When you claim a new vehicle offers “the ultimate in high-speed off-road capability and performance”, you better be able to back it up. Jeep made those claims when releasing their new Gladiator variant – the Mojave – in February and by all accounts, they’ve delivered.
Making its world debut at the Chicago Auto Show in February, the Gladiator Mojave not only brings a new name to the Jeep family, but a new badge, too.
Welcome Desert Rated
All Jeep aficionados are familiar with the brand’s ‘Trail Rated’ badge that is reserved for only the most off-road-capable versions within a model family. Jeep use a series of tests and measures to determine if a variant is worthy of the Trail Rated badge. These are: water fording ability; traction; ground clearance; manoeuvrability; and articulation. To achieve Trail Rated status, various parts are fitted and systems upgraded.
Trail Rated is all about capability over rough and challenging terrain, but it’s not about high speed. The new Desert Rated badge brings similar off-road capability, but the focus of the parts and upgrades is making the vehicle more suitable for high-speed desert running. Compared to the Trail Rated criteria, Desert Rated measures include: traction; ground clearance; manoeuvrability; ride control and stability; and desert prowess.
Granted, ‘desert prowess’ is a vague term, and like the other criteria, it’s open to interpretation. That being said, this is no cynical exercise on Jeep’s part and what they apply to vehicles that wear a “rated” badge shows they’re serious about making them more capable.
So, what does the Mojave’s Desert Rated badge bring over a regular Gladiator?
For starters, there’s chassis reinforcement. There are already cases online of Gladiators with bent frames caused by overloading or overexertion, so the Mojave has had the chassis beefed up in key points to handle the sort of jumps and pounding encountered in desert running. Engine mounts have been reinforced for the same reason.
While a Gladiator Mojave won’t be tackling Dakar anytime soon (but wouldn’t it be cool if it did!), enthusiasts can unleash a little of their inner Stephane Peterhansel knowing they’re less likely to put a kink in the frame or have an engine mount give way.
The next key addition is a Fox shock upgrade. All Gladiator models run five-link suspension front and rear, but the Mojave upgrades this with new, specially-tuned Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs. Ride height is raised by one inch over the standard Gladiator and half an inch over the Gladiator Rubicon.
Fitted to all four corners, Jeep says the tuning of these shocks maximizes handling, ride comfort and bottoming resistance on high-speed sand runs. The ‘internal bypass’ means passages in each shock allow fluid to bypass the piston through regulated ports as it moves through the range of travel. The result, according to Jeep, is a predictable ride over normal off-road driving conditions, with the ability to ramp up damping force in extreme use.
These shocks run the same military-grade fluid used by desert racers for consistent performance at high temperatures. External reservoirs contribute to keeping the suspension fluid cool, too, further preventing fade in hot conditions at high speed.
To handle the sort of high-speed jumps that a Trail Rated Jeep would struggle with, Fox front hydraulic jounce bumpers, aka bump stops, are also fitted on the Mojave’s front end. Essentially, the jounce bumpers act as a secondary pair of shocks, softening impacts from hard landings by providing additional damping force and bottoming control in the last few inches of suspension travel. As with the remote reservoir shocks, these Fox jounce bumpers combine race-proven technology with cutting-edge features. As fitted to the Gladiator Mojave, Jeep claims they’re also an industry first for a production vehicle.
To accommodate this suspension package, the track is increased by a half-inch over a regular Gladiator.
Axles on the Mojave are the same heavy-duty third-generation Dana 44 units found on the regular Gladiator, but these have been reinforced, with thicker tube walls front and rear, to handle the sort of jumps and pounding encountered in high-speed running.
Other elements fitted to the Mojave include Jeep Performance Parts “sand slider” side steps, a front skid plate and 17-inch wheels shod with 33-inch Falken Wildpeak A/T tyres. Falken Wildpeak mud-terrain tyres are optional.
4x4 at Speed
Approach, departure and breakover angles on the Mojave are unaltered from the stock Gladiator Sport, at 40.8 degrees, 25 degrees and 18.4 degrees, respectively, so the Gladiator Rubicon trumps the Mojave in this respect.
The Mojave doesn’t run the Rubicon’s Rock-Trac four-wheel drive system, instead using Jeep’s Command-Trac part-time 4x4 system. As the Mojave wasn’t made for the ultra-low-speed rock crawling that Trail Rated Gladiator Rubicons are made for, this is a better choice as it allows higher running speeds, especially in 4-speed low-range.
According to Jeep, the two-speed transfer case, with a 2.72:1 low-range ratio and standard electronic-locking rear differential, makes for easier operation in dunes and other challenging desert environments. This compares to a 4:1 ratio on the Gladiator Rubicon. The Mojave’s crawl ratio is 57.3:1 with a manual transmission and 52.6:1 with an auto.
Key to the Mojave’s capability at speed in the dunes – and a key element in its Desert Rated status - is a first for Jeep in the ability to lock the rear diff in high-range four-wheel drive. Ensuring traction at speed over sand and other loose surfaces, this feature wasn’t available from the Gladiator’s launch in the US, but will be added to models for the North American market later this year.
To make taking on the dunes easier, the Mojave also features an ‘Off-Road Plus’ button that adjusts throttle response, transmission shift points and traction control. The result is peak performance for higher speed passes on sand, as well as during low-speed negotiation of dunes and rock crawling.
The standard 3.6-litre Pentastar V6 petrol engine used in all Gladiator grades is unaltered for the Mojave, producing maximums of 213kW and 353Nm. (Note that max power is lightly up on the 209kW for Australian-delivered Gladiators). Surprisingly, given this Gladiator variant was made for sand and dusty off-road conditions, the air intake system is also unaltered. According to Jeep, testing of the Mojave showed the stock air filtration to be suitably sand- and dust-tight, so no modification was necessary.
The standard six-speed manual transmission and optional eight-speed auto are unaltered, too. A beefier 220Amp alternator is fitted in place of the standard 180Amp unit, though, with a 240Amp alternator optional.
Inside and Out Identification
With the sort of high-speed running that has driven the rest of the Mojave’s specification, the interior has also been modified to suit.
Front seats feature integrated upper bolsters to keep occupants cradled at speed. Available in cloth or leather, these seats also feature Mojave logos on the uprights and contrasting stitching in orange – which will be the “identification” colour for Desert Rated Jeeps in the same way that red is used for Trail Rated models.
That accent stitching extends to the steering wheel, which is a competition-type unit wrapped in leather, while overall interior colouring is available in a choice of Black or Steel Grey.
Outside, bold Mojave decals grace the sides of the “heavy-duty performance bonnet”, with the Desert Rated badge on the front guards.
As with most Jeeps, a wide range of accessories are available for the Gladiator Mojave, including a forward-facing off-road camera, which was previously a Rubicon-only option.
With the Gladiator only just reaching Australian shores at time of writing, it’s too early to tell if the Mojave will be added to the local lineup that currently comprises Overland and Rubicon grades. No doubt, Jeep Australia will use the local market’s reaction to these grades to determine if the range will be expanded.
That being said, the Mojave would make an excellent hero model for Jeep and tempting competitor for the Ford Ranger Raptor. On performance specs alone, it’s an intriguing match-up, with the 213kW Mojave topping the Ranger’s 157kW, while the Ford’s 500Nm exceeds the Jeep’s 353Nm.
C’mon Jeep, make it happen!
Words: Mike Ryan
Photos: FCA USA