The Gladiator is Jeep’s idea of a pick-up. And what a great idea it is too.
Some cars are much more than the sum of its parts. This is not that usual and the way the industry is going, these special cars will be even fewer and farther between them as time goes on.
A car can be special for all sorts of reasons. It can simply be a reflection of where it is being driven. Take a €400,000 Rolls Royce to a track and you will wish you were in a €30,000 Abarth 500. Take the Abarth on a 300km trip and any 30-year-old VW Golf would be doing a better job. Everything is relative, I guess.
That takes me to this week’s car, the new Jeep Gladiator. Just look at it. Ridiculous, isn’t it? That was the first word that popped into my mind when I first laid eyes on it. But not as in ‘so ridiculous, it should not exist’; something more along the lines of ‘spectacularly ridiculous’. I grinned. Then I smiled. And when I selected ‘D’ and got it rolling, I was laughing out loud.
I am sure you would too. I mean, come on: a 5.60m car in central Lisbon, really? Yes, really. At first, I was nervous, but, after a few kilometres, I was just having fun. And it never stopped for the four days I drove it around.
The Gladiator is Jeep’s first pick-up in 30 years, a type of car that is as American as the city car is European. Over here there are, however, a few successful pick-ups, such as the Toyota Hilux or the Nissan Navara, but they are European-sized pick-ups and too small for America. The massive Gladiator, meanwhile, and its 5600mm in length, are ‘medium-sized’ in Uncle Sam’s country (!).
On Portuguese roads, however, there is nothing medium about this Jeep. It’s enormous. Easily the biggest car I have ever driven, and its size is always, always, its most important feature. You never forget (nor can you) the Gladiator’s dimensions. In traffic, everyone seems to be one storey below you, whereas truck and bus drivers, on the other hand, look you in the eye and smile.
The Gladiator comes with a 3-litre V6 diesel engine packing 264 horsepower and an 8-speed automatic gearbox. It gets to 100km/h in just 8 seconds and feels pretty fast in any situation. It is also a lot more comfortable than I was expecting, with a calm, composed and compliant ride and much quieter than you might imagine for something this big with an oil-burner up front.
In two-wheel drive mode, best suited for normal tarmac driving, the Gladiator is actually a lot of fun to throw around, with the back taking corners so much time after the front, you have to slightly adapt the way you insert it in the bends. At higher speeds, the back feels lively and massively fun to drive, but never dangerous.
Forward and side visibility is obviously excellent and this Jeep is much easier to drive than expected. Modes include 2WD, 4WD, 4WD High and 4WD Low, through a low-gear transmission for go-anywhere, do anything capability.
Inside, the cabin continues the adventurous mood of the exterior with a chunky, colour-coded layout that is extremely functional. Rear seats can be folded in different ways and the doors and roof can be removed and stashed in and over the car. It feels as focused an interior on being a super off-roader as a Ferrari feels on being a supercar.
I tested the Overland version, suited for those who really want to take the Gladiator off-roading. It comes with a 9-way Alpine premium sound system, keyless entry, collision and lane-cross warning, adaptive cruise-control and all the other latest safety and entertainment features. At €79,990, I leave you to form an opinion on the price. Objectively, it is expensive. Subjectively, not so much.
The Gladiator is not a car for this day and age. It’s too big, has a V6 diesel engine and its practicality is more suited to the other side of the Atlantic Ocean than ours. There is a small market for one in Europe and, for all its size, the back seats don’t have all that room, whereas the load bed is not as easy to use as a regular boot in most mundane situations.
Having said that, I absolutely loved the Gladiator. There is a sense of freedom no other car I have driven has given me. It feels like you and your daily chores, your work and your obligations are the limit to what this car can do. If you want, this car will take you anywhere: to the mountains, the sand dunes, through riverbeds and over snowy valleys. No challenge is too big for the Gladiator, no road too far. With this car, you are free. Just go. Do whatever you want. It will take you there, I promise.
A week after I gave the Gladiator back to Jeep, I can tell you this: nobody needs this car, I am 100% sure of that. And I am 110% sure I would buy one tomorrow if I could. Because we could all use a good dose of healthy craziness right now.