If you’re just here for the verdict, let me save you the scrolling: the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the best Gladiator, full stop. The end. You’re welcome. If you’d like to know why, by all means, keep reading.
Forget the Rubicon. The Gladiator Mojave will do 90 percent of what the Rubicon will, while the Rubicon won’t do half of what the Mojave will. This is the Gladiator you want. You’ll have more fun in more situations than any other model.
Here’s why: The Gladiator was never going to be a great rock crawler, and that’s what the Rubicon is set up to do. Scratch and claw its way over anything. The problem is, it has the longest wheelbase of any truck in its class. This means despite having the best ground clearance in the class, it also has the worst breakover angle (or ramp-over angle) among off-road models. Without modifications, the truck is going to drag its belly and potentially high-center on obstacles other trucks would clear, as we experienced several times on the Mojave Road.
(In case you live outside the Southwestern U.S., it’s pronounced mo-HAH-vay, though mo-HAH-vee is also acceptable.)
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I’ll get straight to the point: the Mojave is the best Jeep Gladiator you can buy. Why? I’m writing up the full review now, but it’s simple: it has the most fun. The Rubicon is great and all, but that long wheelbase and subsequently weak break over angle mean it’s never going to be much of a rock crawler, lockers or not. That crawl over anything suspension means it can’t go very fast off-road before the shocks and springs can’t keep up (the front axle anti-roll bar disconnect only works up to 18 mph). It’s a great truck, but it’s trying to be too many things at once (max payload, max towing, biggest back seat, best rock crawler, built with the most shared parts, etc). Not the Mojave. Think that heavy live front axle is a liability? I did, and I was as wrong as you are. The Fox shocks and hydraulic jounce bumpers are phenomenal, letting this truck fly over rough trails like a Raptor. The slightly wider track and Falken Wildpeak all-terrains make it super stable when you’re screaming across the desert or down a logging road. The rear manual locker and front brake-based virtual locker make it nearly as good rock crawling as the Rubicon, with an extra inch of front clearance to boot. Forget the Rubicon. The Gladiator Mojave will do 90 percent of what the Rubicon will while the Rubicon won’t do half of what the Mojave will. This is the Gladiator you want. You’ll have more fun in more situations than any other Jeep truck. Full review coming soon to MotorTrend.com P.S. It’s pronounced mo-ha-vay for those reading outside the Southwest.
This rock crawling weakness is the Gladiator Mojave’s strength. Long wheelbase vehicles are inherently more stable when cornering, meaning they’re less likely to oversteer. Although power slides are fun, on a bumpy trail they can easily lead to a tire digging in and flipping the vehicle. Stable is what you want.
That’s all well and good, but surely you’re thinking the heavy live front axle can’t possibly be good for high-speed off-roading. Live axles are for rock crawling, and anyone who’s seen a picture of a trophy truck running the Mint 400 or Baja 1000 knows they use an independent front suspension. That’s what I thought, and I’ve driven a Class 7 Baja truck.
I was wrong, and so are you. If you think Jeep didn’t do their homework before coming up with an all-new “Desert Rated” badge to complement the well-known “Trail Rated” badge, you don’t know Jeep. Authenticity is their stock and trade because otherwise they’re just another SUV brand. They could’ve whiffed this thing easy, and they didn’t.
Ripping down the back entry road into Johnson Valley Off-Highway Vehicle Area, where the annual King of the Hammers off-road race takes place, the Mojave is eating up the winter-ravaged dirt road. Up ahead, Soggy Lake is appropriately named—for now—rather than ironically thanks to heavy late season rains. BLM graders haven’t made it out here yet, and the road bears witness. The long-wheelbase Mojave, bolstered by a slightly wider front track versus the Rubicon, and Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tires, doesn’t care. Things are bumpy, sure, but the speed I’m carrying is staggering.
Jeep knocked down the low-range ratio on the Mojave to the standard 2.72:1 compared to the Rubicon’s 4.10:1, so it can go faster in four-low, but it’s still electronically limited to 45 mph. Four-high, however, does not have a limit so far as I can tell. I chickened out at 75 mph on the trail—the nearest hospital is 34 miles away.
When my photographer, Jade, finally caught up in my long-term Ram 1500 Laramie, I asked him how fast he’d managed in that independent front suspension 4X4. On the smoothest sections, he said, 45 mph. He felt like he was hurting it. That’s about as fast as we managed in the Gladiator Rubicon on the Mojave Road, and it wasn’t pleasant, either. The Gladiator Mojave could’ve gone faster if it had a more reckless driver.
That’s on the little stuff, though.
In the big holes and moguls, the Ram—and even the Rubicon in similar situations—had to slow 20 mph or less to keep from bottoming out the suspension and avoid breaking things. The Rubicon can at least unlock its front anti-roll bar under 18 mph, allowing the axle to seesaw over offset moguls without throwing the rest of the truck around, but that’s slow. I was hitting these suckers at 45 mph in the Mojave.
The only time the Mojave met its limit was on closely spaced moguls, where the peak of one hump is pushing the rear end up and the nose down just as the front end is about to impact the next hump. It’s about the hardest you can bash a front suspension, and the Mojave’s big shocks and hydraulic bump stops not only saved the front end but made the big impacts significantly softer than in any other off-road truck I’ve driven through the same obstacle—Raptor included. Unless you’ve got trophy truck suspension travel, these spots are going to slow you or break you, and the Mojave doesn’t have to slow nearly as much as other trucks.
Those suspension party pieces all have Fox written on them. Big 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks live at all four corners with remote reservoirs to improve cooling. We cringe the hardest at the big hits, but it’s the constant high-frequency stuff like driving over a washboard section of trail that will overheat a shock absorber and blow out a seal. Fox knows off-road racing, which is why the Ford F-150 Raptor uses their shocks, too.
Jeep takes it a step further than the Raptor, though, installing Fox hydraulic jounce bumpers (or bump stops) for the front axle. Every suspension system has bump stops so the axle or linkage doesn’t slam into the frame when it bottoms out. Most are just hunks of rubber. These ones are like another set of heavy duty shock absorbers, giving the suspension extra absorption while protecting the parts. To give them more room to work, Jeep lifted the Gladiator Mojave’s front end an extra inch, so the front axle has more travel before bottoming out.
If only they’d done the same for the rear axle. As one of the Mojave’s few areas with room for improvement, the rear axle comes down harder on its plain old bump stops than the front, and you can feel it in the cab. It’s not enough to unsettle the truck, but you could go even faster even more comfortably if the rear axle wasn’t getting beat up as bad. Even without the expensive hydraulic bump stops, a little more travel would help.
The other area is under the hood. The standard V-6 is powerful enough on paper, but it is hampered by long transmission gears from its eight-speed automatic. It gets the job done fine, but when the truck can handle this much speed off-road, you want to get up to speed fast. Foot flat on the floor, the Mojave gets moving, but you keep thinking how much better it would be if it had Raptor power. This thing needs some turbos, or at least a couple more cylinders.
A smaller gripe is the selectable rear differential locker programming. Like some other off-road trucks and SUVs that offer manual lockers, Jeep has currently programmed the differentials so it only works in four-low—though it promises to enable the locking rear-diff in 4-Hi later in the model year. To me, this defeats the purpose of making it manually selectable rather than automatic, the work of corporate lawyers overruling driver judgement. It at least makes some sense in rock crawling scenarios, where a situation that requires a locker likely requires low gears. In desert racing, though, you run in four-high with the rear end locked for maximum traction when the wheels aren’t always on the ground at the same time.
Anyone not living in the Southwest—or a similar area—is probably still wondering why they should buy the Mojave over the Rubicon, so let’s lay it out. Yes, the Mojave loses the Rubicon’s selectable front locker and disconnecting front anti-roll bar, but it supplants them with a virtual brake-based front locker and that trick suspension that doesn’t need to disconnect anything. Remember the wheelbase talk? In almost any situation you can get a Gladiator into, the Mojave’s virtual front locker will get you out nearly as well as the Rubicon’s mechanical locker. The Rubicon will never keep up with the Mojave at higher speeds, period.
What about the normal truck stuff? Both models haul the same 1,200 pounds in the payload department, though the automatic Rubicon hauls a negligible 40 pounds less. The Rubicon tows 1,000 pounds more, 7,000 to the Mojave’s 6,000, so if you own a heavy trailer, there’s that. Most people don’t, and they’ll appreciate the Mojave’s improved steering. Rubicons still tend to wander on the road, an artifact of that live front axle. All the work Jeep’s done to stabilize the Mojave off-road actually pays off on pavement. There’s so little wandering it’s easy to forget it’s still a live front axle.
Maybe you can’t go desert racing every weekend where you live. It doesn’t matter. Be it a forest service road, a logging road, an off-road park, or your back 40, you can rip it up in the Mojave in ways you just can’t with any other Gladiator. Then you can drive it to work Monday more comfortably and easily. The extra $245 it’ll cost you over a Rubicon is the best money you’ll spend on a new truck. Yeah, that makes it the most expensive Gladiator. It’s worth it.
Click here to find out what our colleagues at FourWheeler thought about the Mojave.
|2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 4×4|
|LAYOUT||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck|
|ENGINE||3.6L/285-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6|
|CURB WEIGHT||5,000 lb (mfr)|
|L x W x H||218.0 x 73.8 x 73.1 in|
|0-60 MPH||8.5 sec (MT est)|
|EPA FUEL ECON, CITY/HWY/COMB||17/22/19 mpg|
|ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY||198/153 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||1.02 lb/mile|
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