Given the success of various off-road-race-ready pickups in today’s marketplace, it’s becoming apparent that a significant number of buyers are at least as interested in storming across the undeveloped landscape as they are in climbing rocks. So Jeep has devised a new Desert Rated designation for its vehicles, one which made its debut on the 2020 Gladiator Mojave pickup truck. Earning a “Desert Rated” badge involves excelling in five key performance categories: Ride Control and Stability, Sand/Dirt Traction, Ground Clearance, Maneuverability, and Desert Prowess. (The criteria for Jeep models to earn the well-known “Trail Rated” badge are Traction, Ground Clearance, Maneuverability, Articulation, and Water Fording.) Read on for the specifics behind the categories and find out exactly what the new “Desert Rated” badge means and how a Jeep earns it.
Jeep Desert Rated: Ride Control and Stability
When crossing a desert landscape at speed, a Desert Rated Jeep must possess the poise to survive punishing bumps and dips while maintaining the desired vehicle heading. That demands sufficient suspension travel that doesn’t end too abruptly at the limits of jounce or rebound motions. Naturally the vehicle must also possess the durability to withstand frequent, extended sessions of such running. The first Desert Rated Jeep—the Gladiator Mojave—is likely to stand as the brand’s ultimate example of this designation for the foreseeable future, as the shorter-wheelbase of a Wrangler—especially the two-door—will necessarily impart more pitch in the bumpiest running, resulting in a ride that suffers in the highest-speed rough stuff. That said, most of the Gladiator’s gear could easily be bolted onto a future Desert Rated Wrangler. The gear that helps the Gladiator Mojave achieve its rating includes the following:
- Special, patented 2.5-inch diameter aluminum internal-bypass Fox remote-reservoir shocks particularly adept at dissipating the heat generated by high-speed running over desert humps and bumps without fading and bottoming out.
- A front track widened by 0.5 inch to accommodate the shocks and to add stability.
- Military-grade suspension fluid maintains shock performance at extreme temperatures.
- Hydraulic-fluid-filled jounce bumpers with their own remote reservoir (acting as a second shock absorber).
- 10mm-thick cast-iron axle tubes (up from 7mm on the lesser models) and cast-iron steering knuckles to handle the loads.
- Frame reinforcements in the areas where the engine and transmission mounts are located and where the front control arms attach.
Jeep Desert Rated: Sand/Dirt Traction
Desert Rated Jeeps must be able to accelerate hard on the sand, rock, gravel, and dirt surfaces found in the desert. The Gladiator Mojave’s Traction enabling features include:
- 33-inch Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires featuring a tread pattern that continues well onto the sidewall.
- An NV241 Command-Trac transfer case with a taller 2.72:1 low-range ratio (versus the Trail Rated Rock-Trac’s 4.00:1).
- Third-gen Dana 44 front and rear axles with a 4.10:1 axle ratio that permits low-range running at speeds up to 50 mph (instead of the Rubicon’s 30 mph top 4Lo speed).
- Standard electronic-locking rear differential that can remain locked at higher speeds.
Jeep Desert Rated: Ground Clearance
Class-leading ground clearance is a must, as is hardened protection of the running gear against sharp rocks and the like. On the Gladiator Mojave, that means:
- A front-suspension lift of 1.0 inch for added jounce travel.
- A standard front skidplate.
Jeep Desert Rated: Maneuverability
When bounding across the desert, it’s vital that the vehicle retain the agility to steer around obstacles that are often unseen until they are very close. This requires a “sportier” steering and suspension setup than would ideally suit a rock-crawler. This is mostly handled with revisions to the Mojave’s suspension tuning rates and steering ratio. The rear anti-roll bar diameter is increased as well.
Jeep Desert Rated: Desert Prowess
This has to do with the vehicle’s ability to withstand hard running in harsh desert conditions that include intense heat and excessive dust and sand. This could involve revisions to the cooling system, special sand separators in the intake system, or similar modifications. (The Gladiator Mojave gets the high-performance cooling system of the otherwise optional towing package, but the standard Gladiator induction setup was found to be capable of coping with dust and sand.)
Certain other technologies can contribute to more than one of the capabilities above. For example, the Gladiator Mojave gets an Off-Road Plus button that tailors throttle, transmission shift points, and traction-control parameters for peak performance at higher speeds on sand terrain, as well as during low-speed rock crawling. And by pressing the Off-Road Plus button, the rear differential lock is also enabled in high-range.
Appearance-wise, Jeep has established a precedent with the Gladiator Mojave of using orange accents where the Trail Rated Jeeps use red, as on the tow hooks, so expect that to continue. It remains to be seen whether the “Mojave” moniker will be extended to other Desert Rated Jeep models the way the Trailhawk designation has become synonymous with the toughest of the Trail Rated Jeeps. And while you shouldn’t expect a Desert Rated Renegade to be able to keep up with a Gladiator Mojave running the Baja 1000, you can probably bet on it to finish such a race ahead of any factory-sold, unmodified Chevy Trax, Ford EcoSport, or Honda HR-V. We very much look forward to learning what model Jeep will next bestow its Desert Rated badge upon.
Jeep “Desert Rated” Means a Model Meets Thresholds for:
- Ride and Stability
- Sand/Dirt Traction
- Ground Clearance
- Desert Prowess