Episode 3 is out! Take a break from Tiger King and watch it while it’s hot!
Big thanks to AMFM production for putting this video together. Check him out his YouTube channel and follow his Instagram for more.
You can read my initial review of this car here.
I was driving 80mph when a white Jeep Gladiator blasted by me in the right lane.
“How dare he? And in such a vehicle!” Bitterness and disdain washed over me like an acid flashback washes over a Deadhead boomer. “Who buys these things?” I shouted, shaking my fist at the inside of my windshield.
Visions of silly decals, angry headlight kits, and aftermarket wheels and mud tires that never seem to get dirty danced in my head. I had a long-held opinion that Jeeps were very expensive toys that didn’t make a good daily driver. When I saw that white Gladiator pass me in the slow lane I felt the familiar ire rise in my heart. “Oh look at that, jeep stuck a box on the back of their Wrangler.” I was wrong.
To me, Jeeps fell into about three categories:
- Mall Crawlers – usually a Wrangler Dressed out to look off-roady but never really make it off the asphalt
- Clapped-out Cherokees- which are usually heard or smelled before they’re seen. Often lifted with last week’s mud still visible on the fenders. Sometimes driven by zealous teenage boys.
- Legit offroaders – the hardcore, don’t tread on me, I took my swaybars off for “more articulation bro”, no-top when it’s 30 degrees out types. Usually seen with bald mud tires. Their owners should be avoided unless you’re ready to enter an inescapable pit of conversation about approach angles, locking differentials and lamentations about body lifts.
In October, Texas’ finest automotive journalists descend on the Texas Hill Country. It’s called the Texas Truck Rodeo, and it’s a crucible where one truck is elevated above all others and selected as the Texas Auto Writers Truck of Texas (read “the world”). The Jeep Gladiator would be there and I wanted to drive one.
I got to spend some quality time with this firecracker red ragtop Rubicon. Initially, the proportions look a little funny but you get used to it. In 10 years when they change it, we’ll look back at this design and say, “why couldn’t they have left it alone.” Jeep engineers have done a good job staying true to the no-nonsense, functional design aesthetic while embellishing it here and there to offer some style.
Thankfully, the kitschy stuff kept to a minimum and the marketing impulse to stencil Jeep on every panel has been curbed. When you sell something that looks like nothing else (aside from a Mahindra Roxor but that’s another article) you really don’t have to advertise that way. Batman didn’t have to paint “Batmobile” on the side of his ride, the wings, afterburner and menacing black paint give it away.
Inside the Gladiator Rubicon, you’ll find a heated steering wheel and heated leather seats. Pretty swank for a vehicle with removable doors. In the dash, there’s an 8.4 inch display that controls the Alpine sound system. It displays the navigation and some other goodies too. A delightful array of buttons and switches for locking the differentials and disconnecting the swaybars occupies space ahead of the shift levers.
Seats are firm but comfortable. The second row has space for adults. This jeep comes with the optional wireless Bluetooth speaker that tucks away into a special compartment behind the second row. Pretty neat, but it’s a $295 option I might skip.
Under the hood, there’s a 3.6 liter V6 connected to an eight-speed automatic transmission. This sends power to the front and rear Dana 44 axles with electronic locking differentials and electronic swaybar disconnects. The power on-road is good, and offroad the Jeep feels plenty torquey. Fox 2.0 shocks come standard on the Gladiator Rubicon.
Vehicles on mud tires ride rougher and make extra noise. Combine that with a ragtop and you get what should be a cacophonous ride. I’m not saying the gladiator Rubicon is bending the laws of physics, but it is much quieter than I anticipated. It’s surprisingly smooth when you consider it’s off-road capabilities. I listened closely as I drove on asphalt and only identified one rattle. This Jeep was fitted with adaptive cruise control which makes for a relaxing interstate experience. Instead of the rattly, squeaky Jeep I expected, I was met with a level of sophistication and comfort I hadn’t anticipated.
When it’s time to play in the dirt, the Gladiator shifts effortlessly from two to four-wheel-drive on the fly. There’s gratification in grabbing the lever of a manually shifted transfer case that a push-button doesn’t deliver. It’s also reassuring to know that electrical gremlins won’t stand between me and four-wheel drive when I need it most.
I especially liked the forward-facing trail cam. It’s like having a spotter outside on the trail. Jeep even fitted it with a little washer nozzle to clean it off when the going gets muddy. The Jeeps handled the off-road course without breaking a sweat.
Jeep claims the Gladiator Rubicon gets 17 mpg around town and 22 on the highway. These numbers aren’t great, but next year Jeep is offering their first diesel option which they claim is going to be the most efficient Wrangler ever.
Zealots and kooky branding aside, there’s nothing like a jeep. Be ready to save your pennies and nickles though because Jeep isn’t in the business of giving these things away. The base price for a 2020 Gladiator Rubicon is $44,600. If you want it dressed up the way this one is, you’ll be in it for closer to $59k. Of course, you don’t have to go with a Rubicon package and a no-frills Sport model can be had for $33k.
Due to some silly biases developed in my adolescence, I have largely ignored Jeep. After getting to know the Gladiator I see that it’s peerless offroad and remarkably civilized when you hit the pavement. It’s so nice to be pleasantly surprised. It almost takes the sting out of being so wrong. Almost.
During the week I drove this car, I had a lot of questions about Konas. Not this Kona, the electric ones. “Hey, how far does that thing go on a charge?” “Hey, how long does it take to top up the batteries?” “HAY, WHAT’S IT LIKE TO DRIVE THE FUTURE AND SAVE THE PLANET?” I disappointed everyone, saying “I dunno it runs on dinosaur guts.” At which point they lost interest in the little Hyundai. But just because it’s a gas-burner does it deserve to be ignored?
Of course not. The plucky little Kona may not be remarkably beautiful, fast or extraordinary in any way, but it is good and it is cheap. From the outside, the Kona could be almost any other crossover. It doesn’t help that it’s coated in Forget-Me White paint. There’s a CUV shaped hole in the market and just about every manufacturer has a four-wheeled peg to fit. This is Hyundai’s peg, and it’s pretty darn good.
It has slits for headlights that look like they’re borrowed from a Jeep Cherokee circa 2014. They’re reminicent of the look my older sister gave me when I decapitated her Barbies (sorry Chrystal). The taillights are equally grumpy. There’s black plastic body cladding over the wheel wells and along the rockers. Some may find this unsightly, but it’s dead practical. Shopping carts can bag into it at the store and it won’t chip like a painted fender.
Hyundai designers fell prey to the current trend of floating rooflines, but it’s easily one of the more tasteful examples. 17inch alloy wheels offer a quality look to the Kona and are standard equipment. Overall, it looks frisky, like it’s ready to play. It’s not a serious off-roader and it’s not trying to look like one.
The Kona’s seats are wrapped in black cloth with houndstooth inserts. This is just like a 1969 Camaro. That’s fun. Hyundai could easily have done black and grey to remind us that life is just a bleak and bitter landscape of pain and regrets pocked with shattered dreams and that we all ultimately die. But no, they went with something fun and funky! It also probably hides the inevitable Taco Bell stains.
This Kona was fitted with the Tech Package. That gives it eight-way power seats, a power sunroof, Infinity sound system, a shark fin antenna and Hyundai’s bluelink services. The touch screen interface is easy to navigate and easy to reach without leaning forward in your seat. The interior layout is somewhat spartan but it’s not uncomfortable. Forward collision avoidance and cross-traffic alert systems come standard. I like that there’s still a mechanical connection to the transmission and there’s an old fashion, yank-style, hand brake. The rear seats are roomy enough for adults and downright spacious for offspring.
Under the hood, beats a capable 2.0-liter four-banger. It uses the Atkinson cycle which is basically magic. Actually, it’s a modified Otto cycle that gives the pistons a bit of a running start on their way toward the cylinder head thus increasing fuel efficiency. That’s connected to a six-speed auto with drive mode selection. Nail it on an on-ramp and it complies and accelerates to highway speed without complaint. With a sub seven second 0-60 it’s not setting the world on fire, but it’s not a painfully slow drive either. Hyundai says we can expect 30mpg highway and 25 around town. These aren’t stunning numbers, but it’s still what I consider economical.
This little Kona comes with a ton of amenities standard. But even when you doll it up with the extras that this one has, the tech package and shark fin antenna, it’s still under $26,000. In 1969 money that’s only $3,700, or roughly the price of a brand new ’69 Camaro, and Camaros never came in AWD with Bluetooth connectivity. So there you have it, if you want an icon from the heart of the muscle car era, buy a Hyundai Kona.