Off-roading with the Jeep Gladiator Sand Runner: how does the pickup fare on UAE dunes?

The vehicle is a capable basher and rock climber, but is best-suited to the desert

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The Jeep Wrangler is ubiquitous in the UAE, but the Gladiator pickup derivative hasn’t found the same level of traction (excuse the pun) since its 2020 launch in the region.

While the Gladiator is relatively new, its DNA is tried and tested as it shares its core architecture with the JL Wrangler. There’s the same 3.6-litre Pentastar V6, eight-speed auto, body-on-frame chassis and solid axles front and rear.

However, the subject of this road test is the Sand Runner – a new version that’s been tailored specifically for the Middle East market.

Robust output

The Sand Runner is off-road capable, especially when it comes to rock crawling

The key tech highlights of the newcomer are 64-millimetre Fox internal bypass dampers with external reservoirs (which help to keep fluid cool), Fox front hydraulic jounce bumpers, a reinforced frame, a 25mm front suspension lift and a silver front skid plate. The Sand Runner also scores stronger axles with cast-iron steering knuckles, chunky 33-inch tyres and more heavily bolstered front seats.

The Wrangler/Gladiator fundamentals are already robust, thanks to the proven Command-Trac 4x4 system, which features a two-speed transfer case with low-range gearing and an electronic locking rear differential as standard. That said, you don’t get the front sway-bar disconnect feature that’s offered in the Gladiator Rubicon to provide greater wheel articulation.

The Gladiator has a good approach angle of 44.7 degrees – which means you don’t have to worry too much about bashing the nose when attacking dunes – but its lengthy rear overhang means the departure angle is a less impressive 25.5 degrees.

The Gladiator is also a long truck at just over 5.5 metres from bumper to bumper, and this is noticeable vis-a-vis the Wrangler, which is a nimbler vehicle with better ramp-over angles, so you’re less likely to get beached at the crest of a dune.

Head for the dunes

Dune capability aside, the Sand Runner is a harsh ride on rutted tracks and tarmac

The fact the Gladiator Sand Runner is conceived primarily as an off-roader meant it’s not the most cosseting companion on tarmac nor the most relaxing chariot on the highway. The seating position is lofty by design, so you need to grab the handle on the inside of the front windscreen pillar to hoist yourself up. There was ample tyre roar and wind noise, plus copious levels of play in the steering.

Nevertheless, spending a few days behind the wheel made these niggles less irksome, and the utilitarian Jeep began to make sense once we got out in the desert.

It loped across moderately sized dunes with relative ease as its generous ground clearance (295mm) and knobby tyres (which we deflated to 17psi and 15psi front and rear) are suited to this terrain. Our two-vehicle convoy also included a friend who brought his Wrangler Unlimited along, and his progres was equally unflustered.

The Gladiator’s extra length versus the Wrangler meant it paid to traverse sharply crested dunes at an angle to avoid beaching it. The Gladiator also weighs about 100 kilograms more than its wagon sibling and, although this isn’t a huge penalty, it did mean the V6 had to work slightly harder in ascending steep dunes.

Capable at a price

On the whole, the Sand Runner was equal to whatever we threw at it, with only one super-soft sandy patch bringing progress to a halt as the vehicle seemingly went into limp mode. However, a brief cool-off period, followed by some backing and forthing, enabled the Jeep to be extricated without any digging or towing required.

The vehicle generally coped well with dunes, but its ride quality across rutted tracks was harsher than expected. The hydraulic jounce bumpers should theoretically have smoothed this out, but perhaps it’s just a case of getting them recalibrated.

Verdict? The Gladiator Sand Runner is a capable recreational pickup, but its Dh235,000 price tag puts it up against some stiff opposition – most notably Ford’s F-150 Raptor. The Raptor is faster and more refined, but the Sand Runner is arguably more off-road-capable, especially when it comes to rock crawling. As the old cliche goes, it comes down to horses for courses.

The specs

Engine: 3.6-litre V6

Power: 285hp at 6,400rpm

Torque: 353Nm at 3,800rpm

Transmission: 8-speed auto

Fuel consumption: 12.4L/100km

Price: from Dh234,900

On sale: now

Updated: August 22, 2021, 1:57 PM