The Jeep Gladiator Mojave deserves better than New York City in the spring of 2020.
It is, after all, the latest and arguably greatest of the already-great Gladiator breed — an off-road pickup truck created by the first name in American off-roaders. It’s designed for fast running over rocky terrain, first and foremost, replete with tough all-terrain gear like Fox internal bypass shocks and front hydraulic jounce bumpers, 33-inch all-terrain tires, an extra inch of ride height up front and stronger axles — all on top of the Rubicon model’s already-impressive suite of features, like a disconnecting stabilizer bar up front and locking differentials front and rear.
It’s enough to make the Mojave the first Jeep to earn the new Desert Rated badge, signifying that it’s ready to take on not just forest trails and rolling plains, but the dry dust of places like Baja California. In those sorts of environments, the removable top, detachable doors and fold-flat windshield all come into their own, bringing driver and passengers closer to the warmth and wind of the natural world than any other new vehicle can manage.
And yet, my time with said Jeep landed during the deepest, darkest part of our national coronavirus-related shutdown, in the densest part of both the East Coast’s population and the viral outbreak…during a particularly cold, especially gray April.
The closest thing to a silver lining was knowing that, if things went all I Am Legend, the Mojave would probably be one of the better vehicles for going full Plissken and making an escape from New York. (Yes, I’m mixing movie metaphors. Deal with it.) Still, I made the most of it: tearing up the local pockmarked highways and roughshod side streets, venturing upstate for a little socially-distant hiking, and occasionally hopping the curb just because I could.
The Gladiator Mojave isn’t quite a Ford F-150 Raptor, but it’s close
The Jeep product planners were clearly slinging their throwing knives at a picture of Ford’s saurian off-roader when working on the Mojave; both vehicles, after all, are four-door pickups designed to whup ass at speed over dry, desert terrain first and foremost. Yet the Jeep isn’t quite as well-rounded a performer; its ancient 3.6-liter V6’s 285 hp and 260 lb-ft is no match for the thumping twin-turbo V6 that makes 450 hp and 510 lb-ft in the Raptor. The optional eight-speed automatic of my tester was forced to work its butt off to hustle the Jeep along with traffic — and between the hardworking engine and the meaty off-road tires, I barely managed 15 miles per gallon.
Still, it does boast a fair number of similarities (not the least of them being the Ford Performance-baiting bright blue paint of my test truck). Like the Raptor, the trick with the Mojave’s suspension is that, if the ride gets rough, you don’t slow down — you speed up. Driving along gnarled cobblestone streets in Brooklyn’s Red Hook at 20 miles per hour was borderline uncomfortable; once I pushed the speed up to 35, though, the Fox shocks began to work their magic, blending the oscillations into a comfortable ride. It’s rather like getting a powerboat on plane; once you push through the chop and get it moving, she rides smooth as glass.
Mojave trim’s aesthetics are more questionable than its mission
There’s no question that, as with the Wrangler, the more off-road-ready a Gladiator looks, the more attractive it is. Base models aren’t unappealing, but Jeeps are meant to be kicking ass out past the pavement. Still, while the Mojave has the capability to grab tons of buyers, the orange trim that comes with the Baja-blasting version is a little less than ideal. Sunkist hot spots pop up across both exterior and interior; while those accents would add panache to a Gladiator painted black or gray, they clash with Hydro Blue Pearl Coat, color theory be damned.
Likewise, the interior is saddled with not just orange trim for the circular air vents, but matching stitching on the steering wheel, shifter, handbrake — even the seats, whether you go for cloth or the $1,595 leather trim that seems like an indulgence on an off-roader designed to go without doors. (That said, it’s probably easier to clean sand off treated leather than grippy cloth.)
It’s super-capable, but make sure you’re going to use it before you fork over the big bucks
Few vehicles you can operate with a regular driver’s license and drive on the roads today are as capable as the Gladiator Mojave. It packs nearly a full fat of ground clearance, has an approach angle just shy of 45º and a departure angle of 25.5º, and can drive sideways along slopes so steep, you’d have trouble following on foot. It can drive across rough terrain at speeds that would demolish most trucks and SUVs.
But before you sign on the line for a desert-running truck that will almost certainly be hard to buy for less than $50,000 and may well run you past $60K, ask yourself: what are you really going to use this Gladiator for?
If you’re like most of us, you probably want it because you need a midsize truck, but you want the look of a Jeep, and you want to be able to take the roof down and the doors off. In which case, you’ll be every bit as well-served with a Gladiator Sport S, which you can drive off the lot for less than $40,000. It may not be as obscenely capable off-road, but it still has the ability to go places many trucks can’t. (Plus, remember: as with driving in winter, a different set of tires might be all you really need to improve your vehicle’s capabilities.) And while kudos are to be handed out to Jeep for offering even the Mojave with a stick shift, it’s also found in the lesser models — although if you’re going to go rock-crawling, the automatic is probably a better choice, anyway.
Still, the Mojave’s suspension tweaks that make it better for fast running on bad terrain would make it a better fit than the Rubicon for most people who aren’t doing much in the way of actual rock-crawling, even if you live a long ways from Mexico; bombing down bad dirt roads (or terrible paved ones) is far more like the Baja 1000 than it is tackling the Rubicon trail. If money’s no concern, then it’s the Gladiator I’d choose. But you shouldn’t feel like you have to have it; the joy of Jeep life-with-a-bad can be had for way less.
Price as Tested: $58,320
Drivetrain: 3.6-liter V6, eight-speed automatic, four-wheel-drive
Power: 285 hp, 260 lb-ft
Fuel Economy: 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Jeep provided this product for review.