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2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave First Test: Kickin’ Trail

2021-jeep-gladiator-mojave-first-test:-kickin’-trail
Jeep Gladiator Full Overview

Off-road capability is a game of trade-offs. Long-travel suspension increases wheel articulation for better traction and stability but reduces payload and towing capacity. Low gears multiply engine torque applied to the wheels but limit your top speed and fuel efficiency. Making it even more complicated is the fact that different types of off-roading require different suspension designs and different gearing. You wouldn’t know it if you drove a 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave, though.

The Gladiator Mojave is, if you haven’t heard, one of two top off-road trim levels of Jeep’s mid-size truck (the other being the Gladiator Rubicon). It starts with all the capability of a standard Gladiator and adds 2.5-inch-diameter internal bypass Fox Shox with remote reservoirs, hydraulic bump stops for the front suspension, a wider front track, a manually lockable rear axle, a brake-based torque-vectoring front axle, and Falken Wildpeak A/T3W tires. The only caveat: You can only order it with the 285-hp, 260 lb-ft 3.6-liter V-6, though you do get a choice of an eight-speed automatic transmission or a six-speed manual. Our test truck has the auto.

This equipment, as we’ve said in the past, makes the Mojave the best all-around Gladiator you can buy. While the Gladiator Rubicon’s lockable front axle and disconnecting front anti-roll bar make it a bit more capable in extreme rock-crawling scenarios, the Mojave will go 90-percent of the places the Rubicon will. Only, it’ll get there way faster because that upgraded suspension can take way more abuse. In short, you can tear ass down any road in just about any condition with a Mojave while the Rubicon picks its way along at half the speed or less.

Put them both on pavement and strap some instruments to them, though, and you’ll find they’re basically identical. Despite the suspension and tire differences, the two different takes on the Gladiator perform the same in every way when equipped with the same engine and transmission (Rubicons can also be fitted with a manual transmission or a diesel engine, but not both).

No, really. Take acceleration: The Mojave needs 8.6 seconds to hit 60 mph, dead in between the three Rubicons we’ve tested (8.1 to 8.7 seconds). Same if you go for a full quarter mile. The Mojave does it in 16.5 second at 83.3 mph, with the Rubicons finishing anywhere between 16.1 and 16.5 seconds.

It’s the same with braking and handling. The different tires, different track widths, and different springs and dampers all make a huge difference off-road, but at the test track, they work the same way. The Mojave needs 133 feet to stop from 60 mph, and the Rubicon needs between 129 and 133 feet. Go around a skidpad, and the Mojave will hang on to the tune of 0.72 average lateral g while the Rubicon will hang on a smidge harder at 0.73 g average.

Go full send around our figure-eight course, and you’ll see the same thing. The Mojave is good for a 29.4-second lap at 0.54 average g, whereas the Rubicon will get it done in between 29.1 and 29.4 seconds at 0.55 to 0.56 g average.

The Gladiators even get the same fuel economy at 17/22/19 mpg city/highway/combined. This all shouldn’t be much of a surprise considering they have the same aerodynamics and weigh within two dozen pounds of each other.

The similarity in on-road performance requires me to state again just how little that data matters off-road. There is absolutely no way a Gladiator Rubicon can keep up with a Mojave on a high-speed trail. The Mojave easily and gleefully bashes over bumps that would have a Rubicon driver getting out to check for damage. The amount of absolutely silly, slidey, drifty, no-worries fun you can have with a Gladiator Mojave off-road is matched only by the more powerful Ram 1500 TRX and the Ford F-150 Raptor.

It’s less fun for doing actual truck stuff, though. Off-road suspension means reduced payload and towing capacity. In the case of the Gladiator Mojave, you’re limited to 1,200 pounds of people and stuff, which is as good or better than any Rubicon but 500 pounds less than what other trims are capable of. Similarly, towing drops from a maximum of 7,650 pounds in other trims to 6,000 for the Mojave (just 4,000 with the manual transmission) and 4,500 to 7,000 pounds for the Gladiator Rubicon.

How it tows is another matter entirely. Hitched to a 5,200-pound, 23-foot Airstream Flying Cloud travel trailer (467 pounds tongue weight, per Airstream, well below the Jeep’s limits and hooked to a height-adjustable hitch but not a weight-distributing hitch), the Gladiator Mojave was a hot mess. The truck simply could not keep the trailer under control in any kind of adverse conditions. If the road wasn’t flat, smooth, and straight, the trailer would be wandering. Any bump in the road or gust of wind (natural or from a passing vehicle) set it swaying, and the Mojave did nothing about it until it got bad enough to activate the truck’s trailer sway control program via the stability control system, right about the time it felt like we were going to lose control. Any combination of factors was a recipe for disaster. This truck, it should be noted, was not equipped with Jeep’s new optional trailer brake controller, but that feature made zero difference to a diesel-powered Gladiator hooked to the same trailer, which actually towed even worse. Regardless of whether you get the controller, the Gladiator has no towing mode. Simply put, the truck was nearly undriveable and borderline dangerous pulling a trailer that should’ve been comfortably within its limits.

Every editor who towed with it on our test loop reported multiple scary moments when the trailer nearly collided with vehicles in other lanes and felt as if it was going to drag the truck off the road. The only good thing we can say about the experience is that the engine has enough grunt to accelerate up a steep hill at freeway speeds even with the trailer on the back. Otherwise, we all agreed we’d never tow anything bigger than a little single-axle trailer with this thing again.

This was a surprise to us, as we had no such issue towing a 3,160-pound trailer or a 4,000-pound trailer with the Gladiator at last year’s Truck of the Year competition. We would strongly recommend anyone planning to tow a larger trailer with a Gladiator invest in a weight-distributing hitch.

We reached out to Jeep to comment on this alarming development. The company declined to comment.

We can’t wrap up without a word on the price tag, either. The Mojave is already the second most expensive Gladiator trim level at $45,370 to start, tied with Rubicon, but you won’t get one for that. Our test truck was a near-as-makes-no-difference $20,000 more expensive after options. At nearly $65,000, you’re well over the $58,135 starting price of a 450-hp Ford F-150 Raptor that’s even faster off-road and closing on the starting price of the 702-hp Ram 1500 TRX. Sure, you can put options on a Raptor, too, but it doesn’t change the fact the Gladiator Mojave gets real pricey real fast.

Best then to enjoy the Gladiator Mojave for the lifestyle truck it is, in the environments it was designed for. While Jeep went out of its way to bake top-of-class payload and tow ratings into the Gladiator, the Mojave is not a truck you buy to tow or haul with. You rip around off-road cackling like an idiot, enjoying every moment of it and not worrying what the spec sheet says.

Looks good! More details?

SPECIFICATIONS 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave
BASE PRICE $45,370
PRICE AS TESTED $64,865
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door truck
ENGINE 3.6L/285-hp/260-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 8-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST) 5,144 lb (53/47%)
WHEELBASE 137.3 in
LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT 218.0 x 73.8 x 76.1 in
0-60 MPH 8.6 sec
0-60 TOWING 5,200 LB 18.2 sec
QUARTER MILE 16.5 sec @ 83.3 mph
BRAKING, 60-0 MPH 133 ft
LATERAL ACCELERATION 0.72 g (avg)
MT FIGURE EIGHT 29.4 sec @ 0.54 g (avg)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 17/22/19 mpg
ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY 198/153 kWh/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 1.02 lb/mile

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