Gladiator! Present thyself.

‘My name is Maximus Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Felix Legions, loyal servant to the true emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife.

‘And I will have my vengeance, in this life or the next.’

Gosh. You’re a barrel of laughs aren’t you? Still, the resolute conviction could easily come from Jeep, as the manufacturer records strong sales in trying times with new Wrangler up 45 per cent in the US! As for old Maximus, don’t worry about his angst; fortunately we’re in the right place but the wrong time. Fast forward nearly 2000 years, still in the land of the Romans, and we’re witness to the first introduction in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa) of an entirely different kind of Gladiator.

Fortunately this one doesn’t wield a weapon or brandish a shield — unless you count potentially class-demolishing capability as a weapon and the latest-tech safety and security systems as a kind of shield.

We’re in the Italian tourist-town of San Martino di Castrozza nestled in the sensational Dolomites region, and while the Gladiator has been available Stateside since earlier this year, EMEA won’t see it until 2020. Fret not though, as the good news is that we get the Gladiator ahead of Europe by early Q2 as it comes with the proven Pentastar 3.6 V6 with 285bhp and 356Nm of torque, whereas Europe has to wait for a 3.0 EcoDiesel with 260bhp. Both come with 8-speed automatics; a six-speed manual will exist but we’re unlikely to get that at launch.

Prices haven’t been revealed yet, but they’re said to be in-line with the Wrangler range. It will be available in entry-level Sport trim, Sahara-equivalent Overland spec and of course in all-conquering Rubicon guise. Speculation suggests we will also see an all-new ‘Desert Hawk’ spec at some point, but we’ve jumped ahead of ourselves here.

 

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Time to put the Gladiator into context because the Jeep pickup lineage harks back all the way to the 1947-65 Willys Overland truck. The four-wheel drive one-ton pickup was based on the CJ-2A. There were also the Forward Control Cab FC-150/170 trucks (1957-65) primarily for corporate, municipal and military use. The front styling mimicked the keystone shape of Jeep’s famous grille and interestingly these were also assembled in India and Spain.

Then came the first Gladiator (1962-1988). Based on the Jeep Wagoneer, the ‘SJ’ ran for 26 years and was made under multiple brand names including Willys, Kaiser-Jeep, American Motors and finally Chrysler. There were few changes apart from going to a full-width grille in 1970 and losing the Gladiator name. But everyone still calls it that — I mean what else would you dub it? Maximus?

The CJ-8 Scrambler (1981-1985) is probably the closest in spirit to the new Gladiator as it was based on the Jeep CJ-7 (1976-86) Wrangler predecessor and also had removable hardtops. Less than 30,000 were built and these are now much sought after by collectors. Finally the Comanche MJ (1986-1992) was based on the Cherokee.

27 years later and we are introduced to the ‘ultimate vehicle for any outdoor adventure’ at a presentation held ahead of this year’s European Camp Jeep, which would see over 700 Jeep owners enjoying a weekend of trekking and mudding.

The Gladiator is unmistakably based on the all-new JL (launched a year ago at Camp Jeep in Austria) with that iconic 7-slot grille and round headlamps, but the slots are subtly wider to increase air intake allowing for the harder work this motor will do such as when towing (it can pull 2,722kg) and lugging a payload upto 725kg in the 152cm steel bed. 

The bed has twin LED lights, a 400W 115 volt power supply, plus a lightweight aluminium tailgate that has three positions, 
supports 250kg and can add another 50cm to the cargo length. If you look at the top edge of the tailgate surround a neat little Easter Egg presents itself with the inscription 419 and a heart — that’s the zip code of the Toledo plant where they assemble this beast.

There’s over 200 Mopar accessories for the Gladiator, including a lot of options for the bed such as bike stands and drawers as well as roll-back tonneau covers. Where’s the spare wheel? Underneath the bed behind the rear axle. Gladiator will come with 33-inch tyres on 17 inch wheels with BF Goodrich rubber.  At the rear there’s five-link coil suspension (Fox shocks on the Rubicon) which stiffens up when loaded for a more controlled ride.

 

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With all the clever diff-locks and tricks of a regular Wrangler this is a truly go-anywhere pickup. Plus it has a couple of neat novelties of its own — an Off-Road Plus button which sets it all up with one touch including killing the traction and stability control systems, plus a ‘Trail Cam’ — a front camera which shows you the surface ahead and gets its own jet washer to stay clean.

Inside it’s just like a new JL with the same level of kit, quality and refinement, plus a little more space in the rear passenger compartment with bespoke seats. The cushions flip up for more room or to access lockable underfloor storage and the seat backs fold down, to reveal a removable Bluetooth speaker!

Additionally of course this is justifiably described as the ‘only authentic open 4x4 pick-up truck on the market’ because just as with the Wrangler, you can take off the doors, drop the windshield and remove the roof which comes either in three-piece black or body colour, or as a premium Sun-Rider softop. And this incredible configurability bodes well not only for lifestyle sales, but also for a future as a commercial vehicle refitted for military, rescue or corporate purposes.

All that remains is to scream at you the words of our defiant ex-General: ‘Are you not Entertained? ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!