Psst, don’t tell any of the manufacturers but I’ve discovered a new sub-niche of vehicles: “on purpose cars.” This tiny corner of our modern car world is occupied by vehicles which won’t, nay, can’t be bought by accident. And now there is a new member who just elbowed its way into the group: the Jeep Rubicon double-cab bakkie.
Let me explain these “on purpose” vehicles again. I’m talking about cars so specialised or exotic that 100% of their buyers know exactly what they’re getting. Nobody buys these things because the local dealer had a special on them, or they needed a quick stop-gap between other cars and quite fancied the colour of this one…
No. The guy or gal who yanks open a Jeep showroom door and confidently strides towards a sales person to order this Gladiator, they have a very precise picture in their head of what this car should look like and what they’re going to do with it. And that’s a vital part of this car’s sales success because without people like them… it would flop.
That’s right, sales wouldn’t leave the ground. Because – brace yourselves – as a journalist who’s about to pass 1,000 reviews, I can confidently tell you that this Jeep Gladiator is relatively – and especially comparatively – terrible. First and foremost is the price of 1.3 million ZAR; probably 1.4 by the time it gets to Nam.
Then there’s the length of 5,591mm which, in all fairness, merely puts it near the top of modern double-cab proportions. Other dimensions you and your single garage should be wary of are height and width of about 1,9m, plus a turning radius nudging 14 metres. You may want to skip those tight shopping mall parking garages with this lengthy brute…
Other slightly unbelievable figures include the wheelbase of almost 3.5m which unfortunately proved to be an Achilles Heel for fellow journalists on an off-road track. This American off-road legend is fitted with proper 4×4 gear like chunky tyres, double Fox shocks and beefy axles but none of that matters when you’re teetering on your tummy.
Before you yell at the screen, I should also mention all the other 4WD kit you’ll find in this Jeep. Obviously it has low-range and multiple locking differentials but you can also (electronically) disconnect the sway bar or rely on a supremely clever electronic stability system; which can be told which terrain to expect.
The controls for this device are… umm, somewhere. Scattered in a buck-shot layout dashboard which even featured heated seats, selectable exterior power/light outputs and the obligatory touch-screen media system (UConnect) which can chat to your latest smartphone.
Audio quality is quite impressive and, in keeping with its Tonka Toy nature, there’s a removable Bluetooth speaker hidden in the cabin. And storage bins. As for its main storage, the load area, it’s covered by a clever multi-part folding top and reveals… less space or versatility than bakkies which cost half the price.
Being a direct descendent of the Wrangler, this new Gladiator comes with a removable hard-top (and/or convertible folding fabric roof, as tested here), removable windscreen and removable doors; although the side mirrors unfortunately also go AWOL if you ditch the doors.
Honestly. It’s like a big boy’s toy.
As for its on-road manners, prepare for some wild antics as this elongated Wrangler leans into corners, sometimes sways in a straight line but annihilates road imperfections while its rough ‘n ready rubber howls an ode to self-cleaning tread patterns. At volume levels which are directly proportionate to the vehicle’s velocity.
Other highway irritations include the questionable door seals (and noisy fabric top on our test vehicle) but you know what… none of that matters. Not even the insane thirst of this gutsy 3.6L petrol V6 (209kW/347Nm) which just-about manages to increase the Gladiator’s momentum through a nicely-stacked 8-speed automatic gearbox.
Jeep South Africa claims average fuel use of 12.4L/100km from the 83L tank which, to be completely honest, seems about right. I saw 14 in town and close to 10 on the highway. I couldn’t find a 0-100km/h time and, quite unfortunately, our testing equipment malfunctioned during our performance tests with this vehicle.
We guestimate 0-100 in about nine seconds. And 20L/100km.
Yeah, sure, a turbo-diesel would be a better buy but this revvy six-pot motor was one of my personal highlights in this vehicle. It sounds wonderful. And more importantly, it adds yet another degree of absurdity to this gag of a car. There… I typed it. I think this car is a joke. A big, noisy, silly American joke.
But, in closing, and circling back to that whole “on purpose” angle, the few days I got to spend with this lengthy vehicle were some of the brightest, happiest motoring times of my life. I had a complete blast, on and off-road, while enjoying a crazy degree of attention from hard-core petrol-heads and serial commuters alike.
I would never buy a Jeep Gladiator, nor would I ever place it on a list of bakkie recommendations for a friend. Unless that friend is slightly loopy, rather well-heeled and seriously searching for adventure in their motoring life. Then, and only then, this Jeep Gladiator 3.6 Rubicon is perfect. Because it’s an enormous joke of a car.