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Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 review

Curt Dupriez
Deputy editor

Despite its flaws and critical shortcomings, Jeep’s hard-core mud-kicking pick-up might steal your heart with off-roading chops, charisma and good old-fashioned fun factor 

Good points

  • Big on fun
  • Hard-core 4×4 underpinnings
  • Trail-friendly powertrain
  • Off-roading capabilities
  • Characterful cabin
  • Comfy ground smothering ride

Needs work

  • Big and clumsy around town
  • A little unrefined on road
  • Powertrain lazy on street
  • Compromised payload and towing
  • Stiff-backed seating
  • Can get very thirsty

“You probably think I’m an idiot,” says the family friend introducing his just-delivered, all-black Jeep Gladiator Rubicon.

For context, old mate is wealthy, self made and needle sharp. He and his family are huge on adventure sports, from the ocean to the mountain tops.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 rear 3/4

And, he says, he was finally fed up with his hyperactive three kids wrecking the leather trim in his newly departed, very expensive Italian four-door exotic…

No mate. Jeep created the Gladiator, in its harder-core Rubicon off-roader guise, for folks such as you. It fits your bill ideally, if not necessarily perfectly (more soon).
And in a manner, and with a statement, not quite like other 4×4-focused, family-sized alternatives out there.

The ‘JGR’, for brevity, is a toy. If a serious, enthusiast toy at that. It doesn’t neatly fit the dual-cab ‘lifestyle ute’ mould, one offering a balanced smorgasbord of capabilities in family hauling, multi-terrain driving, load lugging, trailer dragging while – let’s be frank here – keeping the tax man happy.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 front 3/4

Nor does it measure up to dual-cab ‘commercial ute’ expectations of one-tonne payload and 3.5-tonne towing prowess, though its respective 693kg and 2721kg ratings aren’t all that shabby.

No, the Gladiator Rubicon is more singularly focused.

Downstream of a 209kW and 347Nm 3.6L naturally aspirated petrol V6 – Jeep’s time-honoured and widely deployed Pentastar unit – and an eight-speed auto is a veritable bounty of hard-core off-roading hardware worth a fair chunk of the $87,250 price of entry to serve recreational purpose and a helluva waste on a workhorse…

Unless, that is, your allotted worksite is in the depths of some wilderness or at the far end of some serious desert or rugged coastline.

It’s the same (right) stuff as shoehorned under the legendary Wrangler Rubicon off-road, a proper cult machine in its native US amongst off-road enthusiasts, if here stitched to a stretch ladder frame and 5.6 metres of dual-row steel and aluminium Wrangler-like wagon with a ute tub tacked on its bum.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 rear

It is a fringe-dweller, one that enriches the motoring landscape with gusto and character if a specimen that’s tough to rationalise viewed through a sensible lens. A welcome an increasingly rare antidote to mediocrity, then.

The indulgent Rubicon trim sits atop a less ostentatious if still mojo-infused Night Eagle variant for those buyers of more meagre fiscal means and of more moderate off-roading ambitions.

Gladiator is now a trimmer two-version range in Oz than its once broader selection.

What are the Gladiator Rubicon’s features and options for the price?

At the time of review, both the top-dog Rubicon and milder-pup Night Eagle were on a limited-time offer at $82,950 and $73,950 respectively, driveaway.

Outside of that offer (’til the end of March 2023), though, the regular list pricing stands at $87,250 and $78,250.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 headlight

In comparison, the related Wrangler five-door wagon wants for $77,950 in Night Eagle trim and $87,950 in Rubicon spec on driveaway offer.

The entry Gladiator Night Eagle fits the same 3.6L V6 and eight-speed auto powertrain as the Rubicon, while elsewhere it’s equipped with:

  • Selec-Trac active on-demand 4×4
  • 245mm tyres
  • LED exterior lighting
  • A reversing camera
  • Front and rear parking sensors
  • Cloth trim
  • Analogue instruments with a 7.0-inch centre screen 
  • 8.4-inch touchscreen multimedia
  • Wired Apple CarPlay and Android Auto
  • Proprietary satellite navigation
  • Dual-zone climate control
  • Removable hard top  

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 switch

The Rubicon trim adds a host of upgrades, much of them in specialised 4×4 underpinnings. These include:

  • Rock-Trac active on-demand 4×4
  • Off-Road Plus mode
  • Tru-Lock electronic-locking front and rear diffs
  • Electronic front sway bar disconnect
  • 77.2:1 crawl ratio
  • Fox 2.0-inch aluminium off-road damper
  • 255mm 32-inch BFGoodrich off-road tyres
  • McKinley leather trim
  • Heated seats and wheel

It’s a straightforward theme: if you want a characterful Swiss-army dual-cab pickup with decent off-road capabilities, go with the Night Eagle. If you’re primarily after a hard-core off-roader with similar space and packaging, you’ll likely splurge on the Rubicon.

Two spins, then, on a common theme, but the lion’s share of added investment in the Rubicon pays dividends in toughened 4×4 underpinnings.

Jeep Australia offers a host of options and accessories, from wheel and decal upgrades – including an American flag bonnet emblem ($330) – to soft top kits ($267-$4416). Premium paintwork, such as our tester’s Firecracker Red, adds $900.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 front 3/4 shocks

The Lifestyle Adventure Group bundle ($2950) that includes HD Electrical Group (4xAUX switches, 240amp alternator, 700amp maintenance battery), lockable under-seat storage, a spray-in bedliner, soft tonneau cover and wireless Bluetooth speaker.

A full cargo bed storage system, with retractable trays, wants for a $3258 premium.

How does the Gladiator Rubicon drive?

The top dog Gladiator’s driving appraisal is a tale of two distinct halves: on road and off road.

The Chasing Cars test facility isn’t a rocky patch on the vehicle-busting Northern Californian trail the high-spec Jeep pick-up is named after. But it’s certainly handy enough for a snapshot of the Gladiator’s off-roading capabilities.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 off road

First, traction. Recent rain has left mild sections of our course muddy and very slippery, and the JGR powers across the wet slurry, grass and sand without bother.

And, thanks to the purchase of its BFGoodrich mud-kickers, mostly in 2-High rear-drive. Trickier patches demand 4-High, but we’re hardly scratching the Jeep’s talents.

A sequence of assessment-ready moguls looms and disconnecting the sway bars sends the huge 36-inch wheels sagging in extreme articulation, traversed in 4-Low, well, because we can.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 front 3/4 low wheel

That 77.2:1 crawl mode is ridiculously low-geared, providing glacially slow forward motion and pinpoint throttle control for the petrol V6.

And through the moguls it goes, effortlessly and casually, no front or rear diff locking required. We repeat the feat in 4-High and the Gladiator negotiates the course equally as easily.

Some short, square edge rock plateaus test the Jeep’s low-speed climbing capability and approach angle clearance. And again, the big pick-up just lumbers forward with few revs onboard and scrambles onwards and upwards. Does this thing ever break a sweat?

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 shifter

While the modest breakover angle (18.4 degrees) compromise of the whopping 3.5-metre wheelbase might present limitations in situations that might beach the Jeep on its rock sliders, really, it’s designed and specc’d for much tougher terrain than this.

In fact, we keep approaching rocks, logs, divots and the like harder and faster because, well, the Jeep has a manner that simply seems to flatten the landscape.

And the cushioning combination of the chunky rubber and excellent Fox dampers just seems to bait the driver’s enthusiasm and impatience harder and harder, while rewarding with absolutely unflappable progress.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 driving rear close

In fact, the only moment the Gladiator Rubicon gets stuck is – somewhat laughably – at full noise, in reverse, in high-range RWD through a sand trap, where the Jeep buries itself in wheelspin to the rear axle. So we grab 4-High, head forward and out of the sandy hole it pops.

The evergreen V6 is, at 209kW, no powerhouse and its modest 347Nm arrives well up at 4100rpm. It sips low-alcohol 91-octane but, at 15L/100km urban on its thriftiest day, it drinks like publican.

On paper, it might appear underbaked for what amounts to 2.25 tonnes of metal, glass and rubber.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 engine

But off-road, the petrol six and the eight-speed auto it’s paired with, makes for a fine companion. The high torque makes for lazy throttle response – the sort you’d expect from a diesel, say – and it’s ideal for slow and measured progress across rough terrain.

Sure, it lacks the twin-turbo heroics and sheer thrust of a Ford Ranger Raptor, but nor does it demonstrate peaky force-induced throttle take-up during tricky maneuvers.

Ditto the recirculating ball steering. The system cops fair flack for its off-centre vagueness and lack of driver communication, but its slow and even nature makes for a dependable ally for pinpoint tyre placement across very rough terrain.

There’s a reason why Jeep persists with this steering design and, like so much of the Rubicon, the richest returns are mostly in the thick of the off-roading action.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 driving front corner 3

On road, the JGR has much of the same character, with less of the satisfaction factor. And the degree of pleasure or pain the experience brings does largely hinge on the user’s headspace.

From the patter of the knobbly tyres at low speed to its questionable stability in a sweeping corner, the Gladiator isn’t the most refined or unflustered commuter or cruiser out there.

It drums up a fair din on the move and its massive 5.6-metre form demands care and attention, be it on a back street or, especially, negotiating concrete pillars in an underground carpark.

You tend to guide rather than steer the Jeep, per say, and you tend to pile on the throttle with the lumbering powertrain and let forward velocity sort itself out in its own good time.

The Gladiator doesn’t feel all that slow – though a best of 9.25sec for 0-100km/h proves otherwise in independent testing – but you tend to settle into journeys rather than be compelled to rush through them.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 driving front side close

The bluff and boxy cabin is, of course, part of the Jeep off-roader charm, though it does make judging the vehicle’s perimeter quite tricky even though outward visibility is actually quite good.

Of anything, parking is the biggest pain, because it inevitably overhangs (well) beyond any space you decide to pick.

Viewed a different way, the Gladiator can make the most mundane of trips something of an adventure.

The cliche is that it’s so bad that it’s good. And so much of what could be perceived as critical flaws do impart a oafish character that, at times, can plaster a permanent grin on your dial.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 driving front on 2

Big pluses are that, in terms of ride quality, nothing quite smothers sharp-edged speed bumps or potholes quite like the big Jeep. And other motorings, including right-lane hoggers on a motorway, tend to want to give the Firecracker Red pick-up a very wide berth.

Your reviewer certainly sits more in the fan camp, finding it easy to be charmed by the toy truck’s charisma enough to want to drive the Jeep almost anywhere and at any time. Some Chasing Cars colleagues, though, couldn’t get out from behind the wheel quick enough.

What is the Gladiator Rubicon’s interior and tech like?

Climb in – and you do have to climb – and entry is initially met with a loud clanking of closed doors. This is a key signature of the Jeep off-roader – and Toyota Land Cruiser 70 Series and Mercedes-Benz G-Class for that matter – and one indelibly linked with the experience. Nice.

The cabin is industrial chic, seemingly stylised by Bunning (in a good way) in its excess of tough plastics and rubber, with a square and bluff theme that centric to the classic Jeeps go-anywhere vibe, if verging on being a little too try-hard in areas.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 interior

Famously, you can pop the roof (easily), remove the entire hard top (harder), unbolt the doors (tricky and time consuming) and drop the windscreen (a cinch) for unequally open-top exposure to the environment.

Though quite where you’d store that stuff while off-roading requires some forward planning.

Thus unrobed, the Jeep exposes a hardy roll cage for rollover occupant protection, or as a handy platform to mount your GoPros and whatnot.

Indeed, the cabin seems industrial strength and hard enough to be hit with a hose to clean after a muddy day out in the bog. However, looks are deceiving.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 front seats

The seats are trimmed in McKinley leather, the central driver’s screen and touchscreen multimedia system hardly seem waterproof, and the Jeep does lack the rubber dust covers you’ll find across the switchgear in Ford’s Bronco to keep crap out of the delicate mechanisms.

All in all, the Rubicon cabin is actually much nicer than its vibe suggests.

The 8.4-inch infotainment isn’t the last word on size or flash, but it fits the format well and is fully featured, including a proprietary navigation system that will be undoubtedly handy in remote areas where phone-based sat-nav might likely drop out.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 touchscreen camera

It could do with a forward camera, though, to compliment the fitted reversing unit, as the Jeep’s large schnoz does obscure much of the landscape ahead and it would be particularly handy negotiating obstacles in the thick of an off-roading adventure.

Despite niceties, it still feels like a big Tonka truck. The controls for the off-roading underpinnings are agricultural and hefty, the cabin is quite narrow in width and the transmission tunnel is so broad that there’s virtually nowhere for the driver to plant his or her left foot comfortably.

Speaking of comfort, the front bucket seats, while nicely trimmed, are terribly uncomfortable, mostly because the seat backs are ironing board flat and very stiff.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 roof latch

It’s the seats, as much as any other attribute, that really compromises the Gladiator Rubicon’s suitability as a dedicated hot-mix grand tourer.

There are plenty of smart details. The wind switches are located in the central stack, placing them well out of reach when you’re jostled about in the thick of the action, and there are grab handles aplenty.

The doors and front seat backs offer elasticised netting to capture drinks and oddment so they don’t go flying about the cabin once the going gets rough.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 rear seats

Rear comfort is surprisingly good. The Jeep offers more rear room than its outer appearance suggests and the second row has more length and a more pleasing seat back angle than a good many popular dual-cab utes.

There’s good knee and head room, too, though the roll cage can get a bit close to tall passengers’ noggins – something to be conscious about wobbling about out in the ruts.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 rear tailgate

There’s a port in the rear glass to the ‘five-foot’ tub that measures 1532mm in length, 1442mm in width and offers 1138mm between the inner wheel arches.

It offers decent if not-quite-Ranger-matching space, a damped tailgate, handy Trail Rail adjustable tie-down points and the aforementioned 693kg of payload capacity.

Is the Gladiator Rubicon a safe car?

Safety is big of a mixed bag when it comes to the Gladiator range.

It scored three out of five stars with ANCAP, based on Euro NCAP crash testing conducted on the related Wrangler in 2019.

Assessment scores included 60 percent for adult occupant protection, 80 percent for child occupant protection, a lowly 49 percent for vulnerable road user protection and 51 percent for safety assist.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 driving rear corner 2

Interestingly, one area of contention is not clearly reflected in the three-star score: the lack of second-row airbag coverage. The Gladiator fits just four airbags: dual front and dual combination front-side airbags that extend through the first row only.

The lack of rear airbags is somewhat integral to the nature of the Jeep’s construction: a steel and aluminium body with an integrated roll cage structure flanked by removable lid and rear doors.

Safety features fitted include:

  • Forward autonomous emergency braking
  • Forward collision warning
  • Blind spot monitoring
  • Rear cross traffic alert
  • Adaptive cruise with stop and go
  • Hill start assist
  • Trailer sway control

What are the Gladiator Rubicon’s ownership costs?

The Gladiator Rubicon’s ownership credentials are average by sensible motoring measures if quite a bit more enticing for a fringe-dwelling, specialised fun machine.

For instance, servicing is capped at quite reasonable $1995 for a five-year plan covering 60,000kms, given the intervals are 12 months and 12,000kms between visits.

Warranty is five years, if capped at a reasonably limited 100,000 kilometres instead of the industry-standard five-year with unlimited travel during that time. A situation Jeep seems to have little interest in changing.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 dash cluster

Fuel is a mixed bag. The big Jeep will run happily on 91RON fuel, but at 12.4L/100km combined and an assessment-certified 15.4L urban figure it does get thirsty. Even before you grab low-range off the beaten track.

Thankfully its large 83-litre tank makes for a theoretical highway range of almost 800kms, though its 10.4L highway claim is realistically closer to the mid-12s in the real world, yielding more like a 600-660km range ballpark out on the open road.

The honest verdict on the Gladiator Rubicon

There’s a lot stacked up against Jeep’s plus-sized pickup. It doesn’t rate well in conventional vehicle assessment criteria.

It comes up a bit short payload and towing against similarly priced load-luggers. It’s somewhat compromised during normal motoring, in everything from parking for rear-passenger airbag coverage.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 rear 3/4 2

And yet it’s really quite good. Because it’s really quite cool. And because it’s a barrel of fun. That it panders more to buyers’ sense of adventure than their sensibilities matters not.

Does the world need a Gladiator, let alone elaborate Rubicon mud-kicking version? Outside of specific trips across particular terrain, not really.

And yet, like a true enthusiast-centric vehicle, its inclusion on the motoring landscape does wonders for bucking mediocrity and adding a bit of diversity.

Jeep Gladiator Rubicon 2023 front 3/4 low

The Rubicon’s effortless – if not entirely unflappable – off-roading capability is such a strong suit that mere urban posing does seem a huge waste of its talent.

But as an urban runabout, despite its challenged nature, the big Jeep oozes so much charisma that – for some tastes at least – you’ll enjoy the ride anyway.

Overall rating
Overall rating
Running costs
Overall rating
Running costs
Options fitted
Premium Paint
Approximate on‑road price Including registration and government charges

Key specs (as tested)

3604 cc
209kW at 6400rpm
347Nm at 4100rpm
Power to weight ratio
Fuel type
Fuel capacity
83 litres
12.4L/100km (claimed)
Average Range
669km (claimed)
5591 mm
1894 mm
1909 mm
Unoccupied weight
2242 kg

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