Is bigger better? Jeep Gladiator
WHAT IS IT?
Jeep resurrected the Gladiator nameplate that first saw light in the early 1960s, slapping it onto a bakkie that shares much of its appearance with the iconic Wrangler.
This is the biggest, most expensive bakkie in South Africa, and it has almost as much charm as it does horsepower. It helps that this is the Rubicon model, which means it is a pukka off-roader with all the necessary hardware to flatten mountains and churn mud into mousse. And we haven’t even mentioned that it’s a convertible…
The bakkie is over 5m long and as nimble as gangster in concrete galoshes. But it works – boy, does it work. The combination of the Wrangler’s timeless appearance, the behemoth proportions and the bakkie configuration is possibly the best in the Jeep line-up for years.
The Rubicon spec level adds brash 17-inch wheels shod with 32-inch (255/75R17) BF Goodrich All Terrain tyres, which are exactly what the vehicle deserves. A hard cover seals the bin, which is massive – 1 531mm x 2 067mm when the tailgate is open!
I mentioned that it’s convertible, didn’t I? Yip, the fibreglass roof can be manually removed in two sections, while the doors can also be unbolted. Finally, you can even fold the windscreen flat against the bonnet, if you really want that wind-in-your-hair (or bug-in-your-teeth) feeling.
It’s not often that a Jeep interior wins me over almost unconditionally, but the Gladiator’s did just that. It feels just like it should – rugged and utilitarian, but with enough luxury for you to be comfortable. The sound system is good too – wasn’t it another Gladiator who asked, “Are you not entertained?”
I loved the mix of touchscreen control and regular dials and buttons – it’s quick to use and intuitive, which is what every entertainment system should be.
If there was one thing that I didn’t like, it was the fibreglass roof – yes, it is cool that it can come off, but you’ll hardly ever do that and for the rest of the time you’re looking at bare fibreglass. Not quite good enough for a premium vehicle.
There’s a 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine powering this beast, producing some 209kW of power and 347Nm of torque, paired to an 8-speed automatic. It’s a lovely engine that supplies its torque smoothly and predictably, albeit not fuel-efficiently (we averaged a little north of 14L/100km), but I feel that Jeep should have gone with two V8 options – one diesel and one petrol. That would have made sense.
The Rubicon is tricked out with a limited-slip diff, front and rear diff lock, a sway-bar disconnect feature (for better axle articulation), an Offroad+ button that dials in the necessary electronic aids, and a low-range transfer case. It’s also got Fox suspension (like another big bakkie on the market), and those chunky tyres. As you’d expect, it will go more or less anywhere. It is hampered by its wheelbase and its overall dimensions, though.
On the road it was brilliant, actually – yes, it wanders about a little, but the suspension is exceptional for both comfort and roadholding.
A vast, powerful bakkie that is good on tar and great offroad. What’s not to like? More than all of this, though, is that from behind the wheel the Gladiator offers that X-factor that is so rare these days, and for that it should be commended.
GO GET IT
Is it a bargain? No – it’s R1 299 000 without any extras. For that you also get a 3-year/100 000km maintenance plan and 5-year/100 000km warranty. For the nitty-gritty, visit www.jeep.co.za.
Keeping it classy! Mercedes-Benz C220d
WHAT IS IT?
The latest iteration of the venerable Mercedes-Benz C-Class is more luxurious than ever, having lifted many styling cues and trickle-down technology from the S-Class. It remains a thoroughly appealing sedan, despite its existence in the age of SUVs.
It’s a great car, but we should also be cognisant of the fact that R13 billion has already been invested in numerous upgrades at the East London, South Africa, plant in preparation for the production of this new model, providing a major boost to the local automotive industry.
We’re not suggesting you buy a C-Class because it will boost the economy (most units are actually exported), but if you can’t decide between this and an Audi, maybe the proudly SA badge will sway you…
The design elements from the S-Class are obvious, but the C-Class seems to actually wear them better, just the way athletes wear clothes better than businesspeople… In fact, this must be the most athletic-looking C-Class to date, all taut lines and no spare weight around the middle (or anywhere else).
A few highlights are the unmistakably Mercedes 18- or 19-inch rims, star-patterned diamond grille and both sets of lights. It’s a fantastic blend of dynamic poise with the promise of luxury.
This new vehicle is bigger than the one it replaces so has more interior space, although it still feels a little tighter than some rivals. As a family car it excels – we went on a family road trip, two adults and two wee bairns, and the boot handled our luggage with space to spare.
The interior really is S-Class derived, the user experience dominated by a 11.9-inch touchscreen that comes directly from the S. Other than that, the dash is all clean lines and gorgeous air vents, while a second screen displays the gauges in their traditional position behind the steering wheel. This screen can be changed to suit your mood, from classic dials to pure digital extravaganza.
Everything feels good to the touch, from the leather-clad steering wheel to the few physical buttons, to the seats and the dash itself. Pure class. And now I’m going to blow your mind – you have to move the front seats backwards and forwards manually.
It may look sporty, but the C-Class errs on the side of comfort rather than out-and-out dynamic handling. The ride is supple and a great balance for daily driving, be it on the open road, around town or a back road that wiggles through the countryside. If you feel the need, continuously adjustable damping and a sport suspension are (not cheap) options.
Two mild-hybrid engine choices are available, a 1.5 petrol in the C200 and a 2-litre turbodiesel in the C220d, and nine-speed automatic gearboxes are standard on both. The former achieves 150kW and 300Nm, while the C220d delivers 147kW and 440Nm, with a combined fuel consumption of 4.6L/100km. Actually, this was the most economical non-electric car I have ever driven – on the open road over a distance of 200km we used 3.9L/100km! There’s no comparison – the C220d is by far the more impressive car to drive.
I will be advocating the pleasure of driving a premium sedan rather than an SUV until I draw my dying breath, and the C220d fits the bill perfectly. What I don’t love are long options lists, and the C-Class is saddled with one of them.
GO GET IT
At R888 000 for the C200 and R950 650 for the C220d, the C-Class sits in the luxury price range, but it delivers a fitting experience. The standard Mercedes 5-year/100 000km service plan and maintenance plan are included. For the nitty-gritty, visit www.mercedes-benz.co.za.