Jeep Gladiator Mojave Chicago show unveil
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the brand’s first foray into the high-speed off-road segment, and it’s expected to arrive in Jeep dealerships the second quarter of 2020. (FCA)

Jeep debuts Desert Rated badge with Gladiator Mojave

The 2021 Gladiator Mojave will be the first off-roader from Jeep with the new high-speed desert designation.

Jeep’s renowned Trail Rated designation for low-speed off-roading prowess is getting a high-speed counterpart, with the new Desert Rated moniker’s debut for the 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave. “This Jeep is purpose-built to be the king of high-speed desert four-wheel-drive capability,” said Jim Morrison, head of Jeep Brand for FCA North America during its unveiling at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show. The reveal of the Mojave model comes only 16 months after Gladiator’s debut at the 2018 Los Angeles Auto Show.

Jeep engineers knew the Gladiator midsize pickup truck had the makings of a desert tactician, according to Pete Milosavlevski, chief engineer of Jeep Wrangler and Jeep Gladiator. “Early in the Gladiator’s development, this was something we kept under wraps. The Gladiator Mojave was part of Gladiator’s inception,” Milosavlevski said. “We spent time benchmarking the competition in and out of our segment. We talked to customers. We went to various off-road racing events and we consulted with professional off-road drivers.”

To develop a desert-runner Jeep meant reinforcing various vehicle attributes, including shock towers and the transmission crossmember. “It’s essentially weld-on pieces for additional structure, and those reinforcements were very focused on certain hot spots,” Milosavlevski said. Other Mojave features include cast-iron steering knuckles (versus the Gladiator’s steel knuckles), stronger engine and transmission mounts, a larger outside track bar diameter as well as a 10 mm front/rear solid-axle tube thickness.

The underbody has extra protection via a front brush guard, a front skid plate and Jeep Performance Parts step/sand slider side rails. Falken Wildpeak 33-in all-terrain tires are standard. The Mojave uses a 2-speed transfer case with a 2.72:1 gear ratio. “We needed an axle ratio that would provide enough torque to climb sand dunes and crest the hills,” said Milosavlevski. Jeep’s Command Trac 4x4 system, also used on the Gladiator, permits speeds up to 50 mph (80 km/h) in Lo range.

The system also has front and rear axles with a 4.10:1 axle ratio and a standard electronic-locking rear differential. Mojave’s Off-Road Plus drive-mode button enables drivers to lock the rear axle at high speeds while in 4H, marking a first for Jeep. The Gladiator Mojave employs all-new 2.5-in (64-mm) Fox aluminum-bodied internal-bypass shocks with remote reservoirs. There’s an additional inch (25 mm) of lift in the front suspension as well as class-exclusive hydraulic jounce bumpers. “If the springs go into full compression in the front, the Fox-designed/FCA-tuned hydraulic jounce bumpers take up the loads,” Milosavlevski explained.

The creation of the Mojave prompted engineers to rally for a testing and validation shake-up. “We knew that we had to develop a durability off-road duty cycle,” Milosavlevski said. The new testing cycle unfolds at FCA’s 3,000-acre Arizona proving grounds where the added elements, including undulating surfaces of different frequencies, mimic those found in desert environments. “We wanted a way to measure the Mojave against the competition, so we came up with the Desert Rated methodology,” Milosavlevski said. Those Jeep criteria target ride control and stability, traction, ground clearance, maneuverability and desert prowess.

An unusual Desert Rated confirmation unfolded when engineers took five Mojave trucks on a sand-soaked excursion. “This was post everything else we did with durability, dynamics testing, and quality testing. We took these almost production-ready vehicles on a week-long endurance drive in the deserts of Nevada, Utah and California to make sure we didn’t miss anything,” Milosavlevski said. The Jeep Gladiator Mojave’s truck competitors include the Ford F-150 Raptor and the Toyota Tacoma Off-Road Pro.

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