COVID-19 has forced cancellation of several test drives of new vehicles slated for launch. Nonetheless, author Gary Witzenburg pulled together this story about the Desert-Rated Jeep Gladiator Mojave.
Ford has its F-150 Raptor and Chevrolet its Colorado ZR2. Now Jeep jumps in with an off-road performance-oriented “Desert-Rated” Gladiator Mojave, which FCA North America Jeep Brand chief Jim Morrison calls “a natural extension of our legendary Trail-Rated 4x4 capability leadership.”
The Desert-Rated badge signifies “ultimate high-speed, off-road capability and performance in grueling desert and sand environments.” And, like Jeep’s Trail Rated label, it must be earned through a series of strenuous tests to prove its capabilities.
In addition to significant frame reinforcements and suspension upgrades, the Gladiator Mojave rides on specially tuned FOX 2.5-in. (6.4-cm) internal bypass shocks (pictured below) and standard 33-in. Falken Wildpeak All-terrain (or optional Mud-terrain) tires on unique 17 x 7.5-inch wheels. It boasts a 1-in. (2.5-cm) front suspension lift with a silver front skid plate, beefed-up axles and cast-iron steering knuckles.
Those special shocks have internal passages that allow fluid to bypass their pistons through regulated ports to increase damping force as the suspension moves through its travel during extreme usage. Military-grade fluid (the same used in off-road racing) maintains performance in extreme temperatures while reservoirs front and rear help keep it cool to prevent fade during long, hot, high-speed runs.
A half-inch wider track makes room for the larger dampers and adds stability. Industry-first FOX front hydraulic jounce bumpers act as secondary shocks for additional damping to soften impacts and prevent bottoming out as the suspension reaches maximum compression while helping smooth the ride over washboards and rough pavement.
Mojave’s Command-Trac 4x4 system’s 2-speed transfer case – with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, 4.10:1 heavy-duty Dana 44 axles front and rear and standard electronic-locking rear differential – enable higher low-range speeds for climbing sand dunes and other desert challenges.
An Off-Road-Plus button adjusts throttle, shift points and traction control for peak performance at high speeds on sand and for low-speed rock crawling, and a new Off-Road-Plus drive mode can lock the rear axle at high speeds in 4x4 High (4H), a first on any Jeep. Best-in-class articulation, 11.6-in. (295-mm) ground clearance, a 44.7-degree approach angle, a 20.9-degree breakover and 25.5-degree departure angles further enhance its off-road capabilities.
The Mojave’s Pentastar V-6 delivers the same 285 hp and 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm) of torque as in all Gladiators, with standard engine stop/start and a broad torque band that optimizes low-end torque for cargo hauling, towing and extreme off-roading.
A six-speed manual transmission is standard, an eight-speed automatic optional, with crawl ratios of 52.6:1 (automatic) or 57.3:1 (manual).
For the record, FCA says the Gladiator can sprint to 60 mph (97 km/h) in 7.8 seconds, and that the Mojave model is 10% faster than Sport or Rubicon models on Jeep’s Desert Rated course used to evaluate vehicles.
The Mojave’s EPA fuel economy ratings are 17/22 mpg (13.8-10.7 L/100 km) city/highway with the automatic, 16/23 mpg (14.7-10.2 L/100 km) with the manual. Its payload rating is 1,200 lbs. (544 kg) and its tow rating 6,000 lbs. (2,720 kg) compared with a maximum 7,650 lbs. (3,470 kg) for the base Gladiator Sport with a maximum trailering package.
A “performance” hood with a center scoop (which can be made functional), a unique hood decal, Mojave badging and orange tow hooks visually identify the Mojave, while its Wards 10 Best Interiors Award-winning cabin offers aggressive front seats (cloth or leather with orange accent stitching and embroidered Mojave logos) with integrated upper bolsters.
An available forward-facing off-road camera (previously a Gladiator Rubicon-exclusive) gives a clear view of obstacles ahead.
How does Gladiator in general differ from its Wrangler platform mate? “From the B-pillar forward, it’s essentially Wrangler,” says Gladiator chief engineer Pete Milosavlevski. “The front suspension is Wrangler with the same spindle location for off-road capability. Then…we went to an all-new five-link rear suspension very similar to the Ram 1500’s, using the same control arms.”
The program’s top priority was making it a “real” truck with best-in-class off-road capability, Milosavlevski adds. “We did not want it to be a Wrangler with a box that would drive strangely and not feel right. We did everything we could to make it feel like a truck with a smooth, compliant ride even with solid front and rear axles.
“We went to the five-link coil-spring suspension in the rear, hydro-mounts on the C-pillars and powertrain to help with shake and ride comfort, and we really focused on towing to ensure an extremely competitive tow rating. We had to make some adjustments, including engine cooling, braking and the Class IV hitch.”
Jeep’s Wrangler-based Gladiator pickup walked away with the 2020 North American Truck of the Year Award primarily because it marries the legendary off-road capability of the Wrangler to competitive midsize pickup attributes.
It drives surprisingly well, and its only downside appears to be fairly high pricing relative to segment competitors. But if enough actual (and wannabe) off-road performance enthusiasts opt for this Gladiator Mojave at its somewhat steep starting sticker of $43,875, there may be a Desert-Rated Wrangler soon.