The first-ever Jeep Gladiator Mojave is a bit of an anomaly. Featuring both a live front and rear axle, it’s the sort of suspension system you’d expect to find on a rock crawling truck like its Rubicon counterpart, which starts at the same price. Yet it features a suspension system highlighted by Fox Racing shocks – the same brand of what you’d find on the 2021 Ford F-150 Raptor, which was built for soaking up undulating terrain off-road, at high speeds, like a purpose built trophy truck.
It turns out, however, that the Jeep Gladiator Mojave is more than capable of excelling at both low speed and high speed off-road events.
“You can blast at 65-70 mph out in Johnson Valley, but then take it out to Moab, Utah and go do Hell’s Revenge and climb up Hell’s Gate with no issue,” explained Brandon Girmus, Gladiator senior brand manager.
‘Desert Rated’ By Design
“Engineers bought a bunch of (competitive vehicles) and took them out to the desert, drove them, figured out what worked on those vehicles, what didn’t work, and applied those learnings to the development of the Jeep Gladiator Mojave,” said Grimus, when asked about the benchmarking process.
As one would imagine, Jeep engineers narrowed down what really makes a desert running truck tick.
“What we figured out that is probably the most important component in terms of making a vehicle really capable and good at that type of off-roading is really the suspension,” said Grimus. “That’s really the most critical part, and we put a ton development time, a ton of energy and a ton of money into the Gladiator Mojave into really making the suspension world class.”
The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave features 2.5-inch diameter internal bypass external reservoir Fox Racing shocks. The reservoirs help circulate the suspension fluid to ward off heat soak. Because, like engines and brakes, these mechanical parts are subject to friction, which can generate temperatures beyond an optimal operating window.
Then there’s the whole live front axle thing. Baja trucks traditionally run an independent front suspension . So, why was this architecture passed up?
“It’s still a solid front axle and solid rear axle. So it’s still very easy for the Jeep Gladiator Mojave customer to put a lift on it and put on bigger tires. There are other advantages in terms of front axle in terms of pure articulation, and not to mention the durability. And the adaptability is also a big positive of a solid front axle architecture. Just to able to easily lift it.”
“There are some trucks even out at King of the Hammers that run a solid front axle. If you look at Casey Currie, all of his race rigs are solid front axle. We’ve actually taken Gladiator Mojave trucks to some of those races like the Baja 1000 and Baja 400, and actually placed first in the stock class. We had a Gladiator placed 1st in the 2020 Mint 400, 1st in the 2020 Baja 1000 and 1st in the 2019 Baja 400. You can get a solid front axle to perform really well in high speed off roading.
Putting The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave To The Test
After a day prowling around Holly Oaks ORV Park, our 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave tester jumped, crawled, swam, and climbed across every obstacle we dared present against it with nary any trouble. We even helped out a fellow Jeeper in need, as seen in the photo above.
On some of the tighter, slipperier and more technical obstacles, we wished for a locking front differential – which remains exclusive to the Rubicon trim level in the Jeep lineup – for a bit more peace of mind. Nevertheless, the 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave and its Falken Wildpeak A/T tires proved to be more than capable during these low speed maneuvers, supplemented by a forward-facing, self-cleaning trail camera. No spotter? No problem.
On the looping and swooping Holly Oaks ORV Park baja course, the Fox Internal Bypass Shocks – completed with jounces to prevent bottoming out – soaked up high speed turbulence like a thirsty sponge. It was at this point that we checked our concerns for the live front axle at the door. The suspension system truly makes up for it.
“We never considered Independent Front Suspension,” said Grimus. “We didn’t want to totally give up on the low speed off-roading. Yeah, Mojave was desert rated and it was built for high speed off-roading in mind. But there are still Mojave customers that are going to want to take their Gladiator to Moab or the Rubicon Trail, or even in Michigan take it up to Drummond Island. And in those situations, the solid axle shines vs IFS.”
Superlative Over Sand And Stone
“It was really about finding that balance between those two extreme forms of off-roading, and we felt that a solid front axle with that Fox suspension really gave us that optimal vehicle, kind of splitting the difference between the two… it’s kind of a Dual Sport if you will,” The 2021 Jeep Gladiator Mojave senior brand manager continued.
The Gladiator Mojave represents the first “Desert Rated” vehicle from Jeep, which has an exclusive set of criteria for the vehicle to meet. Considering that FCA had to build out a unique infrastructure at its proving grounds to validate Desert Rated trucks and utility vehicles, we’re likely to see other nameplates with the new badge of honor in the not-too-distant future.
“We basically had to start completely from scratch (for Desert Rated),” said Brandon Grimus. “We’ve obviously got the Trail Rated system, for pretty much every other Jeep, which optimizes the Jeep for traction, maneuverability, ground clearance, articulation, and water fording. We had to tear that all completely apart.”
Tear apart, and rebuild they did.
“As part of creating the Desert Rated system, our engineering team built a brand new desert off road course out in our proving grounds in Arizona, and basically flogged the crap out of these Jeep Gladiator Mojave test mules to make sure it checked all the boxes and is actually truly capable of desert off roading.”
Desert Rated, in contrast to Trail Rated, emphasizes high speed ride control and stability, and “desert prowess”. A desert environment is abnormally harsh on the vehicle in terms of dust, and sand, and heat. The new rating is basically a measure of the vehicle’s ability to withstand that harsh and extreme environment.
Traction, maneuverability, and ground clearance are common with Jeep’s Trail Rated system.