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Overland Adventure: The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Drives Off-Road With Ease

We put Jeep’s desert-running pickup truck through its paces and came away impressed.

LOS ANGELES—Just as Porsche is synonymous for making fantastic drivers' cars, Jeep's name carries incredible weight when it comes to off-road performance. Traditionally, though, its association with heading off of the beaten path has been confined to rock climbing rather than high-speed trail running. Enter the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, which is intended for high-performance in desert sands.

This Mojave-trimmed Jeep saw proper action during the course of a five-day journey from Los Angeles to the Arizona wilderness and back again. The 2020 Gladiator Mojave arrived with a handsome interior: off-white leather seats, a matte-metallic dash, and contrasting orange vent trim. On the outside, it featured Firecracker Red paint and rolled on 17-inch, low-gloss black polished wheels ($995) wrapped in 33-inch all-terrain tires.

We didn't make this journey alone; we joined our friends at Four Wheeler and their guests, all of whom brought rigs of their own. Could a stock 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave hang with the professionals?

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Off-Road Test: The Road-Trip Rig

A 3.6-liter V-6 engine lies under the Gladiator Mojave's hood. In our test car, 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque goes to the wheels via an optional eight-speed automatic ($2,000) rather than the standard six-speed manual gearbox (see every car, truck, and SUV available with a manual transmission here). Around town and off-road, the engine did its job just fine. It isn't particularly loud, and its auto start/stop system was smooth enough that I didn't feel compelled to disable it. On the freeway, the engine felt a bit more anemic; during brisk passes, the cabin noise gets much louder without acceleration picking up as much as I'd have liked. It made me yearn for the 470-hp V-8 engine now found in the 2021 Jeep Wrangler Rubicon 392.

Overall ride quality is quite good despite the Gladiator's solid front-and-rear axles. The Jeep Gladiator's steering feels weighty while cornering or making a turn, but it does not deliver much on-center feel. I needed to make constant corrections when driving on the highway, which was at first charmingly anachronistic but eventually a grating exercise. Otherwise, noise, vibration, and harshness were pretty minimal, especially considering the removable top panels.

Adaptive cruise control ($795) was a gift on the long stretches to and from Arizona. Its speed management felt natural, and the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave accelerated and braked smoothly. Blind-spot monitoring, part of the Jeep Active Safety Group ($895), was great to have since I had loaded my overlanding gear in the back seats.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Off-Road Test: Overland Adventurer

Rock-climbing and hill-descent obstacles were no problem for the Gladiator Mojave. Only a couple times did I need to lock the rear differential in order to scamper up steeper grades in 4LO, but by and large selecting the low-range setting was more than enough to conquer the more challenging parts of the trail. The forward-facing TrailCam ($595) was really useful when I couldn't see the rocks below, and it allowed me to stay inside the truck while checking what was directly in front of the vehicle.

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave was at its best on dirt or gravel trails when it could put its Fox 2.5-inch internal-bypass shocks with external reservoirs to work. The rapid-return-rate suspension system made short work of loose, pebbly terrain and it allowed me to sail over the trail with confidence. The Off-Road+ drive mode made this kind of driving even more fun with its throttle, transmission, and traction-control tuning for brisk driving.

Everything about the Gladiator Mojave's off-road hardware is intuitive and doesn't take much experience to figure out. I managed to run every trail and navigate every obstacle without so much as a single scary or questionable moment. Many of our caravan's members couldn't or didn't take as enthusiastic of an approach to the loose surfaces as I did. In fact, this truck helped me catch the overlanding bug that seems to be going around, especially on social media. A vehicle like this can go much deeper into the wilderness than most of the crossover SUVs that manufacturers bill as being all-terrain capable. Not only was the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave capable, it was effortless.

Jeep's tire-pressure monitoring system is great, especially when it comes to airing down the tires and then refilling them later. The Gladiator Mojave doesn't need to be rolling like other cars to monitor its tire pressure; instead, it provides a live view. With the pressure low, the ride quality on the trail was downright comfortable.

It wasn't just great on the trail, however. In camp, I was able to plug my laptop into the 15-volt AC outlet in the truck bed. This comes as part of the cargo management package that also includes Jeep's Trail Rail system ($895). Being able to run the Gladiator Mojave in order to charge my technology was super helpful on our multi-day trek, and it's an option I'd include if I were to buy one of these trucks.

The added tonneau cover was also a huge benefit. There aren't any trash cans on the trails, so overlanders have to carry their garbage. Luckily, I was able to keep the rubbish in the bed, out of sight, and without the worry of the bags blowing away on the highway. My cooler and storage tub filled with camping gear were actually too tall to put in the truck bed with the tonneau in place, but I'm grateful I couldn't actually put that stuff in the back; by time I got home, the bed was filled with dust and dirt.

The big 8.4-inch infotainment screen ($1,695) has quick, clean graphics and intuitive controls. On the trail, I really appreciated having access to satellite radio on the longer stretches when there wasn't cell service for streaming. As a whole, I felt coddled with luxury, especially as the little easter eggs representing the original Willys-Overland MB reminded me how far Jeep has come as a brand by way of creature comforts from the time it built war-ready rigs.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave: Pay to Win at Off-Roading

The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave starts at $45,370, but this test car was loaded to a total price of $62,115. Most of the exceptional capability, even among bespoke overlanding vehicles built by the event's participants, pre-exists in the Mojave trim level. As our guide observed at one point, the Gladiator is 100-percent Jeep and 100-percent truck. Still, Jeep offers some compelling options for those who want even more luxury beyond the Gladiator's standard equipment.

Our test truck came with the options mentioned above, plus leather bucket seats ($1,495), trailer-tow package ($350), cold-weather group ($995), premium LED lighting ($1,045), hardtop headliner ($55), a roll-up tonneau cover ($595), body-color three-piece hardtop ($2,295), heavy-duty rock slider with step assist by Mopar ($1,050), and a spray-in bedliner ($495). As-equipped, Jeep offers its buyers a lot of gear even for the high price. Customers can certainly cut down on options and still have an overlanding experience as enjoyable as I did while saving at least $10,000.

With the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, I could hang with the Overlanding pros without even trying. Jeep makes a vehicle with all of the capability of a Wrangler but also with the benefit of having a lot of the advantages of a truck. The anemic V-6 engine is a low point, and it would cool if the Wrangler SRT's hotter engine makes its way over to this entry in the Jeep lineup. Aside from this low point, I was otherwise left feeling notably impressed with the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, especially as a companion on a test as demanding as an overland adventure.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Pros

  • Incredible off-road capability
  • Off-Road+ mode makes short work of loose surfaces
  • Lots of available features

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave Cons

  • Loose steering around center
  • Lackluster V-6 engine
  • Options add up
2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave 4x4 Specifications
ON SALE Now
PRICE $45,370/$62,115 (base/as tested)
ENGINE 3.6L DOHC 24-valve V-6/285 hp @ 6,400 rpm, 260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 5-passenger, front-engine, 4WD pickup truck
EPA MILEAGE 17/22 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 218.0 x 73.8 x 75.0 in
WHEELBASE 137.3 in
WEIGHT 4,952 lb
0-60 MPH 7.9 sec
TOP SPEED 97 mph