2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Test Drive

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Test Drive

SHERMAN OAKS—Jeep had arranged the perfect get-to-know-you for their new Gladiator Mojave: A drive from Palm Springs, California, to the off-road playground in Ocotillo Wells, presumably so we could do some high-speed off-roading and see for ourselves that our spines would give out before the Gladiator’s uprated suspension did. But then COVID-19 hit, and that was the end of that.

So instead of bringing us to the Gladiator, Jeep brought the Gladiator to us—a bright-red example delivered to the suburbs of the San Fernando Valley, where the toughest obstacle it would encounter would be negotiating the transport of toilet paper. Fitting, we suppose—the Valley, not the toilet paper—because this is role in which most Gladiator Mojaves will probably find themselves.

Gladiator Mojave: Desert Rated

For those unfamiliar, the Gladiator Mojave is the first Jeep to wear the “Desert Rated” label. It sees significant alterations for high-speed desert off-roading, including a beefed-up frame, cast iron steering knuckles, reinforced axles and powertrain mounts, 2.5-inch diameter Fox shocks with remote reservoirs, and unique wheels that give it a wider track. The transfer case has been modified to give a top speed in low range of 50 mph, and the suspension has been tuned for better handling. (More details on the Mojave’s upgrades here.)

 

Jeep specifically chose the Gladiator rather than the Wrangler for the Mojave treatment because the longer wheelbase gives it better stability at high speeds. (There was a Wrangler Mojave in 2011, but it was primarily a tape-stripe package.) The Gladiator Mojave takes direct aim at Ford’s Ranger Raptorif it ever comes to the U.S., that is.

Gladiator Mojave: Top Down and Comfy

We were seriously bummed to miss out on the high-speed off-road action, but for tooling around the suburbs, the Mojave wasn’t bad at all. We were able to enjoy some of the Mojave’s more subtle upgrades, like the bespoke seats, which are supportive without being restrictive. We rather liked the steering wheel, which gets proper thumb-rests—most Gladiators (and Wranglers) have protrusion-free wheels in order to avoid injuring your digits in case the wheel kicks back while you’re rock crawling.

And, of course, we were all too happy to have a convertible pickup truck. Our tester had the optional fold-back soft top, with a removable rear window and C-pillar covers. That back window can be a bit fiddly—we wondered for a moment if the person who wrote the instructions in the owner’s manual had ever actually tried doing removing it—but once mastered, the whole thing comes apart (and goes back together) pretty easily.

The Jeep’s top is of the “Sunrider” variety that can be folded back to open the roof over both front and rear seats. It doesn’t drop all the way down to bed level, so it doesn’t block the view in the rear view mirror. (You can also remove the entire roof if you are so inclined, or exchange it for a hard top.) Like the Wrangler, the Gladiator opens to the sky right above the driver, a nice change for shorter drivers who are used to being under the eaves of the windshield in most convertible cars. On the other hand, the body structure has a beam that connects the A, B and C pillars, so the Gladiator doesn’t quite have the open feel of a typical convertible; it feels more like a car with a big sunroof—and sunroofs are a hell of a lot easier to open.

Gladiator Mojave: On-Road Driving Experience

Once on the road, the experience is, perhaps predictably, rather Jeep-like. Though Jeep says the Mojave’s suspension is tuned for a firmer ride, we thought the Gladiator was more comfortable than the last Wrangler we drove… until it wasn’t. The ride felt old-school-Caddy smooth on most surfaces—thank you, extra-long wheelbase and big fat tires—but the moment the pavement got choppy (or even sectional, as on the 405 freeway), the Gladiator began to get jiggy with it.

The oversize tires turn the steering box into more of a suggestion box, the good news being that if you’re patient, the Gladiator will eventually change to some close approximation of the direction you specified. The Gladiator Mojave can get around corners a lot faster than we expected, or indeed, once we had experienced its cornering behavior, than we wanted to. The grip limits on the pavement are low, and tire wail loud enough to render the horn superfluous.

One thing that did surprise us was the engine’s lack of in-gear power. All Gladiators come with Chrysler’s 285-hp 3.6-liter V-6, and offer a choice between a six-speed manual and an eight-speed automatic. Our tester had the stick, and we liked the clutch and shifter feel. But while the Gladiator felt nice and spry off the line, once on the move it’s another story. If you want to accelerate from 60 mph to 70 and prefer not to wait for overnight delivery, you’ll have to downshift the double-overdrive transmission to 3rd gear—and this despite the Mojave using the lower 4.10 final-drive ratio from the Rubicon. We feel sympathy for those driving Gladiator Sports and Overlands with their 3.73:1 axles. Keeping pace on the hilly roads of Malibu made us feel like Professor Marvel behind the curtain—but then again, it’s our own damn fault for insisting on a stick-shift. We’ve driven Gladiators with the 8-speed automatic, which makes all of these problems go away.

Of course, virtually everything we’ve said in the last three paragraphs completely misses the point of the Gladiator Mojave—the point that the Jeep folks were unable to drive home due to the pandemic. Of course the Gladiator Mojave makes on-road compromises, and that’s the price you pay for off-road ability. You want no-compromises, buy a Grand Cherokee.

Gladiator Mojave: Off-Road Driving Potential

And what of the Gladiator’s desert-bashing abilities? Normally we take a show-me attitude toward this kind of thing, but in our experience, Jeep rarely makes a promise it can’t keep. Every Wrangler and Gladiator we’ve driven off-road has done everything the spokespeople said it would, and if Jeep says the Mojave will bash through the desert at ludicrous speed, we’re inclined to believe them. (That’s a courtesy we would not extend to every automaker.) Hopefully, once the planet re-opens, we’ll be able to see for ourselves.

Gladiator Mojave: Should You Buy It?

But even if we grant the Gladiator Mojave the benefit of the doubt, potential buyers have to ask themselves: Is this really the Jeep I want?

Switching on Sensible Dad Mode: The Mojave is the most expensive of Gladiator models, starting at $45,000 including destination fee. That’s about ten grand more than a basic Gladiator Sport, which is better-behaved on-road and no shrinking violet on the rocks. Our beautiful red tester, equipped with a towing package, upgraded stereo, both hard- and soft-tops, and a bunch of other options, listed for nearly $58,000. Our eyes bulged, too.

As cool as the Gladiator—any Gladiator—is, one must be conscious of the fact that it is a compromise. Wranglers are better off-road, since they have shorter wheelbases and overhangs. Rangers, Tacomas and Colorados are better pickup trucks. And, of course, proper convertibles make better convertibles.

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Sensible Dad Mode off: You can still haul a crap-load of toilet paper in the Gladiator Mojave’s bed. Also, there aren’t many other vehicles under $100,000 that are as cool as the Jeep Gladiator. We loved almost every minute behind the wheel.

So if desert running is your thing, or even if it’s not, go for it. We’re pretty sure the Gladiator Mojave will do exactly what you want. With any luck, one of these days we’ll get to find out for sure.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 4×4 Quick Facts

  • Base Price: $45,370
  • Horsepower: 285 hp
  • Torque: 260 lb-ft
  • Transmission: Choice of six-speed manual or eight-speed automatic
  • Drive: 4×4 with a low-range transfer case
  • Suspension: Upgraded with 2.5-inch Fox shocks, cast iron steering knuckles, reinforced axles

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2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 4×4 Specifications
ON SALENow
PRICE$45,370/$57,720 (base/as tested)
ENGINE3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION6-speed manual
LAYOUT4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup truck
EPA MILEAGE16/23 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H218.0 x 73.8 x 75.0 in
WHEELBASE137.3 in
WEIGHT4,952 lb
0-60 MPH7.9 sec
TOP SPEED97 mph

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