Words: Calvin Chan
Photography: Calvin Chan
Published: November 14, 2020
Let's get the disclaimer out of the way first: we did not take this brand new Jeep Gladiator Mojave off the beaten path. It never touched sand, dirt, or even water. It barely caressed a puddle. This is a review purely based on our on-road impressions, living with this high-speed dune-chasing Mojave on a daily basis, and commuting with Jeep’s first desert-rated truck. Oh, and you can blame the Ford F-150 Raptor for these oxymoronic creatine-snorting muscle machines - locking diffs, mud-terrain tires, and heavy duty shocks were always going to be overkill for civilian duty but it doesn’t stop people from wanting them. Now that that’s out of the way, we can begin to explain why the Mojave is one of the most enjoyable Jeeps we’ve ever tested.
Think of the Mojave as a repurposed, slightly more athletic Rubicon, meant to traverse dunes, deserts, and loose surfaces. Don’t live next to a desert? Fear not, that’s not the Mojave’s sole purpose. Canada doesn’t even have deserts, does it? (Turns out, there is one and only one: the Okanagan Desert centred around the city of Osoyoos in British Columbia. It’s also the hottest place in Canada, but I digress). To cope with the newfound terrain, the Mojave comes with new 2.5-inch FOX internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs, FOX front hydraulic jounce bumpers, a reinforced frame, a one-inch front suspension lift kit with a front skid plate, reinforced axles with cast-iron steering knuckles, a rear locking differential, and optional 33-inch Falken Wildpeak mud-terrain tires wrapped around 17-inch wheels (all-terrains are standard). This is already in addition to the two-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range gear ratio, and heavy-duty Dana 44 front and rear axles with a 4.10:1 axle ratio. Unlike the Rubicon, the Mojave does without a locking front diff and uses an open one instead for quicker and more stable driving on sandy surfaces.
You will be able to distinguish the Mojave from its Rubicon brother via the unique hood scoop, Mojave script decals, newly minted Desert Rated badge on the fender panels, orange accents on the tow hooks and badges, new 17-inch wheel design, and the distinctive Gobi paint finish that solidifies the Mojave’s place in the desert. The optional body-coloured fender flares help too but it’s safe to say that no matter the spec, nothing can get rid of the Gladiator’s awkward rear-end proportions.
What does all this mumbo jumbo mean to the average driver? Well, other than being one of the most rugged mid-size trucks in the segment, the Mojave clocks in 45 kg lighter than the equivalent Gladiator Rubicon, comes with a standard 6-speed manual transmission (8-speed automatic is optional for $1,795), and the new FOX shocks prevent the dampers from bottoming out on high-speed sand runs and maximize comfort and handling on everyday roads. The FOX jounce bumpers on the other hand work as back-up, tagging in when the suspension hits its maximum compression. Not only does this serve to soften hard impacts, but it creates a more civilized demeanor on-road. Furthermore, no other truck lets you unhook its doors, flip the roof off, and fold the front windshield flat. For all intents and purposes, it’s a truck version of the Wrangler made for the desert, but with a longer wheelbase.
That longer wheelbase is key. Like the Gladiator Rubicon we tested earlier in the year, the stretched out length quells some of the Mojave’s cumbersome behaviour on long straights, and you don’t fight the steering wheel as much just to keep the Jeep from veering into the neighbouring lane. The fact that the Mojave still uses a recirculating-ball power steering system rather than a more modern and sophisticated rack-and-pinion system lowers its dynamic acuity, meaning it still requires full two-arm concentration to tame the narrow frame, wandering front tires, and persistent rear-axle sway. There are butt-clenching moments when you’re just not sure if the car will settle right-side up when hitting nasty expansion joints on the highway. The optional mud-terrain tires are incredibly noisy too.
The Mojave is not very rewarding to drive on city streets but the long-travel suspension works wonders at muting out unwanted bumps from pockmarked roads, and adds some semblance of credibility as a daily driver, rather than being just a one-trick desert pony. The Mojave actually feels more sorted and grounded than the Rubicon, but the solid front axle means the ride quality doesn’t hold a candle to other trucks equipped with independent front suspensions like the Chevrolet Colorado. Even the larger Ford F-150 Raptor manages to handle undulations and flat roads with more poise, and is less of a liability where urban driving is concerned.
I’ve been to a real desert once, the Sahara Desert, but I only had access to a more primitive mode of transportation. Barely one horsepower. His name was Bob. Bob was a camel. But there were dunes that even my own two feet would struggle to climb, let alone his. So my point of reference is skewed to the Mojave’s true sand climbing potential, but I like to think that it could, especially with a naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 with plenty of low-range torque. It makes for a decent companion delivering 285 hp and 260 lb-ft. It has plenty of grunt throughout the range and gets this heavy truck going without delay, and rowing the gears yourself via the standard six-speed manual gives you total control over the powertrain. It also lets you make the most of the V6’s rather underwhelming output when compared to a diesel or V8. It does carry long gearing, so you shouldn’t be too focused on early upshifts. Best to wring out second and third gear before worrying about fuel consumption and top gear. The shifter carries a fair amount of travel and even though the shift gates are somewhat ambiguous, the stubby knob makes it easy to wrestle around. The clutch pedal offers a decent level of resistance but the bite point can be quite vague at times, and isn’t very lenient or forgiving.
Inside, the differences between a Mojave and Rubicon remain sparse. The Mojave gets integrated upper bolsters on the front seats to better keep occupants from rolling about, and they’re available in both leather or cloth with orange accent stitching and Mojave logos. The steering wheel also receives a slightly thicker rim but we couldn’t tell the difference. Elsewhere, the interior is essentially carried over from the Wrangler. The modern design is a far cry from the outgoing models, hosting durable feeling buttons and knobs with waterproofing seals. It looks like a Jeep and best of all, feels like a Jeep. The infotainment unit is one of the best in terms of functionality, responsiveness, and learning curve. Even your grandparents would be able to navigate through the menus, as it follows a simple smartphone-like layout with shortcuts on the bottom, all of which can be dragged and dropped around.
There’s more capability embedded into the Mojave than most owners will ever utilize. Those living in Ontario won’t even have a neighbouring desert to traverse to. But that defeats the point of emotional and somewhat illogical purchases of these go-anywhere-mentality trucks. We buy it because we want it, and daydream about one day taking it to where it belongs. There’s an all encompassing entertainment value to that, and paves the way for specialized trucks like this Mojave. Admit it, the world is better with them around. Sweep your ergonomic woes aside, and you will find much to enjoy. Besides, the Okanagan Desert is only a 37-hour drive away. Best get going.
Model: 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave
Paint Type: Gobi
Base Price: $54,845
Price as Tested: $67,965
Length/Width/Height (mm): 5,539 / 1,875 / 1,857
Curb weight (kg): 2,246
Engine: 3.6-litre V6
Horsepower: 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Engine & Drive Configuration: Front engine, 4WD
Observed Fuel Consumption (L/100km): 15.4
Tires: Falken Wildpeak M/T; LT285/70R17C