2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Review: Ready for the Sand, Stuck on the Street

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Front Profile

Cars.com photos by Aaron Bragman

By Aaron Bragman

We were very excited to drive the new 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, the new Desert Rated off-road trim of Jeep’s new mid-size pickup truck, at the company’s launch event for the media at the Ocotillo Wells State Vehicular Recreational Area in Southern California. And then the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the planet, and all the plans were canceled. There would be no high-speed dune jumping, no blasting across the scrubland, no off-road shenanigans in Jeep’s new pre-runner-style factory Baja truck. 

So Jeep then scheduled this big blue beast for home delivery, and it showed up in my driveway since it wasn’t needed in California anymore. On the day before I was set to head to the new Holly Oaks Off-Road Park here in southeast Michigan, we were quarantined — the governor told us all to shelter in place, close down the schools and businesses, and keep our distance from everyone else. It was certainly the right move, but it did put an effective kibosh on my ability to test the new Gladiator’s off-road trim in a relative approximation of its intended environment. So instead, I’ll have to tell you about how it handles on the pavement and the muddy back roads of suburban Detroit and save the true off-road experience for some time later this year (hopefully). 

Related: Auto Show Face-Off: Jeep Gladiator Mojave Vs. Ford F-150 Raptor Vs. Chevrolet Colorado ZR2

What Makes a Mojave?

The basic idea of the Mojave trim level is to field a truck that can better go wheel-to-wheel with dedicated Baja-truck-style rigs from Ford, Chevrolet and, to some extent, Toyota. The Ford F-150 Raptor is the undisputed king of the hill for high-speed off-road trucks, but the Chevrolet Colorado ZR2 holds its own as well. The last time we threw the new ZR2 Bison up against a Gladiator Rubicon, the outcome was mixed the Gladiator was better at slow-speed rock climbing given its superior approach angles and bigger tires, but the Bison was definitely the better truck when the speeds climbed and the jumps started happening. The Gladiator Rubicon can go quickly over difficult terrain, and it jumps just fine but it doesn’t land all that well. 

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Rear Profile

The Mojave aims to solve that and equal the playing field. It starts with a dedicated suspension featuring 2.5-inch internal-bypass Fox shock absorbers with remote reservoirs and unique Fox hydraulic jounce bumpers, both meant to dramatically improve the way the heavy Gladiator handles itself over broken terrain. It sits a tad higher than a Rubicon, just a half inch, not enough to be noticeable. For more challenging situations, the Mojave’s four-wheel-drive system can be employed. It also differs from the one you’d find on a Rubicon it’s not the Rock-Trac system that the Rubi uses, with its 4:1 final drive ratio, but the Command-Trac system with its 2.72:1 rear gear. The key to going quickly off-road in sand is to keep your revs and speed up, and the Command-Trac system is better for this. Adding the ability both to engage the 4-Low transfer case at speeds up to 50 mph (not limited to 30 mph as in the Rubicon) and to lock the rear differential in 4-High makes the Mojave trim uniquely suited to that kind of use. 

Sadly, I didn’t have any terrain suitable to test that, but I did get to spend a few hours blasting down rural Michigan farm roads, which aren’t exactly smooth and glassy blacktop. From that similar taste, I can say what’s most remarkable about the Mojave is just how unremarkable it is it feels very much like a Rubicon on- and off-road, combining the Gladiator’s fantastic ride quality (thanks to its superlong wheelbase) with the soft yet controlled motions of the fancier shocks. Going 50-mph plus on rutted, ridiculous dirt roads was no challenge at all; the Mojave handled it with ease and comfort.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Tire

But it also feels exceptionally well composed on-road as well, with a quietness that the Rubicon lacks, despite the canvas soft-top that was fitted to my test vehicle. The reason for this: the tires, which are Falken Wildpeak All-Terrain rubber, not the more aggressive BFGoodrich Mud Terrains or Goodyear Wrangler DuraTracs often seen on Jeep’s Trail Rated trucks. They’re made more for sand driving than mudding or rock crawling, and as such have a less aggressive tread pattern that results in a quieter ride on pavement. How do they do on deep sand? I’ve no idea; check back later this year when we’ll hopefully get some time in one, somewhere sandier than suburban Detroit. 

How to Spot a Mojave

The changes that Jeep has wrought are more than the mechanical bits, however. Jeep also gave the Mojave a different visual personality, thanks to the adjustments that come with the new Desert Rated badge. First is the badge itself, which is orange as are the tow hooks, Mojave hood lettering (on a unique hood) and the interior stitching and trim rings. My test truck came in a vivid shade of blue that made the orange pop, with unique black wheels and a black interior that also set off the orange trim (a lighter-colored gray is also available, and is probably a better idea in the sunny desert). The seats themselves are different in the Mojave, meant to offer more bolstering and support for when you’re jumping and tossing the truck around through the dunes. They don’t feel appreciably different from other Gladiator seats, but they’re still comfortable and decently sized. 

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Hood Lettering

The rest of the interior is pretty much straight-up Gladiator/Wrangler (they share a lot in common). It’s stylish in a rugged and rough-and-tumble way, very well equipped and feels solidly screwed together. Legroom in the front and back seats is acceptable, and despite the narrow cabin, it’s still a fun place to be. Given that my test of the Mojave happened in Michigan in March and not the actual Mojave Desert as planned, I didn’t bother dropping the top or removing the doors but past Gladiator experiences with such amenities have proven to be massively enjoyable, putting the truck in a category that few others can match.

How Does It Compare?

It’s hard to say, without a direct head-to-head comparison, how the new Gladiator does in its intended role. What we can say definitively is that if you plan on picking one up for its desert prowess, you won’t be disappointed in how it drives the other 99% of the time that you’re not blasting across the dunes in it. It’s quieter than a Rubicon and more comfortable as a result, and seems to be exactly the same price. Starting at $45,370 (all prices include destination fee) for a base Mojave model, the exact same price as a Rubicon, you get all the aforementioned gear but not much else in terms of amenities. A leather interior is extra, as is the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen with navigation, heated seats and steering wheel, automatic transmission, Alpine premium audio, trailer tow package, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitor, a hard top, bedliner and tonneau cover. All of it costs extra. That’s why the price of my Gladiator Mojave was $59,750, but more loaded examples can easily top the $63,000 mark, or more.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Leather Interior

That’s a lot of money for a mid-size pickup of any kind, but its competitors vary in price and size. A new Ford F-150 Raptor starts a lot higher, however, with a base price of $55,150 for a Super Cab model and $58,135 for a full crew cab. However, you can get a lot more expensive with a Raptor, up to $80,000 for a loaded crew cab. The Chevy Colorado ZR2 is a bit more reasonable, starting at $42,495 for the extended-cab model, $44,095 for the crew cab, but the Bison package adds another $5,750 if you want something with a bit more bling (and underbody protection). The Colorado adds a unique turbo-diesel engine option as well, but we’ve found the gasoline version to be a better fast-driving desert racer. 

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