We Took the Jeep Gladiator on a Two-Day Drive Through NZ

It’s 2020 and that means the wait for a Jeep truck is finally over. That pickup goes by the name of Gladiator and it expands upon the Wrangler design in a number of extraordinary ways. We attended the global launch in New Zealand, taking the pickup for a two-day drive through pretty much every type of terrain. To put it as succinctly as possible: Jeep’s latest is a grand slam.

The history of the Jeep Gladiator dates back to 1962, when the ride was first introduced. Taking over for the previous model—aka the Jeep Wagoneer—the Gladiator shared the same front-end styling and came available in either Thriftside (narrow box), Townside (wide box), or cab & chassis models. After being redubbed the J-Series in 1971, it ran until 1987, which is when Jeep ceased production on pickups altogether. The brand introduced various concept models over the subsequent decades, but it’s only now that the truck has officially returned.

Like the mighty Wrangler—which touts a remarkable trail rating—the new Jeep Gladiator is built for the off-road experience. Also like the Wrangler, the new pickup effectively targets the following performance areas: traction, articulation, maneuverability, ground clearance, and water fording. Add to that a 1.5m long tray and exceptional towing capacity and you end up with a true best-of-all-worlds scenario.

Meanwhile, the Gladiator’s convertible top, removable doors, and fold-down windscreen collectively play upon the concept of outdoor immersion, forging a unique bond between each rider and the surrounding terrain. In keeping with that theme, Jeep is on a mission to be the greenest SUV brand in the world. As such, all models will reportedly offer plug-in hybrid versions by this year, providing for a cleaner ride in every sense of the term. Imagine driving in silence through nature and you get the idea.

Suffice it to say, we couldn’t wait to get behind the wheel of this long-awaited release. Our two-day drive program kicked off in Queenstown, New Zealand, a place of incredible scope and beauty. As we ventured into the surrounding areas, we took the truck through highways, country towns, and winding mountain roads. Putting the Gladiator’s capabilities to the test, we veered off-road into rocky terrain. The vehicle was effortlessly adept as it cruised through a rugged landscape, employing innovative safety features and two advanced 4×4 systems.

With a name like Gladiator, there was a certain amount of expectation built into the driving experience. Thankfully, the new pickup didn’t disappoint. On highways and off-roads alike, the handling and suspension were quite simply top of the line. When we popped the top to go full convertible, we were greeted with an unprecedented tier of open-air freedom. And we mean “unprecedented” quite literally, as the new Gladiator represents the world’s first open-air truck.

When it comes to hard specs, Jeep left nothing to chance. Under the skin is an advanced, fuel-efficient powertrain with an FCA US 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine (while a 3.0-liter EcoDiesel V-6 engine is also available in the U.S. and European markets only). The Pentastar engine produces 285 hp and 260 lb.-ft. of torque and comes joined by an eight-speed automatic transmission. It was engineered to deliver a broad torque band with a focus on low-end torque, which is fundamental to a smooth off-road experience.

Of course, the new Gladiator is so much more than its advanced powertrain. 100% jeep and 100% truck, it features underbody skid plates, tow hooks, and rock rails to protect the undercarriage. Its 77.2:1 crawl ratio is the best in its class and its 1.5m tray length can accommodate 95% of all motorcycles. The truck has a towing capacity of 2721kg and a max payload of 620kg, so give it your worst.

Then there are the safety features and modern flourishes. For example, the forward-facing and rearview cameras have their own spray washer to keep the lens clean. That’s not to mention the veritable bounty of extra safety and security features, including Adaptive Cruise Control and electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation. When you bring in upgrades, there are over 80 active and passive safety features available on the new Gladiator.

Inside, the truck hosts one of three available Uconnect systems, which come in either 5″, 7″, or 8.4″ versions (only the 8.4″ system has navigation features built-in). With its full-LED instrument cluster, high-resolution graphics, and enhanced processing power, Uconnect isn’t just user-friendly, it’s also impressively fast and responsive. As you can probably guess, integration with Apple CarPlay or Android Auto is similarly quick and seamless.

The new Gladiator also makes the little things count. As Jeep head designer Taylor Langhals explained, the hood latch designs were inspired by ski boot buckles. Then we have the 4-aux switch, which allows you to customise things like lights. Oh, and let’s not forget about the option of a portable Bluetooth speaker that Jeep cleverly concealed behind the back seat. Seriously, they thought of everything.

No two off-roads are the same and nor are the people traversing them. It’s then no surprise that the Gladiator goes big on customisation parts and packages. First and foremost, there are four different models: Sport, Sport 3, Overland, and Rubicon. On top of that, Jeep’s new pickup offers various upgrades, combinations, configurations, materials, and other personal touches. You can expect aftermarket manufacturers to get in on the action as well, serving up camper tops and storage components and anything else you can imagine. The possibilities are endless and that’s pretty much the point.

Speaking of endless possibilities, there was no terrain too tough for our Jeep Gladiator as we took it across New Zealand. When driving in convertible mode, nature was always within arm’s reach, cultivating a sense of harmony between ourselves and our surroundings. We passed through farmland and called out to the sheep. We ventured up mountains and ate lunch at the top. We cruised through unsealed roads, crawled over rocks, ploughed through rapids and coasted at speeds while out on the open road. Take it from us: the Gladiator is back, better than ever, and ready for anything.

This is all par for the course over at Jeep. Building upon 75+ years of heritage, the brand continues to churn out industry-leading SUVs, which respectively deliver prime capability, craftsmanship, and versatility. With models like the Wrangler and Gladiator, Jeep invites you to live life to the fullest. That’s why it sold over 1.5 million vehicles in 2019 and will likely sell at least that many in 2020.

Check it out

Man of Many travelled to New Zealand for the launch of the Gladiator as a guest of Jeep.