We Recruit a 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave for Both Work and Play

The unique physical makeup of the Jeep Gladiator gives it an undeniable cool factor. While four-door compact pickups are nothing new, there’s only one that’s based on the rolling anachronism that is the Jeep Wrangler, convertible top and all. The Gladiator even can be had with a feature that has almost completely disappeared from new pickups: a manual transmission. We immediately fell for its unusual charm and solid versatility, naming it to our 2020 10Best list upon its debut and largely agreeing it was the new small truck we’d want to own, despite a comparison test proving that it wasn’t the best at its core mission.

It took a while to recruit a Gladiator for our long-term 40,000-mile test regimen, but that delay ultimately worked to our benefit. After the Gladiator’s launch, a compelling new version was added to the lineup. Introduced earlier this year, the Mojave trim level sits alongside the burly Rubicon at the top of the Gladiator’s model range and is the first of the Jeep brand’s Desert Rated vehicles. Building on Jeep’s familiar Trail Rated models that are fortified for conventional off-roading with stronger four-wheel-drive systems, skid plates, and upgraded tires, the Mojave is designed to excel in higher-speed off-road environments.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Along with a reinforced frame, 33-inch-tall tires on 17-inch wheels, and slight increases to the Gladiator’s wheelbase and track, the Mojave gains new 2.5-inch Fox internal-bypass dampers, a 1.0-inch front suspension lift, and secondary Fox hydraulic front jounce dampers, which serve as additional heavy-duty, short-stroke shock absorbers that help prevent the suspension from bottoming out. While its Dana 44 axles are similar to the Rubicon’s, the Mojave also features stronger front steering knuckles, a beefier rear axle housing, and a transfer case with a taller low-range ratio, 2.72:1 versus the Rubicon’s 4.00:1. Model-specific front seats with additional side bolstering also are included.

Lacking the Rubicon’s electronically locking front differential and disconnecting front anti-roll bar, the Mojave suffers a little when tackling mud holes and more technical off-road obstacles. But it does have a new Off Road Plus drive mode that dials back the traction control’s intervention and sharpens the responses of the throttle and automatic transmission. For the 2021 model year, Off Road Plus also allows the Mojave’s standard rear locking differential to be activated in 4HI mode. (The Rubicon’s rear locker works only in 4LO.) Our truck does not have that ability at the moment, but Jeep says that it is working to make the feature a no-cost retrofit on 2020 models.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

The 2020 Mojave carries the same $45,370 base price as the Rubicon. We opted for a rugged-looking coat of Gobi Clear Coat paint with black aluminum wheels and a black interior. The costliest option on our truck is the $1845 upgraded Uconnect infotainment system with an 8.4-inch touchscreen and an Alpine audio system. But we also splurged $1595 on leather upholstery, $1295 for a black three-piece removable hardtop, $1195 in LED exterior lights, and $1050 for protective rock-slider rails under the door sills.

Numerous smaller extras upped our truck’s as-tested figure to $58,920, which is still less than pretty much every other Gladiator we’ve evaluated. Additional options include parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring ($895), a cargo management bundle with a bed-mounted power outlet and a lockable storage bin under the rear seat ($895), adaptive cruise control ($795), heaters for the steering wheel and front seats ($695), a roll-up tonneau cover ($595), a forward-facing trail camera ($595), a headliner for the hardtop ($555), keyless entry ($495), a spray-in bedliner ($495), a towing package and hitch ($350), all-weather floor mats ($165), and a tie-down strap for the fold-down windshield ($40).

Michael SimariCar and Driver

Our decision to pass on the Gladiator’s newly optional EcoDiesel V-6 was easy because it’s only available on 2021 Sport, Overland, and Rubicon models. Jeep deems the diesel’s low-revving character to be less than ideal for the faster-paced action envisioned for the Mojave. What’s more, the diesel can only be paired with the also-optional eight-speed automatic transmission. Notwithstanding the financial toll of that $6000 upgrade, there are those among us that believe on principle that hard-core Jeeps should only be fitted with stick shifts. For us, it was the Gladiator’s standard 285-hp 3.6-liter gas V-6 and six-speed manual or nothing.

The big drawback of this configuration is that it reduces the truck’s towing capacity. Whereas some models can tug up to 7650 pounds with the gas V-6, the Mojave’s soft suspension limits it to 6000 pounds with the automatic. Opt for the manual, however, and that maximum falls to just 4500 pounds. Payload capacity is capped at 1200 pounds.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

This is the first time we’ve had a Mojave at the test track—or, for that matter, a manual Gladiator of any type. But compared to the last Rubicon model equipped with the eight-speed automatic we evaluated, our 5175-pound long-termer weighs 83 fewer pounds. It takes a fair amount of work to reach the gas V-6’s 4400-rpm torque peak, and the outright thrust it provides is merely adequate. Once our truck completed Jeep’s short 300-mile break-in period, a brutal high-rpm clutch drop in 4HI launched it to 60 mph in a lazy 8.5 seconds—0.2 second slower than the Rubicon. Our truck trailed its sibling by the same amount (and 4 mph) through the quarter-mile, tripping the lights in 16.5 seconds at 82 mph. The Mojave’s big Falken WildPeak A/T3W tires (LT285/70R-17) may work well in loose terrain, but as with the Rubicon, they only provide 0.72 g of grip on the skidpad. Stops from 70 mph take a long 197 feet.

Based on the action our Gladiator’s already seen, its duty cycle will be an active one. Along with general commuting, it’s towed a 3500-pound ski boat with no issue, visited our local off-road park, and traveled both north to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and south to Virginia International Raceway. Drivers seem to agree that the Mojave’s softly sprung suspension and long wheelbase allow it to ride more comfortably than other new solid-axle Jeeps. Its steering is vague, its handling is clumsy, and the manual’s long throws and numb clutch pedal are anything but precise. But we anticipated as much. More important, this is simply an enjoyable machine to operate. “Super fun,” “an authentic Jeep experience,” and “the best way to drive a Gladiator” all grace our truck’s early logbook entries.

Michael SimariCar and Driver

However, commenters have also noted plenty of shortcomings, including the Mojave’s dismal 15-mpg average fuel economy. While some drivers find it quieter inside than they expected, our Gladiator’s 71 decibels of interior noise at 70 mph is loud enough to impair the functionality of its voice recognition system. Its pedals also are spaced rather far apart for heel-and-toe work, and there’s no dead pedal to rest your left foot. In back, the shallow cargo box is not tall enough with the tonneau cover installed to accommodate even a moderately sized cooler.

And all drivers agree that the Mojave is painfully slow, especially on the highway. “One-hundred-percent throttle is needed to merge, to climb, to pass, to get anywhere,” wrote staff editor Austin Irwin. Testing deputy director K.C. Colwell echoed that sentiment on his trek to VIR, adding that downshifting to fourth gear for long stretches at a time was the only way to make meaningful progress in the Appalachians. On level ground and with the manual in sixth gear, the Mojave required a staggering 24.3 seconds to complete the 30-to-50-mph and 50-to-70-mph passing tests. With many adventures and more than 35,000 miles to go in our test, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to see if the Mojave’s unique charms can outweigh its negatives.

Months in Fleet: 2 months Current Mileage: 4556 miles
Average Fuel Economy: 15 mpg
Fuel Tank Size: 22.0 gal Observed Fuel Range: 330 miles
Service: $0 Normal Wear: $0 Repair: $0
Damage and Destruction: $0



2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave


front-engine, rear-/4-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door pickup


$58,920 (base price: $45,370)


DOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection

220 in3, 3605 cm3

285 hp @ 6400 rpm

260 lb-ft @ 4400 rpm


6-speed manual


Suspension (F/R): live axle/live axle
Brakes (F/R): 13.0-in vented disc/13.6-in vented disc
Tires: Falken WildPeak A/T3W, LT285/70R-17 116/113Q M+S


Wheelbase: 137.3 in
Length: 218.1 in
Width: 73.8 in
Height: 74.1 in
Passenger volume: 104 ft3
Curb weight: 5175 lb


60 mph: 8.5 sec
Rolling start, 5–60 mph: 9.3 sec
Top gear, 30–50 mph: 24.3 sec
Top gear, 50–70 mph: 24.3 sec
1/4 mile: 16.5 sec @ 82 mph
Top speed (governor limited): 97 mph
Braking, 70–0 mph: 197 ft
Roadholding, 300-ft-dia skidpad: 0.72 g
Standing-start accel times omit 1-ft rollout of 0.2 sec.


Observed: 15 mpg
Unscheduled oil additions: 0 qt


Combined/city/highway: 19/16/23 mpg


3 years/36,000 miles bumper to bumper;
5 years/60,000 miles powertrain;
3 years/unlimited miles corrosion protection;
5 years/60,000 miles roadside assistance


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