When I was a kid in Kapuskasing, there was a guy who drove a two-seater Jeep around town and his name was Speedy Patterson. He delivered parcels for the Eaton’s and Simpson’s mail-order stores. That was when your Mom would phone in an order from the catalogue to one of the local offices and they would ship it up from Toronto and Speedy would collect the package and deliver it with his Jeep.
From what I recall – it’s been a few years – the Jeep looked to be about a 1950 Willys. I’ve since learned that it was Canadian Army Ford-built war-surplus. Whichever, whenever I saw that Jeep coming down the street, I got a thrill.
But other than the one Speedy Patterson bombed around Kapuskasing in, I have only known one other person in my life who drove a Jeep and that an old newspaper friend in Kingston named Neil Reynolds. Did he deliver parcels too? No, but he owned, at one time, 100 acres near Westport and needed the Jeep and its off-road capabilities to navigate the mud and ruts of the property.
Until a couple of years ago, I didn’t see another Jeep. They were around; I just didn’t notice them. But then they seemed to explode in popularity. They looked sleek compared with the ones Speedy and Neil drove (and the ones we watched in the movie M.A.S.H. and on the TV series of the same name). I decided if I ever got the chance to test and review one, I’d jump at it.
Which happened a few weeks ago, when Stellantis (nee Fiat Chrysler Automobiles) offered me a Jeep Gladiator Overland 4 X 4 for a week. I picked it up on a Monday morning and by Monday evening people were stopping at the end of my driveway to admire it. Think of a Hydro blue pearl-coloured mid-size Jeep pickup truck and you get the idea what it was like without having to look at the pictures.
Now, before I get down to the nitty gritty – this vehicle starts at $52,245 – I want to tell you about the best thing and the worst thing about this particular vehicle – kind of a good news, bad news scenario.
The best thing is the cockpit. It took me next-to-no time at all to figure everything out. The 7-inch touchscreen (you can get one that’s 8.4 inches) was the easiest to navigate of those found in a bunch of different cars I’ve tested recently. Everything from satellite radio and Bluetooth to off-road information is at your fingertips. Drop your hand down and the temperature controls are right there – you don’t even have to look (although you will, out of habit) and the USB Ports, 4WD controls and window controls are right below that. The instrument cluster behind the steering wheel has digital speed display (plus a tachometer and speedometer) and fuel economy info, tire pressure and so-on. Many, if not most, of the necessary controls are on the steering wheel. That’s the best thing, then.
The worst thing about this vehicle is getting in and out of it. I had the Jeep for a week and try though I may, I couldn’t figure out how to do it easily. I’m a tall guy, but the Jeep’s seat was just that little bit too high for me to slide into it. The running board was in the way of me sliding out effortlessly. And when I stood on the running board on the way in, I was too high and would then have to do a deep-knee bend to get myself low enough to slide across. Of course, it would just be my luck to have left the sun visor down the nigh before so that when I squeezed myself in, I’d bash the side of my head.
(Which reminds me: my wife gives marks for what she calls the Visor Test. If you twist it around so that it shields you from the sun coming in the side of the car but doesn’t cover the entire top of the window, she gives it a failing grade. But the Jeep’s visor went all the way over, so she was very impressed. Picture this: we’d be driving along, and I’d be grumbling about hitting the visor with my head and she’d be telling me how wonderful the visor was on her side for keeping the sun out of her eyes. That’s why no two reviews, or reviewers, are alike.)
Okay, as promised, the nitty-gritty.
The 2021 Gladiator has four trim levels – the Overland (which I had), the Sport, the Rubicon and the Mojave. All come with four removable doors, a removable roof and a fold-down windshield. Because it was mostly below zero the week I had it, I did not try to remove anything. The Curb weight is between 4,650 and 5,072 pounds.
This particular five-seat, four-wheel drive vehicle is powered by a 3.0-litre turbodiesel V6 that turns out 260 horsepower and 442 lb-ft. of torque. It’s governed by an eight-speed automatic transmission that boasts a stop-start fuel-saving technology. Consumption is 10.8 L/100km city, 8.5 highway and 9.8 combined. The vehicle can tow up to 6,000 pounds.
The Gladiator is a good-looking, stylish vehicle. Once adjusted, the seats are comfortable and visibility fore and aft is excellent. It has a lot of pep both in the city and on the highway and the braking is excellent. It has the now-usual smorgasbord of safety features, which I will list momentarily.
First, though, it boasts 18-inch wheels, dual-zone climate controls, heated side mirrors, leather wrapped steering wheel and gearshift lever, garage-door opener (I particularly like that; it took me awhile to figure out what it was but, once understood, indispensable) and Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, among other features such as nine-speaker Alpine audio and heated front seats.
On the safety side, the greatest invention in the history of automobiles (I’ve said this before, but . . .), forward collision warning, is available as is adaptive cruise control, which means that when you’re in a traffic jam it stops and starts your vehicle in tandem with all the others. There’s also a rear backup camera, automatic high beam headlight control and advanced brake assist.
Back on the road, I have one nit as far as handling is concerned. While driving 100 km an hour (or a bit more) on the highway, the front wheels seemed – to me – to wander ever so slightly. Although it’s recommended, two-hands on the wheel now become de rigour, as a result.
Back near the top, I said the MSRP was $52,245 but, as you can imagine reading through, there were a lot of extras on the car I got to test, making the final tab, including taxes, destination charge and about everything else you can think of, $74,565. I’m not in the market at the moment, but if I was, I’d say it was worth every penny.
And if Speedy Patterson is still around, I bet he’d think so too.
The vehicle was provided to the writer by the automaker. Content and vehicle evaluations were not subject to approval.
Norris McDonald / Special to Wheels.ca