Jeep comes out fight­ing with its new Gla­di­a­tor

IN­TER­VIEW/ Jeep has un­veiled its Wran­gler-based pick-up and Mark Smyth spoke to some of the team be­hind it in LA

Business Day - Motor News - - COMMERCIAL NEWS -

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 now.

Ev­ery­one knew it was com­ing, even dub­bing it the new Scram­bler, sig­nalling the re­birth of a name 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 Wagoneer­based Jeep pick-up un­til 1971. Be­sides, he says, Gla­di­a­tor sounds like it means busi­ness.

It’s based on the lat­est-gen­er­a­tion Wran­gler, which lead ex­te­rior de­signer for the Gla­di­a­tor Tay­lor Lang­hals 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 the re­mov­able doors were not de­bat­able, nor was the fold­ing wind­screen. It had to earn its trail-rated badge for off-road abil­ity.

LIFE­STYLE AP­PEAL

But it’s trail-rated of a dif­fer­ent kind to the usual Wran­gler. Lang­hals says that the pri­or­ity with the new 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 of­froad wiz­ardry, in­clud­ing Com­mand-Trac and Rock-Trac 4x4 sys­tems, Tru-Lock elec­tric axle lock­ers and a Trac-Lok lim­ited slip dif­fer­en­tial.

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 726kg and if you take the op­tional tow­ing pack­age then ithas a tow­ing ca­pac­ity of up to 3,470kg.

The Gla­di­a­tor is cur­rently 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 sixspeed 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.

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 the Wran­gler.

It projects tyre grids on to the view in the in­fo­tain­ment screen 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 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.

The new Jeep Gla­di­a­tor will be aimed at the leisure mar­ket if it ar­rives in SA in 2019. Far left: Tay­lor Lang­hals, lead ex­te­rior de­signer for the new Jeep Gla­di­a­tor, de­signed it with dirt bike trans­port in mind. Be­low: Who needs doors any­way?

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