What is it like to drive?
Driving the Gladiator on the road is not as punishing as its off-road credentials might suggest. The body on frame rig’s extra 19.4 inches of wheelbase allied to the new shocks front and rear – the Rubicon gets Fox units – give it a surprisingly compliant, comfortable and quiet ride. More so even than the new Wrangler, which is already a dramatic improvement on the shake, rattle and roll fest that was the previous model.
The steering is quite low geared, to give it the required off-road precision, but other than that you are rarely reminded that its frame is 31 inches longer than the Wrangler. The test route we took it on featured a long sequence of tight turns and significant changes in camber and surface quality. The Gladiator dealt with them all without causing any issues.
Off-road, on the suitably muddy and frankly impossible-looking rock crawling course, the truck surprised and then shocked us with its extraordinary ability to get into – and then out of – some locations. One point of note, made on some of the most severe downhill rock sections, is that the longer wheelbase allows the Gladiator to drag its tail to stabilise and slow itself.
The truck comes as standard with a six-speed manual but, unless you want the extreme crawl ratio that delivers, the eight-speed auto is definitely the right choice. Apart from giving you two overdrive gears on the road, to keep revs and engine noise down and improve economy, the manual’s action isn’t anything special.
Engine choice at launch is solely the 3.6-litre 285bhp/260lbft Pentastar V6 with stop/start. It’s a tried and trusted unit we’ve seen and driven many times before. And it’s more than fine in this application, too. It has a broad, linear spread of power and torque, doesn’t consume too much gas and generally keeps itself to itself during most drives. There will be a 260bhp/442lbft 3.0-litre Ecodiesel engine added to the line up later.