New ute is unlike anything on the road

Nearly every car maker is thinking about building a ute, but there are few companies that could build one as wild and strange as this.

Jeep has made a grand entrance into the highly popular dual-cab ute market, but its machine is unlike anything else on the road.

Here are five things you need to know about the Jeep Gladiator.

1. The Jeep Gladiator is an honest car

This is essentially a ute-bodied version of the Wrangler four-wheel-drive. That means it doesn’t take life too seriously – it’s a car that works best away from the urban sprawl, where you can get the tyres dirty, take the roof off and go exploring. Though there are many clever little details and Easter Eggs woven throughout its design, you don’t need to scratch the surface to uncover the Gladiator’s character: What you see is what you get.

2. It’s a beast off-road

We took the Gladiator away for a long weekend, touring tricky trails on private property. Our guide showed us “where all the LandCruisers get bogged”, but it was no sweat for the rugged Rubicon model, thanks to its combination of proper low-range four-wheel-drive systems, chunky BF Goodrich rubber and electronically locking differentials. You can use clever cameras to pick your lines around obstacles, and tackle territory that would stop other utes in their tracks.

3. But lacks polish

The Gladiator isn’t built like other cars. Genteel concerns such as suppression of wind and road noise aren’t high on the priority list for Jeep engineers, who focus on fun stuff like all-terrain prowess and the ability to take the roof and doors off. Its cabin is much smaller than the car’s size would suggest, there’s no footrest for the driver’s left foot, and the combination of a slow steering rack with huge wobbly tyres makes for direction changes that are more approximate than athletic. Jeep’s 3.6-litre petrol V6 bowls up 209kW and 347Nm, which are adequate if not outstanding figures. The V6 works hard to deliver its best, helped by a sophisticated eight-speed automatic transmission. The Gladiator’s length ensures three-point turns become part of your repertoire in car parks or tight urban streets, and long highway stints might have you reaching for noise-cancelling headphones – though we wouldn’t encourage their use.

4. It’s not a work ute

The Gladiator’s try is less for work and more for play, with low sides and a payload of just 620 kilograms. Its 2.7-tonne maximum towing capacity is about 800 kilos short of class leaders, which doesn’t help its cause. We’d also argue that a thirsty V6 petrol engine sipping a claimed 12.4L/100km of unleaded (but more in the real world) isn’t great for businesses on a budget. A three-star ANCAP safety rating derived from the smaller Wrangler four-wheel-drive also looks dodgy on corporate fleets.

5. But we love it all the same.

There’s a real sense of occasion to the Gladiator. It’s more interesting than the vast majority of new cars on the road – and far more capable than most off the beaten track. While grown-ups might roll their eyes at the sight of the Gladiator, kids love climbing up into the cabin and helping unclip the roof for a day in the sun.

VERDICT 3/5

Engaging with your inner child is key to enjoying life with the big Jeep. Approach it with cold calculation and it will come up short. But if you see it as a Tonka toy, the world’s your sand pit.

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