by Matt Konkle
Quadratec Channel Editor
A Jeep’s trail-rated badge is its signature. Its John Hancock if you will. A notation that, unlike any other vehicle in its class, the machine has been tested against some of the most difficult off-road conditions around. Specifically, on California’s Rubicon Trail.
Well, as the Chicago and Philadelphia Auto Shows got underway recently, Jeep announced it is expanding that signature badge system with a new ‘Desert Rated’ version—something maintaining the brand’s stringent five category testing system, but tailoring it more towards desert capability.
And wearing this new badge is a special Gladiator trim level dubbed Mojave—a fully capable truck designed to tackle harsh, unpredictable driving conditions thanks to added traction, superior ride control and stability, as well as higher ground clearance and maneuverability.
"The Gladiator Mojave was part of the Gladiator's inception. This is actually something that we were working on since the beginning, but we wanted to take our time, we wanted to make sure that it was right," Pete Milosavlevski, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ chief engineer of the Wrangler and Gladiator, said earlier this year. "We spent a great deal of time upfront benchmarking. We benchmarked the competition both in our segment and outside our segment."
Most are familiar with Gladiator’s current trim system—Sport, Overland and Rubicon, but Mojave takes Jeep’s latest truck into a whole new world of high-speed desert driving, while still maintaining its dominance over traditional trail ride challenges.
Philadelphia’s Auto Show, currently taking place inside the city’s sprawling convention center through February 17, saw a Punk’n Metallic Mojave Gladiator take center stage in the Jeep display area.
It was surrounded by numerous other vehicles in the brand’s lineup—even another Punk’n Rubicon Gladiator which drew inevitable comparisons. And at first glance, the Mojave certainly looks just about the same as other Gladiators on the market. But when you peer closer, that sameness peels away and the new model’s features become more and more noticeable.
And it starts with that ‘Desert Rated’ badge.
"You can think of Desert Rated as Trail Rated's cousin or twin brother," said FCA’s Jeep Gladiator Brand Manager Brandon Girmus in an interview with The Drive earlier this year. "There is some crossover with Trail Rating, so you've got maneuverability, ground clearance, traction—but the traction is more for like loose surfaces like sand, and then ride control and stability.”
”The key thing is making sure that when you're flying fast through the desert over uneven terrain, the vehicle isn't kind of pitching and rolling all over the place, so that's where the (upgraded) shocks and suspension help keep the vehicle controlled and level. We also have Desert Prowess, and Desert Prowess is more [about] making sure the vehicle can survive in a desert environment. Making sure it can survive the heat, the sand, the dust and that sort of thing."
To help achieve this desert-rated designation, designers gave the Mojave Gladiator a reinforced frame, added some cast iron steering knuckles and then enhanced the suspension with a 1-inch front lift. They also included front and rear Dana 44 axles with a 4.10:1 ratio, and a locking rear differential that can be engaged with off-road-plus mode in order to drive in four-high at higher speeds—perfect for fast desert-type riding.
Additionally, the Mojave’s suspension includes higher rate coil springs as well as new Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs, and exclusive Fox hydraulic jounce bumpers to accommodate bumps taken at higher speeds.
Along the sides are specially designed Mopar step sand slider rails, while up front under the bumper is a silver protective skid plate. Inside sits custom engineered and stitched front seating with larger, integrated upper bolsters to help lock riders in place during any high speed bumpy travels.
Finishing off the Mojave trim level differences are some aesthetic items that include orange tow hooks, lettering and an aggressive performance hood with center scoop.
Under that performance hood is the brand’s award-winning Pentastar 3.6-liter V6 engine which matches what the standard Gladiator offers at 285 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The brand’s 3.0-liter EcoDiesel should be along later this year to provide another powerplant option.
Gladiator’s Mojave edition employs the brand’s Command-Trac four-wheel-drive system with a two-speed transfer case that offers a 2.72:1 low range—which means it won't be as solid with the slower off-road stuff like other trim levels, but still highly capable. This system also means the Mojave's crawl ratio suffers a bit at 57.3:1 in a six-speed manual, or 52.6:1 for the eight-speed automatic. In comparison, the Rubicon Gladiator offers an 84.2:1 crawl ratio in the manual, 77.2:1 with the automatic.
Rounding out the Mojave’s elements are 33-inch Falken Wildpeak All-Terrain tires, or optional Wildpeak Mud-Terrains.
Jeep hasn't released official pricing data for the Mojave edition, but did indicate in a release it expects the vehicle to hit showrooms late this spring or early summer.
“4x4 capability has always been the foremost pillar of the Jeep brand and the new Gladiator Mojave is a natural extension of our legendary Trail Rated 4x4 capability leadership,” said Jim Morrison, FCA’s Head of the Jeep Brand. “Jeep Gladiator is already the most capable midsize pickup on the planet and, with the addition of the new Mojave model, we are delivering our most passionate customers a new level of capability with the ability to master high-speed desert and sand terrains.”