Barreling through a mud pit filled with dark, soupy water is a bad idea. Particularly if you’re in a convertible. While that’s common knowledge, the particular convertible we do this in is a Jeep pickup: the 2020 Gladiator Mojave, a special model designed to blast over ruts and rough ground at high speeds. And like its close cousin, the Wrangler, the top comes off. From the backseat, the kid pipes up, “Go, dad, do it!” Slam goes the accelerator. The Mojave picks up speed, bounding over rocks, and we plow into the mud pit—perhaps 20 feet of rutted road filled with black, nasty-smelling water.
This impact doesn’t faze the Jeep, but the water explodes around us. The windshield goes dark with muck and gallons of water pour into the cockpit from the open panels over our heads. Windshield wipers working furiously, we exit the mud pit with spinning wheels. My son is cackling uproariously; we’re both drenched. Every surface in the interior of the Jeep is soaked: the digital infotainment screen, the floor mats, the leather seats. Totally worth the clean-up. This is shared (and socially isolated) fun at its best.
While Jeep has pickups sporadically throughout its 75-plus-year history, the Mojave model is a new segment and carries a freshly minted “Desert Rated” badge. Intended to run through the desert at high speeds, the Mojave is akin to Ford’s indomitable F-150 Raptor. To accomplish this, Jeep reinforced the frame itself to withstand the beating it takes going over bumps and rocks at speed, and lifted the front suspension an inch. (Clambering inside can be a challenge for people of smaller stature.)
It also got a front skid-plate to protect the internals and, most importantly, Fox 2.5-inch internal bypass shocks to soak up all those hard impacts and allow the vehicle to travel flatly over uneven ground even at relatively fast speeds. The 33-inch Falken Wildpeak tires it comes with wouldn’t look out of place on a small tractor. The 3.6-liter V-6 engine is unchanged from other models, with 285 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque. It’s a fine engine, though the 3.0-liter V-6 diesel engine inside some Wranglers provides better mileage and loads of low-end torque.
The interior of the truck is rather cramped, and the truck bed isn’t particularly capacious. The Gladiator is more of a lifestyle vehicle, and the idea that you can take off the top is vastly enticing. A convertible pickup is a neat idea. If you’re really into extremes, both doors come off, too—even the front windscreen folds down.
Since it’s still chilly out, we opt to take off the two removable panels from the hardtop rather than the entire roof—the Jeep’s de-facto sunroof feature. This is a manual operation, but takes less than a minute. The roof panels are light and come with a storage case so you don’t scratch the paint.
We were supposed to test the Mojave in the California sand dunes in March, but of course that was an impossibility. In lieu of the desert, we find ourselves on washed-out backroads and a winding, rocky lane that follows high power lines up a series of rocky ridges in the Pocono Mountains, in Pennsylvania. Moving through the trees at a quick pace, we ford two high-running streams, crawl over a fallen log, and then up an extremely steep and rocky incline at thrice the speed we’d normally take an off-road machine—and the ride remains comfortable. Those same features make for a less comfortable ride on the freeway, where the handling is hazy with those oversized wheels and the wind noise loud, thanks to the upright windscreen.
2020 Gladiator Mojave pricing starts at $45,370 and while a sub-$20,000 economy vehicle offers better ride quality in many respects, there’s no denying the pleasure of off-roading in this truck. In many ways it works for a country lifestyle—especially when you have laughing friends or family in the backseat, happy to splash mud everywhere. In this current atmosphere, sometimes joy surpasses practicality.
Hero image courtesy of Jeep