiator bakkies to find new homes monthly in South Africa. They will also consider a diesel variant for our market later in the product lifecycle.

"Imagine where you will be, and it will be so." – Maximus Decimus Meridius

Please share your thoughts on the 2022 Jeep Gladiator in the comments section. 

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