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You're Gonna Need a Bigger . . .

Updated: Aug 24, 2021

If you're interested in an all-wheel drive multi-purpose set of wheels that will pander to your innate softness and lack of adventure, plus comfortably get you across a gravel driveway crossover with confidence while towing a half-tonne trailer full of woodchips, you're on the wrong webpage. Go no further. Click back and find a dual cab from Asia.

If you're ready to experience some places that need a vehicle that can amble across frightening terrain, AND bring you back again, this might just be your cup of tea - provided you have around $80k to splash out that is.

But who on earth figured painting a ute that already makes a Schwarzenegger statement a particularly brilliant orange would be a good idea? When I picked up the ute from MSR, I hesitated - for just a moment - thinking of the grief my friends and family were going to give me. "So, need to make a bigger impact Dave? Feeling insignificant are we? You know the drill.

Jeep calls this model " The highly anticipated Jeep Gladiator," but I suspect the anticipation resides mostly with Jeep aficianados who've been seduced by device disease, 'gottahavethelatestitus.'

Nevertheless, this version of the Wrangler chassis bundles sector leading off-road credentials with a bucket load of latest tech fruit and gizmos so that you won't feel left out around the campfire - assuming your non-Gladiator mounted mates have managed to stay with you that is.

Instead of heading from the showroom to the local ARB warehouse and shelling out another $20 grand or so for serious off-road bits, you'll be able to head directly off the bitumen, and most of the dirt with a flick of the drive selector, a couple of switch-clicks to engage the front and rear diff locks, the big reduction 77:1 transfer case and be confident you'll make it through without a winch and a sat-phone.

With that in mind, one would think this thing would ride like a billy cart, banging across intersections and gutters with no thought for the occupants. Not so. Of all the 4WDs I've tested recently, Gladiator has a smooth, supple and almost soft ride that underlines its coil-sprung suspension articulation and the engineering that's gone into keeping wheels in contact with the surface as long as possible. Climb underneath and you'll see serious section components in place to insulate the driver from the torture the tyres and suspension are expecting.

Jeep claims the Gladiator pairs "brute off-road capabilities that 4x4 fanatics desire with refined on-road driving dynamics." While I wouldn't call the driving dynamics refined, the rest of that statement is undoubtedly true.

I spent a week with a lot of time on-road, and although the steering at times can make you think of Spanish Galleons, it's very good for occupants that place a high value on comfort, not just the awareness that it'll climb mountains on demand. That's what having the front wheels right out front does for you, or for the technically minded, a 40.7 degree approach angle.

Most of the off-road dual cabs have developed a relatively high standard of manners on the bitumen, and respond well to a bit of lively driving. The Rubicon isn't a leader in that class at all, as the extra-long wheelbase - best in-market for towing stability except for the RAMs that is - lends itself to a woolly feel and a tendency to plough ahead if you surprise the steering with swift and sharp movements.

This isn't a ute you're going to throw around except when it's in its element. On-road, it's good but more steady-as-she-goes.

The interior? It looks like Jeep engineers got on-board with a big parcel of new features

and then figured out where to put them. I doubt there was a lot of ergonomic science involved, as the body shell - entrenched in the late 90's - firmly dictates what can go where. So when you pick up your Gladiator, you're going to have to spend a few hours in the garage learning where stuff is. Not much falls instinctively and easily to hand.

The seats are very comfortable and provide a high level of sideways support as well, essential for the off-road adventures. It was hard for my 5' companion to see over the dash as well as she liked, but the ride and interior quietness compensated.

The 3.6-litre V6 petrol engine is a bit fussy and seems keen to use every ratio in the 8-speed auto transmission. It churns out 209kW and 347Nm. As a diesel man myself, I was looking for a bit more bottom end grunt. The US will have the 194kW and 600Nm 3.0-litre V6 turbo diesel early next year, which I think would sit better with the purists. But no plans for that engine here yet.

Outside, there is no question what the brand is. Sight impaired people could run their hands over the front or rear end and pick it's a Jeep immediately. Corners and ends are big, chunky, and resplendent in heavy-duty plastic light protectors and protruding tow hooks. "I know I'm going to have to tow the Toyotas out so I'll make it easy for you."

Although I lacked the courage to try taking the roof off, I'm assured it's not a difficult process. But I think you'll need to leave it off until you return home, as storage of the panels will only get in the way.

In short, for a resolute explorer, you couldn't get much better than the serious specs of this tailor-made off-roader. Plus, if you do overcook it and end up lost, stuck or both, NASA will be able to spot that orange paint job from space.

Models: Jeep Wrangler Rubicon

Price: $76,450 to $86,450

Engine: 3.6-litre V6 petrol Non-turbo

Output: 209kW/347Nm

Transmission: Eight speed ZF Auto

Performance: Never mind - it'll go anywhere

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