Exploring Mount Woodside in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave

Exploring Mount Woodside in the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave

Story and photos by Russell Purcell

Making my home in British Columbia, I relish having the ability to escape the grind and set out to explore all of this province’s natural beauty. I live in a region populated by mountain vistas and scenic waterways, so on a whim I can find a new forestry access road and get a better lay of the land in short order.

The Jeep Gladiator proved the perfect vehicle for climbing these treacherous primitive roads, clambering through washouts and traipsing over hill-and-dale with stunning ease. Earlier this year, I spent a week with the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Rubicon, a new product for Jeep which essentially melds the company’s venerable four-door Wrangler platform with a five-foot pick-up bed that is itself a revision of that used for FCA’s Ram 1500 pickup. This winning combination works so well, that the Gladiator won the esteemed North American Truck-of-the-Year title, as well as a long list of other awards.

The route I chose for evaluating the Gladiator was comprised of a network of roads that traverse Mount Woodside, a popular recreational destination in the upper Fraser Valley. On this occasion, I discovered that the district crews had already been through to prepare the forestry roads for the winter, a period that usually brings along seemingly endless deluges of rain. To prevent washouts, the crews cut ditches across the road in areas that are prone to substantial water movement. These ditches help effectively channel the water in a manner to protect the road surface, but are deep enough that most road vehicles lack the ground clearance and traction to navigate through them.

The Gladiator Rubicon performed so well that I tackled the mountain twice that week, giving me the opportunity to evaluate the vehicle in its favoured environment – off the pavement.

The Gladiator Rubicon is designed to conquer just about any task that the average off-road enthusiast would ask of it, including intermediate-level rock-crawling, an activity where the driver selects a route that requires the vehicle to often drive up, over and down seemingly impassable obstacles like boulders, rocks, ledges and logs. The technique requires plenty of concentration, slow speeds, and very careful and precise driver inputs. Rock crawlers typically feature large gear reductions in the drive-train, heavy-duty axles and suspension components, front and rear lockers, and a full complement of skid plates. Jeep Wrangler Rubicon models excel at this activity off the showroom floor, and the Gladiator Rubicon is no exception, once you get used to its longer wheelbase.

Fast forward to the closing months of 2020 and I had the opportunity to spend a week with the newest Gladiator, the Mojave. The Gladiator Mojave is a premium model like the Rubicon, but instead of being a superstar on the rocks, the Mojave is designed to excel in the desert. Exclusive to the Gladiator lineup, the Mojave model has been outfitted to run at high speeds through sand and loose soil. In fact, the Mojave is the first Desert Rated model for Jeep, and comes equipped with a different gear set than the Rubicon, and only a rear locker, as it has an open differential up front.

Like the Rubicon, the Mojave is blessed with high-performance Fox Racing shocks, albeit slightly beefier internal bypass units with an external reservoir (which allows increased fluid capacity and aids in shock cooling in extreme conditions), and hydraulic jounce bumpers up front. As running in sand is a much different discipline to rock crawling, the Mojave comes fitted with a dedicated sand tire, as well as a different spring rate, which gives it slightly more ground clearance up front. The Mojave also features a fixed sway bar versus the electronic-disconnect front sway bar fitted to the Rubicon, as the former doesn’t require the articulation demanded by a dedicated rock-crawler.

While obviously not back-to-back by any means, I did manage to travel the exact same routes as I navigated my way around Mount Woodside in both Gladiator models. Both Jeeps completed two expeditions up the mountain and both experienced similar weather conditions – dry one day, and wet and slick the other. Both managed to shine over two different routes to the summit, and both tackled the suspension twisting final drop to the mountain’s famed hang-glider launch pad with relative ease.

Our test rigs came equipped with the same Pentastar 3.6-litre V6 engine under the hood, and the optional eight-speed automatic transmission. This engine generates a healthy 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. A six-speed manual transmission is standard, but the eight-speed proved to be a robust and smooth operating gearbox. Gladiator Rubicon buyers can click an option box for the 3.0-litre EcoDiesel V6 engine (260 hp/442 lb-ft) mated to a TorqueFlite 8-speed automatic gearbox. Gladiator Mojave buyers will have to make do with the Pentastar for now, which isn’t a bad thing, as it is well-sorted and delivers good torque, but there is talk that a Hemi V8 may find its way under the hood to help the truck sail through the desert like a proper pre-runner. The Gladiator Mojave also features a larger fan to facilitate cooler engine temperatures when operating in the desert.

The Jeep Gladiator Rubicon features Jeep’s Rock-Trac transfer case with a 4.0:1 low-range ratio, while the Mojave employs the Command-Trac transfer case with a 2.72:1 low-range ratio. The Mojave’s longer ratio allows the vehicle to run at higher speeds when operating in low-range, a trait that should help it paddle through deep sand. But don’t worry, should your journey incorporate more than sand, the Mojave is still able to crawl over most obstacles, but without quite the finesse of the Rubicon.

Recognizing the need for traction at speed, the Mojave benefits from a driver-selectable feature called Off Road Plus which will disable the Electronic Stability Program (ESP) at the touch of a button, allowing the rear locker to be engaged when operating in high-range.

The engineers at Jeep have equipped both the Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave with beefier Dana 44 axles as they realize that both models may be asked to take a pounding. The presence of desert dunes tend to encourage jumping, or at least front-end launching berm blasts, so the Mojave sports cast-iron knuckles rather than the lightweight aluminum ones specified for Rubicon models. The frame, shock towers, and front control arms have been strengthened in strategic areas where repeated stress from impact and aggressive landings could result in significant chassis or suspension damage.

Jeep has partnered with Falken to produce model-specific 33-inch Wildpeak tires for both the Rubicon and Mojave models of the Gladiator. This is terrific news as Falken tires have a long history of producing high-performance off-road tires. However, Mojave wheels have been designed to extend the vehicle’s wheelbase just enough to promote better stability at high-speeds.

On the styling front, the differences between the Rubicon and the Mojave are subtle. Red tow hooks are a signature for Rubicon, so orange is the new styling accent for Mojave. The steering wheel is wider than that in other Jeep offerings and features orange stitching, as do the seats (complete with an embroidered logo), while the alloy surround on the dashboard vents carry an almost tangerine shade of orange. Steel bumpers have been replaced with polymer units, but the vehicle does come equipped with steel rocker guards. The Mojave also sports a unique hood with a central faux vent and bold Mojave decals emblazoned on its flanks. The rear Jeep logo relief is also outlined in orange.

What sets offerings like the Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave apart from other vehicles is the fact that the product planners at FCA have engineered these off-the-shelf models to handle the most demanding terrain imaginable, and outfitted them with top-quality, trail-tested equipment and components that carry a full factory warranty. Prior to the arrival of the first Rubicon model almost 20 years ago, consumers would have to modify their Jeep with aftermarket equipment at huge costs of both time and money, and often with poor results.

Judging by the recent entries from other auto manufacturers starting to percolate into the arena with similar attributes and aspirations, it’s important to recognize that Jeep forged the trail, and vehicles like the Gladiator Rubicon and Mojave are the benchmarks.

Technical Specifications: Jeep Gladiator Rubicon / Mojave
Base Price (MSRP): $52,003
Type: 4-door, five-passenger, 4×4 pickup
Layout: Front-engine, 4WD
Engine (As tested): 3.6L Pentastar VVT V6
Power: 285 hp @ 6,400 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4,400 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual or optional 8-speed automatic
Brakes: 4-wheel heavy-duty ABS disc brakes
Payload: 1600 lb. / 726 kg.
Towing Capacity: 7,650 lb. / 3,469 kg.
Fuel consumption (L/100 km): 10.4 Highway; 14.3 City