Taylor Langhals, lead exterior designer for the new Jeep Gladiator, designed it will dirt bike transport in mind. Picture: MARK SMYTH
Taylor Langhals, lead exterior designer for the new Jeep Gladiator, designed it will dirt bike transport in mind. Picture: MARK SMYTH

It’s no surprise that there was a huge level of anticipation around the debut of the new Jeep Gladiator at the Los Angeles Auto Show. The US is the home of pick-ups and Jeep hasn’t had a proper one for a while.

Everyone knew it was coming, even dubbing it the new Scrambler, signalling the rebirth of a name that was loved by many. The Scrambler wasn’t originally a real truck though, not according to Mark Allen, head of Jeep Design at Fiat Chrysler. 

He told us in LA that he has been trying to get a truck back into the line-up for years but the Scrambler name was never on the table because the original in the 1980s was just an extended version of the CJ. He says he actually wanted it to be called the Comanche, after a Cherokee-based bakkie, but in the end it was decided to call it the Gladiator, reviving a name that adorned a Wagoneer-based Jeep pick-up until 1971. Besides he says, it’s Gladiator and that sounds like it means business. 

It’s based on the latest generation Wrangler, which Taylor Langhals, lead exterior designer for the Gladiator, told us is “our (Porsche) 911” in terms of its iconic status. Like the 911, he told us “you don’t eat to revolutionise, but evolutionise". As a designer he says of course he wants to push boundaries, to do something a little revolutionary, but he says they always have to pull back to something everyone is happy with. 

He had a bit of freedom with the Gladiator but it still needed to retain the Wrangler looks. It also needed to retain some of its unique characteristics, says John Mrozowski, vehicle line executive for the Gladiator. That meant that the removable doors were not debatable, nor was the folding windscreen. It also had to earn its trail-rated badge for off-road ability.

The new Jeep Gladiator will be aimed at the leisure market if it arrives in SA in 2019. Picture: MARK SMYTH
The new Jeep Gladiator will be aimed at the leisure market if it arrives in SA in 2019. Picture: MARK SMYTH

But it’s trail-rated of a different kind to the usual Wrangler. Langhals says that the priority with the Gladiator was lifestyle appeal. 

“It has all the advantages of Wrangler but you can take your dirt bikes on the Rubicon,” he says. He even designed in the impression of dirt bike tyres in the plastic of the load bay at the back of the cabin. It’s a nice design inclusion, but Jeep’s new adventure bakkie needs to be able to deliver on its off-road promises and that’s where Mrozowski and the engineering teams come into things.

Not surprisingly there’s a long list of off-road wizardry, including Command-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 systems, Tru-Lock electric axle lockers and a Trac-Lok limited slip differential. That will all sound rather impressive around the camp fire. 

The Gladiator is over half a metre longer than a Wrangler. It has its own body-on-frame design and upgraded axles front and rear as well as multilink rear. The payload is around 726kg and if you take the optional towing package then the Gladiator has a towing capacity of up to 3,470kg.

Who needs doors anyway? Picture: MARK SMYTH
Who needs doors anyway? Picture: MARK SMYTH

The Gladiator is planned to reach SA in the second quarter of 2019 and if it does arrive then it will do so with the Wrangler 3.6l V6 Pentastar engine under its bonnet, mated to an eight-speed auto or six-speed manual gearbox. In 2020 the Gladiator will get a 3.0l diesel motor too. But what about something a bit less Jeep-like, a bit alternative even? 

Mrozowski told us that Jeep will introduce a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle (PHEV) version of the Wrangler in 2020 although would not divulge further details. The same set-up is likely to be made available in the Gladiator too. 

There will be some tech in the bakkie as well, including an integrated camera for assistance systems such as active cruise control and autonomous emergency braking. There is a forward camera in the grille which will also go into Wrangler. It projects tyre grids on to the view in the infotainment screen so you can see your way through obstacles without leaving the vehicle. 

Additional practicality also comes in the form of storage solutions in the rear. Lift up the seats and there is storage space underneath either for your dirt bike equipment, or for the components of the doors when you remove them. It’s a design feature that Langhals is very proud of and so he should be because bakkies rarely have decent storage in the rear of the cabin. 

​From the streets of Jozi to the farms of the Eastern Cape, there are bakkies everywhere in SA, doing a wide range of jobs. Some like the Mazda BT-50 have appealed to the lifestyle market, while more recently we have seen the re-invention of the premium bakkie in the form of the Mercedes-Benz X-Class.

Langhals says that the new Jeep Gladiator is “in a segment of its own”. We’ll see, but in the meantime, let the debate between Jeep, Land Rover and Toyota Land Cruiser fans begin. I’ll grab the popcorn.