I’m always excited to attend launches of new models on the SA market. Often, I have read international reports and many manufacturers create media hype around a vehicle before the launch.

In the case of the Jeep Gladiator, the hype lasted longer than usual, largely due to global events beyond the control of Stellantis in SA. The Gladiator is finally here and it was definitely worth the wait.

Unmistakeably a Jeep with the 7 vertical slat grille and round headlights, it has much in common with the Wrangler from a visual aspect. However it’s longer, at almost 5.5m long with a 1.5m load deck (bak) added to the rear of the double cab body.

Built for the adventurer or off-road enthusiast, the 4x4 ability is mind blowing. Part of the launch event was at the Hennops 4x4 facility and I alternated between being amazed and frightened by the ability through some of the obstacles. Whether I was behind the wheel, in the passenger seat or observing from outside, the angles achieved or the wheel articulation with 1 wheel way up in the air, are not for the faint hearted. In 4 wheel drive with low range engaged, it’s unstoppable in the right hands.

With such off-road ability, on road behaviour is often compromised. You sit high and proud and are prone to buffeting when large trucks pass but the tar road drive and handling are a distinct upgrade on the previous generation Wrangler that I tested a few years ago. The smoothness and comfort on long stretches of poor quality dirt roads simply emphasize this fact.

The local model has only 1 engine option, the 3.6l V6 Pentastar petrol engine that delivers 209kW and 347Nm through an 8 speed automatic transmission. According to Jeep SA, their research shows that customers prefer the sporty power of this motor to a diesel option.

The Gladiator boasts of being the only convertible bakkie available. Standard equipment includes both hard and soft tops. The hard top can be removed in 3 sections whereas the soft top can be folded back in seconds. Full changing or removing of the roof needs to be done before leaving home. If that’s not open enough for you, the doors can be easily removed too for the full OPEN experience.

The local model comes in Rubicon spec which means a full luxury interior plus enhanced off-road ability. Standard Fox shock absorbers are an example of equipment designed to enhance off-roading.

Possibly the only deterrent to everyday use is the sheer size and length of the vehicle for commuting and parking duties.

Priced at R1 259 900 including a 3 year service plan.

Alan Rosemeyer:  MotorMatters:   www.motormatters.co.za