The Jeep Gladiator has been winning critics over on both sides of the Atlantic. Car and Driver put the truck on its 10Best list for taking the Wrangler’s fun parts and adding utility and daily refinement. Although the Chevy Colorado ZR2 Bison edged it out, the Gladiator has proven better than other off-roaders, like Toyota’s 4Runner and Tacoma. Many Jeep owners modify their vehicles for more extreme off-roading, but the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon offers quite a lot straight from the factory. But is it enough to see off-roading newbies safely through a trail? Hoonigan wanted to find out.
Where and how Hoonigan tested the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon
Taking a stock Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, along with some Wrangler support vehicles, the Hoonigan team headed to California’s San Bernardino National Forest. Specifically, Holcomb Valley, where racer Justin Pawlak first learned how to off-road.
Pawlak noted that the trails at Holcomb could be difficult even for Wranglers. According to the Big Bear Lake website, although there is a guided Jeep tour that runs through the Valley, the area also hosts multiple black diamond-ranked off-road trails. According to Driving Line, the Holcomb Creek Trail the Hoonigan team drove on is one of those.
The trail started with a rock garden, and just got tougher from there. Even the road to the trail could be considered a minor off-road trail.
Luckily, the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon did come prepared.
How does the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon tackle off-roading?
Car and Driver noted that the Gladiator’s longer wheelbase and bed, while they make the truck more livable than the Wrangler, do make it scrape on rocks sooner than the SUV. The Rubicon trim does help with that, though. The Gladiator Rubicon gets an extra 1.1” of ground clearance over other Gladiators, as well as larger 33” off-road tires. And even if it scrapes, the Rubicon comes with standard rock rails in addition to the standard skid plates.
The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon isn’t all tire and lift, though. The trim comes with Fox 2.0 shocks, locking front and rear differentials, and a transfer case built for rock-crawling. The traction control features Off-Road+ mode, which also changes the truck’s throttle response and transmission (if you get the automatic) to help on sand dunes and rocks. The truck’s infotainment screen can display various off-road apps and information, like the Gladiator’s pitch and roll.
Also helping the truck scramble over rocks is its solid Dayna 44 axles and electronically-disconnecting front sway bar. There’s even an available front-facing camera that lets the driver pick out and avoid obstacles on the ground. However, Motor1 reported that the truck is so capable, the camera isn’t really necessary.
Some of the Gladiator’s more off-road-focused features can be an issue on-pavement. Motor Trend noted the ride can be rough, and the steering somewhat vague. The Gladiator’s boxy design, with removable doors and roof, while distinct and undoubtedly part of its appeal also lets in wind noise on the highway. MT also preferred the automatic to the manual, finding the latter’s gears to be too widely-spaced, especially for towing.
But none of these issues seemed to trouble the Hoonigan team.
How did they do?
Hoonigan hosts Hertrech Eugene Jr. (aka ‘Hert’) and Dan Sommer are experienced automotive professionals, but their experience is in drifting, not off-roading. That’s why Pawlak was there to coach them through it, urging them to keep the pace slow and methodical.
The only modification to the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon the team drove was swapping the standard off-road tires with Falken ones. Their truck used the 8-speed automatic. And even stock, Hert and Dan had a blast, and the Gladiator made it through.
Admittedly, it did scrape on the boulders quite a few times. And at one point, Hert and Dan did almost beach it on a big rock shelf. But later on, Pawlak himself got stuck in his Wrangler, and needed the other Wrangler to winch him out.
So even if you’re not an off-roading expert, it seems the Jeep Gladiator Rubicon is enough truck to see you through.
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