2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Test Drive

Ron Sessions | April 29, 2020

Introduction

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave front view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Barely through its first year in the market, the Jeep Gladiator is adding a new Mojave model to the top of its lineup. Joining the Gladiator Sport, Overland and Rubicon trims, the Mojave is the brand’s first Desert Rated version of the Wrangler-based midsize pickup.

The Gladiator Mojave brings special gearing, extra suspension lift, added ground clearance, wider stance, off-road racing shock absorbers and industry-first hydraulic jounce bumpers for high-speed desert operation over rough terrain and sand. Hence the Desert Rated moniker. 

The Gladiator Mojave’s chief competitor is Ford’s F-150 Raptor pickup. More hard-core off-road competition may be coming later this year in the form of the reborn Ford Bronco.

The 4-wheel-drive 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is priced at $45,615 including the $1,495 destination charge.

Recently, I had the chance to spend a week in a Gladiator Mojave in and around Tucson, Arizona, racking up 160 miles split nearly evenly between on- and off-pavement driving. The well-equipped test truck carried $15,435 in options, bringing the total to $61,050.

Styling and Design

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave rear view

Photo: Ron Sessions

Unique in the pickup truck universe, the Jeep Gladiator leverages the iconic design of the Wrangler SUV, essentially grafting a 5-foot pickup bed onto the rear of a Wrangler 4-door where the SUV’s enclosed cargo area would otherwise be. The end result is a 4-door crew-cab midsize pickup that looks like nothing else on the road.

Visually, the Mojave is distinguished from the base Gladiator Sport by its 1-inch suspension lift and ½-inch wider track. The Mojave features the same deep-cleated, upsized 33-inch 285/70R17 all-terrain tires as the Rubicon model, an inch larger in diameter and considerably meatier than the base Gladiator’s 245/75R17 all-season rubber. It rolls on 17-inch alloy wheels. High-clearance fender flares in standard black or optional body color make room for the larger tires.

From the Jeep Performance Parts catalog, the Mojave features standard sand-slider side rails. These are not side steps to help you climb into the cabin and are less robust than the rock-slider side rails on the Rubicon model, but do protect the undersides of the painted rocker panels from scratches and scrapes. Skid plates shield the fuel tank, transfer case and front underbody.

The new Gladiator Mojave features the same lightweight aluminum doors, hood, fenders and tailgate as the base model. As with all Gladiators, the doors are removable and the windshield can be folded down. Fog lamps and halogen headlamps are standard with LED headlamps and LED fog lamps available at extra cost. The Mojave has standard power windows, door locks and manual-folding power-adjustable, heated mirrors.

The Mojave offers the same top options as other Gladiators with a Sunrider folding soft top with sunroof standard and modular three-piece hardtop optional. In true Jeep fashion, the Mojave’s carpeting is removable and there are drain plugs in the floor to allow hosing out the interior.

The Mojave is built for the great outdoors. But if garageability is a concern, the midsize Gladiator Mojave is a bit more stashable than its other major high-speed desert-running pickup competitor, the Ford F-150 Raptor. The Mojave stands 18.2 ft long nose to tail, about a foot shorter than the SuperCrew version of the Raptor. And at 6.25 feet tall, the Mojave roof is a couple inches lower than the Raptor’s. The big differentiator is width, with the 86.3-inch wide Raptor more than a foot broader of beam than the Mojave. The important stats like ground clearance are similar for the two trucks with both Mojave and Raptor clearing terra firma with about 11-1/2 inches of air.

Comfort and Cargo

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 5-foot cargo bed

Photo: Ron Sessions

Pickup trucks, even those set up to handle high-speed desert running, need a big, open space for carrying large, cumbersome and messy cargo. The Gladiator Mojave obliges with a 5-foot long steel cargo bed access via a damped, three-position tailgate. Nearly 3-ft deep, the bed can gobble 35.5 cu. ft. of stuff. Above the wheelwells, it’s wide enough to carry a 4x8 sheet of plywood. As with other Gladiators, a roll-up tonneau cover and a spray-in bed liner are options, as are a 115-volt bed-mounted power outlet and adjustable-rail cargo tie-downs.

Inside the cab, there’s lockable hidden storage behind the rear seatback and more can be accessed by lifting up the rear seat bottom cushion.

Cloth seats are standard in the Mojave with leather coverings, heated in front, optional. The Mojave gets a leather-wrapped “competition” steering wheel. with an optional heated rim. There’s a traditional handbrake alongside the driver’s seat and console.

The Mojave’s front seatbacks have added side bolstering to help keep riders in place during off-road excursions and on steep slopes.

The door openings are not large and it can be a stretch for vertically challenged riders to climb aboard, but once aboard headroom and legroom for four adults—five when necessary—is ample.

As with all Gladiators, pushbutton start, cruise control and a tilt/telescoping steering column are standard with the Mojave getting dual-zone automatic climate control as well

Safety and Technology

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Fox shock absorbers

Photo: Ron Sessions

For the Mojave, a major focus is technology that makes the Mojave more capable at high-speed desert running. So, the Mojave gets the driver-selectable electronic locking rear differential for powering out of deep sand, but not the electronic locking front differential and anti-roll bar disconnect useful for slow, technical rock-climbing that are the focus of the other extra-athletic Gladiator off-road model, the Rubicon.

On the other hand, because the Mojave is designed to gobble off-road terrain at higher speeds, it gets FOX internal-bypass external reservoir shock absorbers at all four corners (double shocks per wheel at the rear). These are similar to the dampers in the F-150 Raptor. The internal bypass feature of the Mojave’s FOX shocks enables softer damping rates in normal street driving that maintains ride comfort, ramping up to stiffer damping over rougher terrain and longer vertical suspension travel. The external shock-absorber reservoirs help keep the damping fluid from overheating and cavitating during extended high-speed operation. The FOX shocks are exclusive to the Mojave.

Additionally, the Mojave utilizes FOX hydraulic jounce bumpers at the front for softer landings after getting airborne or crashing over uneven terrain at a hurried pace.

A big help off-road, especially over steep terrain, is an optional forward-facing camera that’s self-cleaning. It’s a huge plus when negotiating around steep drop-offs because the hood is so tall. 

Another Mojave tech feature that helps drivers negotiate desert terrain is the driver-selectable Off-Road Plus system. Activated by a button on the dash, the system allows the driver to adjust throttle response, automatic transmission shift points and traction control settings for varying off-road challenges. The system also allows the driver to lock the rear differential while moving at high speeds in 4WD High range.

Otherwise, the Mojave comes with the same content available in other uplevel Gladiator trims. This includes a standard 8-speaker AM/FM stereo with SiriusXM, displayed via a 7-inch Uconnect touchscreen. Standard Apple CarPlay and Android Auto cellphone mirroring are included with the Mojave, as well. An 8.4-inch screen with imbedded navigation is optional, as is a 9-speaker premium audio system.

Both audio systems offer good fidelity and roof-mounted speakers, but have notable levels road noise at highway speeds. The din is more noticeable in soft-top versions than Gladiators with the factory hardtop. 

One bugaboo with the system is navigation won’t stay zoomed out for more than 30 seconds or so, making it hard to look ahead for destinations until you’re right on top of them. Also, it takes too many taps of the minus button (not always easy to hit reliably in a moving Jeep) to get to the big picture.

In the area of safety, the Gladiator Mojave comes with a full tubular-steel roll cage, dual front and front-seat side airbags and a backup camera with trajectory lines. Optional safety tech includes blind-spot monitoring, rear park assist, adaptive cruise control and front collision warning systems. There are child safety seat LATCH points in the rear seat.

Driving Impressions

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 Engine

Photo: Ron Sessions

The Gladiator Mojave has the shorter 4.10:1 final-drive ratio for off-road perambulating, same as the Rubicon model. The extra inch of suspension lift adds an extra margin for the Mojave to clear off-road obstacles. Although it sounds counterintuitive, the combination of the less aggressive base 4WD transfer case with 2.72:1 low-range reduction (as opposed to the Rubicon model’s 4:1 low-range transfer case) and the shorter 4.10:1 final drive gives the Mojave the ability to go faster in low range and deliver what Jeep engineers think is the best combination of engine revs and vehicle speed to traverse deep sand at higher speeds.

About the only thing the Mojave lacks in comparison to the Ford F-150 Raptor is a special high-performance powerplant. Fans are waiting to see if Jeep will slip the 5.7- or 6.4-liter Hemi V8 into the engine bay as some aftermarket outfitters are now offering, not to mention a possible supercharged Hellcat derivative that would definitely make running for the border across open desert much more interesting. That said, with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque on tap, the Mojave’s 3.6-liter V6 has ample power and twist to move the Mojave with minimal effort, but not the entertaining wow factor of the Raptor’s awesome-sounding 450-hp, 510 lb-ft 3.5-liter twin-turbo V6. Compared to the premium-gulping Raptor, the Mojave is happy on a diet of regular unleaded fuel.

Unlike the Raptor, the Mojave is available with a choice of an automatic or manual transmission. The 8-speed ZF automatic in the Mojave doesn’t have the 10 speeds the Raptor has, but the 3.6-liter Pentastar V6 is flexible enough without the extra pair of cogs. The Mojave’s 8-speed automatic is a $2,000 upcharge over the base 6-speed manual. For serious off-roading, the automatic is a better choice for most drivers as there is less chance of rolling backwards and no worries about burning out the clutch on a steep incline. 

Mojave fuel economy is 17 mpg city/22 mpg highway/19 mpg combined for the automatic and 16 mpg city/23 mpg highway/19 mpg combined with the manual box.

The Mojave’s electro-hydraulic power steering is fairly quick with a 13.3:1 ratio. Steering effort is light, especially noticeable on the road at highway speeds where there is very little valley feel or self-centering. You need to concentrate to keep the Mojave on the straight and narrow. And because of the flat sides, there is some crosswind sensitivity. The Mojave’s turning diameter is a large 45.0 ft but way tighter, with less back and fill, than the Raptor’s. The standard Gladiator 4-wheel disc brakes deliver crisp top-of-pedal response and plenty of stopping power. Traction with the meaty 285/70R17 All-Terrain tires is phenomenal.

Automatic transmission-equipped Mojaves can tow up to 6,000 pounds. 

Conclusion

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave front and side view

Photo: Ron Sessions

With the Mojave, Jeep adds some depth to its roster of models with a pickup that can tackle open desert with prejudice. Obviously, Jeep engineers had the F-150 Raptor in their sights when they were developing the Mojave. In the current universe of high-speed desert-rated pickups, the Mojave is a lower-priced, midsize alternative to the costlier, full-size Raptor, provided the buyer doesn’t go too crazy with options. On the other hand, one of the desirable aspects of the new Mojave and all Jeep Gladiators is the extent of customization available. And right now, it’s the only pickup truck available with removable doors and a fold-down windshield that truly gets back to off-road basics.

What’s Next

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