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Jeep Gladiator concept is strong on brand heritage

February 11, 2005|by TIM SPELL/Motor Matters

As expected, DaimlerChrysler is grabbing a major portion of the spotlight at the current 2005 auto shows. Dressed in Armor Green Metallic paint, and clad in sheet metal inspired by traditional and modern design, the Jeep Gladiator 4x4 pickup concept appears dressed for battle in the 4x4 arenas.

The Gladiator shows off a powerful form directed toward consumers looking for beyond-the-ordinary rides. Unveiling a Jeep pickup may spark thoughts of the past Jeep Comanche pickup, but those need to be pushed aside - similarity between the two is faint at best. Gladiator is a far more rugged pickup and has an image more closely akin to the Wrangler. Like Wrangler, Jeep touts the Gladiator as a "lifestyle" vehicle - an "authentic statement of Jeep brand heritage."

And there's no doubting this heritage. The Gladiator has a chiseled form; wide fenders flaring from slab sides; flat, near-upright windshield; slotted grille; side hood latches; and hinged doors.

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In typical Jeep fashion, the design focus is more on function than flash, said Sam Locricchio of Chrysler Design Communications.

"It's got all the functionality of a Wrangler, but we don't want it to come across as solely a pickup," Locricchio said. "It's not a pickup truck, it's a Jeep pickup truck."

Jeep places the Gladiator in a category all its own - "Flexible Utility Truck." Highlights earning it the "flexible" label are a manually operated, canvas convertible top, stowaway rear seat cushions and expandable cargo box.

"You can do things with a Jeep you can't do with a regular truck, like hang a spare on the side," said Trevor Creed, senior vice president, Chrysler Group Design.

The Gladiator wears a box-side-mounted spare, such as those found on Willys Jeep pickups from the 1940s-1960s. This side positioning of the spare eliminates the need for rear stowage and enables a shorter, 38.3-inch rear overhang. This teams with a 28.3-inch front overhang to provide excellent approach and departure angles for enhanced off-road

maneuvering. Another off-road plus is a 13.7-inch ground clearance.

The Gladiator is 205 inches long and rides on a 138.4-inch wheelbase with polished five-spoke 18-inch wheels and 265/75R-18 tires. While its dimensions don't match up with anything else on the market, the Gladiator's length is comparable to a midsize pickup's, but its wheelbase is considerably longer - and so is its bed.

In normal form, bed length is 5 feet 8 inches, but that can be stretched. The two rear seats can be folded flat, and moved down and under. These stowed-away rear seats, combined with a dropped-down rear window, allow a midgate and extended load floor to be electrically powered into the cab - expanding the bed to 6 feet 8 inches. Dropping the pressure-assisted tailgate, which has a rugged interior surface, lengthens the cargo floor to 8 feet 11 inches.

Ingenuity also is shown with the rear door panels, which amount to a door and a half. A full-height rear door is on the passenger side and, because the spare would impede door opening, a half-height "doggie" door is cut into the bottom. This demi-door may accommodate some pets, but is more likely to act as portal through which to stuff narrow cargo. Outdoor types will be attracted to the truck, Locricchio said, and the small door is an excellent passage for sports gear - rifles, fishing rods, etc.

Since the Gladiator is built for those with adventurous spirits, Locricchio said durability and a minimalist treatment are interior-design focuses. Its color theme is Armor Green with dark-slate accents to match the interior.

"The seats are definitely weatherproof," he said, "and, going back to that Wrangler mentality, the interior is designed for hose-out."

It's got the electronic gadgetry - GPS, navigation system and communications system - to get you to and from remote sites.

Also giving the trailblazing driver confidence is a part-time 4WD drive system powered by a 2.8-liter inline-four turbo diesel. Its output is 295 lbs.-ft. of torque and 163 horsepower.

Gladiator sends the message Jeep is set for battle in a market where the demand is strong for vehicles high on both functionality and 4x4 excitement.

Tim Spell is automotive writer for the Houston Chronicle's Cars & trucks section.)

Copyright, Motor Matters, 2005

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