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The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the Best Gladiator You Can Buy

Trick suspension lets the Mojave go almost anywhere, and get there way faster.

Scott EvansAuthorJade NelsonPhotography

If you're just here for the verdict, let us 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 have the best ground clearance in the class, it also has the worst breakover angle (or ramp-over angle) among off-road models. This means 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.)

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. While 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. For example, our time in

If you think Jeep didn't do its 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 the company's stock and trade, because otherwise it's just another SUV brand. Jeep could've whiffed this thing easy, but did not.

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 temporarily appropriately named 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 we were carrying was staggering.

Jeep knocked down the low-range ratio on the Mojave's transfer case to the standard 2.72:1 compared to the Rubicon's 4.0:1 so it can go faster in 4-Lo, but it's still electronically limited to 45 mph. 4-Hi, however, does not have a limit so far as we could tell. We chickened out at 75 mph on the trail. The nearest hospital is 34 miles away.

When our photographer caught up in their Ram 1500 Laramie, I asked how fast they'd managed in that independent front suspension four-by. On the smoothest sections, they said, 45 mph and they felt like they were 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 dumber driver.

That's on the little stuff, though.

In the big holes and moguls, the Ram and even the Mojave 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 frontend but made the big impacts significantly softer than 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 .

Jeep takes it a step further than the Raptor, though, installing Fox hydraulic jounce bumpers (or bumpstops) for the front axle. Every suspension system has bumpstops 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 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 frontend an extra inch so the front axle has more travel before bottoming out.

If only they'd done the same for the rear axle. One of the Mojave's few areas with room for improvement, the rear axle comes down harder on its plain old bumpstops 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 bumpstops, a little more travel would help.

The other area is under the hood. The standard V-6 is powerful enough on paper, but 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—tTo some, 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 4-Hi 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 similar 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 pay 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 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.

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