Two cars from LA that show us the pick‑up is changing
It’s the last big motor show of the year and the big news from Los Angeles – small matter of an all-new Porsche 911 aside – is…the return of the pick-up truck!
It never really went away but now a new breed of pick-up is emerging – epitomised by the Jeep Wrangler Gladiator and the Rivian RT1, both having their world premieres in LA.
The Gladiator and the Rivian are as different as can be, ancient and modern takes on ultimate outdoor adventure vehicles. One is as rugged and old-school as anything, the other slick, modern and electric. But both essentially are out to do the same job with their five-seat cabins and open rear load beds. Both are unashamedly leisure vehicles, without being either as vast as the traditional full-size American truck or as utilitarian as the double-cab pick-ups we are more used to on this side of the pond.
And both, we reckon, are pretty cool – no wonder this new breed is being increasingly seen as an authentically off-road lifestyle alternative to a softy SUV.
Whereas the Gladiator trades on Jeep’s 4x4 heritage, the RT1 from US start-up Rivian brings the pick-up into the Tesla era under the slogan, “The world’s first electric adventure vehicles”. Four motors provide four-wheel-drive and huge performance: 0-100mph in just 7.0secs, they say. They also claim a range of between 250-400 miles and, astonishingly, a wading depth of 914mm (3ft). “We’re taking EVs where they have never been before,” says Rivian.
With its Tonka toy looks, hi-tech lights and large and contemporary cabin the RT1 has plenty of appeal. It also appears tailormade for a leisure lifestyle, with not only that big rear load bed (think kayaks and trial bikes) but also a “gear tunnel” (golf clubs) and front boot for suitcases. And it will tow five tonnes, although with a payload of only 800kg it won’t qualify for a commercial vehicle’s tax breaks in this country.
In the US the base version starts at US$61,500 (about £48,000), with deliveries from 2020. With the help of Rivian fan, songstress Rihanna, the firm also unveiled in LA a seven-seat SUV version called the RS1, which comes across a bit like an electric Range Rover.
In huge contrast is the Jeep Gladiator which marks the return of both an old Jeep nameplate and of the pick-up layout, last offered by Jeep (in the US at least) in the Comanche of 1986-92. It’s 780mm (31 inches) longer than the Wrangler on which it is based but, in the US, still qualified as a mid-size truck.
There can be no mistaking what this machine is all about. The epitome of angular ruggedness, the Gladiator boasts all those things people love Jeeps for: heritage design, awesome go-anywhere ability, traditional body-on-chassis construction and dozens of different variations with removable doors and roof, plus a fold-down windscreen.
The Gladiator gives you all that, plus these days a dollop of digital driver aids (from Apple CarPlay to adaptive cruise control), in a crew cab (five-seater) format with a five-foot load bed out back. That is complete with power socket and tie-downs for all those leisure toys. You also get, no surprise here, a lump of either diesel or petrol engine.
At 3.5 tonnes, it won’t tow as much as the Rivian but like its electric rival the payload is well under the tonne so there’d be no getting the VAT back on this one either.
Gladiator deliveries begin in the US mid next year but, as with Rivian, there is no word yet on right-hand-drive versions. We, for one, would definitely like to see them over here. The pick-up market isn’t what it used to be – latest contender on sale in the UK is the Mercedes X-class, showing how far upmarket the pick-up market has gone.
This pair having their moment in the spotlight in Los Angeles would certainly add spice to an SUV market that’s increasingly looking for new niches.