Weighing-in like a Hollywood blockbuster, an all-new super-truck has made its debut at the annual LA Motor Show, comments Iain Robertson, that turns the entire pickup truck market on its head, because it is the ultimate example of its breed.
In 1999, I was transported to a fine hotel on the shores of Lake Tahoe, on the Nevada-California border…in fact, the state border, on one side of which the noise of the casinos and more liberal legislation was more than evident, while on the other side it was clearly more ‘restrictive’, split the hotel reception. It was as dramatic as the reason for my trip: I was to tackle the highest-rated, most-challenging off-road trail in the world, The Rubicon.
So famous that Jeep even named its ultimate Wrangler model after it, The Rubicon Trail courses over the High Sierras, the ‘doughnut-shaped’ mountain range that surrounds Tahoe’s oasis in the desert. Steeped in a history that is wrapped in Native American lore, while open to the public, Jeep is allowed ‘special access’ to what was Indian holy territory and the annual Jeep Jamboree above Tahoe’s western shores attracts hundreds of intrepid, off-road adventurers in celebration of the Jeep brand and the sheer car-breaking nature of the rock-crawling, winch-demanding, water-coursing trail. If the trail does not ‘get you’, the wildlife at the tented overnighter at a former Cherokee summer camp, which includes vicious leeches in the river, nasty black ants in your boots, scorpions, rattlesnakes and black bears, just might.
Jeep possesses a phenomenal reputation for its off-road prowess. Without the US brand, Land Rover would never have existed, a factor the sometime British marque acknowledges freely. Never an on-road star, the rugged Wrangler is an off-road superstar, as uncompromising and niche satisfying, as any 4x4 vehicle could be. Resurrecting the Gladiator name for its latest model, if you believe that the VW Amarok, or the Nissan-based Mercedes-Benz X-Class, resides at the head of the pickup truck sector (in cost terms too), you need to rationalise your thoughts. As good as the Mitsubishi L200, or Mazda BT60, might be, they pale into insignificance alongside the mighty Gladiator, which could weigh-in at well over £60,000, before supplementing its specification.
Apart from its 7,690lbs of towing capability, or its 1,600lbs of flat deck payload, the Gladiator can be specified with a ‘Freedom’ pack that allows its aluminium roof sections, doors and even some side panels to be removed, revealing an enormous protective roll-cage, for the ultimate California-style monster-truck appearance. Its suspension is heavy-duty. Its drivetrain is designed for uncompromising off-road performance. Its power units (a choice between a 3.6-litre 285bhp petrol, or a 3.0-litre 260bhp turbo-diesel, both V6s) are all-American and drive through either a standard 6-speed manual, or 8-speed automatic transmissions, both with low-ratio transfer boxes, equipped with ultra-low rock-crawler ratios.
Built at Jeep’s Toledo, Ohio, factory, its specification looks like an aftermarket 4x4 specialist’s shopping list, with Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems, 3rd generation Dana 44 axles, Tru-Lock front and rear axle lockers, Trac-Lock limited-slip differential, sway-bar disconnect and a 33-inch off-road wheel-tyre combination. It is a vehicle designed for purpose, which may have a teensy range of applications in the UK but certainly nowhere close to the wealth of opportunities it will satisfy in its domestic market, or the Antipodes. Yet, there are plenty of firms in the UK that rely on indefatigable off-road mobility and, while expensive, the Gladiator will provide long-term viability for them.
Innumerable, flexible and intelligent user features are incorporated within the Sport, Sport S, Overland and Rubicon trim designations. The crew-cab accommodation in either cloth, or leather, is the most spacious and, with a sop to luxury expectations, the most refined of any Jeep and the Gladiator benefits from the recent round of Wrangler detail improvements that make it altogether more driver and occupant friendly. Storage slots, pockets, nets and bins are in abundance, while connectivity and both driver safety and electronic driving aids are to current technological standards, including both Apple CarPlay and Android-Auto for the dashboard touch-screen.
Gladiator Sport, Overland and Rubicon models receive a ‘Trail Rated’ badge, thanks to legendary Jeep 4x4 capability, which includes features such as:
Compared with a standard Wrangler 4-door body, the Gladiator is a substantial 31-inches longer, with a wheelbase 19.4-inches greater. Parking a Gladiator at the local supermarket will demand at least two normal spaces. Substantial under-body protection, by way of sump and other guard-plates, as well as specially strengthened sections of the ladder chassis (to reduce torsional twist), help with overall durability. In essence, whatever you might wish for, to make an off-roader even more capable, if it is not equipped as standard on the Gladiator, there is sure to be an array of options on the extensive accessories catalogue to ensure that it can be.
While most of the pickup trucks presently sold across Europe allow a degree, or more, of on-road compromise to exist, the all-new Jeep Gladiator, which arrives on our shores in early-2019, is not only the grandest, the best-equipped and the most competent of the breed, but it is also and emphatically the ultimate off-road pickup. None will be more capable. None will be as substantial. Prices and availability will be announced nearer to launch time. As to my Jeep Wrangler experience, I completed the trek and still regard it as one of my personal, greatest driving achievements. No other 4x4 would have been capable of tackling The Rubicon with as much ease and my total respect lies with Jeep.
A new icon exists for the car-spotting fraternity that is set to weigh into the UK new pickup truck scene. If you really want, or need, the ultimate pickup truck, your local Jeep dealer will be able to provide you with details, options and pricing in the very near future.