Jeep Gladiator Sport on test: less is actually more appealing
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Jeep Gladiator Sport
- Arguably the best all-round Gladiator package
- Undeniable off-road crediblity
- Black body addenda looks authentic
- Still an expensive proposition
- Pretty wobbly at speed on the road
- Towing/payload down on mainstream utes
In fairness to Jeep, it never suggested that the Gladiator ute was intended to be a work truck like the cheaper Ford Ranger or Toyota Hilux models; it was lifestyle all the way.
But the entry price of $89,990 for the range-opening Overland was still a bit of a jaw-dropper for many when it was launched last year.
So the addition of the cheaper Sport model makes a lot of sense. It’s still $79,990 – but less expensive than a Ranger Raptor, which seems to be the pricing benchmark for any ute with adventure aspirations. For the record, Gladiator Sport is $7k more expensive than the closest Wrangler, the Sport S.
Compared with the Gladiator Overland, in the Sport you have to give up heated leather seats and LED lamps, accept a smaller 7in infotainment screen sans Alpine audio, downsize from 18in to 17in wheels and sport (’scuse the pun) black fenders and roof rather than the body colour of the Overland.
Know what? Some of that stuff is preferable. The cloth seats are more comfortable and supportive than leather for a vehicle like this, while the smaller wheels make for superior ride. The downsized wheels also look more businesslike, as do the black guards and removeable hard-top (two quick-release panels over the front seats, or you can remove the entire thing). The rugged, $92,990 Rubicon also has black guards/roof and 17in rims, by the way. It’s the right look.
So the Sport looks great/authentic and it still has most of what you’d want: adaptive cruise with stop (but not go again, unfortunately), blind-spot monitor and a UConnect phone-projection system with both USB-A and USB-C ports.
The rest of the package is what we’re familiar with: a very “Jeep” look and feel to a ute that’s pretty much Wrangler from the B-pillar forward and unique from there back, with a longer wheelbase than its SUV sibling and some help from Ram 1500 rear suspension.
Compared with Wrangler the chassis is tailored a little more towards on-road driving than the rough thanks to that stuff we’ve just talked about, but it’s still an awesome machine off-road – as we discovered on an epic Central Otago adventure at launch in late-2019.
So it’s smoother than a Wrangler on the black stuff, but that’s relative. Don’t expect the ride and composure of a high-end Ranger or Hilux: this is still very much a rock-and-roll machine that has its own ideas about where you should be on the road. You simply make suggestions via the steering wheel.
In other words, it’s a Jeep that happens to be a ute, not the other way around. Tow rating is down on the segment competition (2.7t versus the 3.5t norm for Thai-sourced utes), as is payload: 750kg puts it out of “one-tonne” contention. Although you can say the same of Raptor.
It’s also somewhat unique in being available exclusively with a petrol engine, the familiar Pentastar V6. It doesn’t feel as grunty as its 209kW would suggest, but the powertrain is smooth enough thanks to an eight-speed automatic gearbox. Low-range transfer is a given.
The Gladiator Sport is still relatively expensive, bit then there are plenty of buyers loading up utes to $80k and more. It’s certainly something quite different to the segment mainstream, and while there’s plenty to poke fun at (errant handling, diminished carrying capacity), the Gladiator still has the credibility of being the best of this breed in the broadest range of off-road situations, by quite some margin.
More to the point, I loved every minute of my week in the Gladiator, even though I should really know better. Other people seemed to love it too.
It’s a real feelgood machine and unless you want the even more extreme off-road abilities of the Rubicon (Fox shocks, different 4WD setup, Tru-Lock diffs, proper crawler gear), the Sport stands out as the most appealing, best-looking option. For the least money.
JEEP GLADIATOR SPORT
ENGINE: 3.6-litre V6 petrol
GEARBOX: 8-speed automatic, part-time 4WD with low-range transfer