2020 Jeep Gladiator quick drive review: Mopar-tuned king of the desert
A slew of off-road upgrades from FCA's Mopar performance parts catalog make the already great Jeep Gladiator even better.
Emme HallFormer editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
If you want to check out the King of the Hammers race -- the toughest one-day off-road event in the US -- you'll need a properly capable vehicle in order to get there. A standard
would do nicely, but I've got one accessorized by the folks at Mopar, turning this already rugged truck into something worthy of this special event.
Even though I'm just coming out to King of the Hammers to spectate, I've got to get from my campsite to the course and that means traversing silt, sand, rocks and steep hills. I shall not be deterred.
The stock Jeep Gladiator can tackle a lot. Step up to the Rubicon trim and you've got a truck that's nearly unstoppable. Add a few aftermarket parts from Mopar, however, and this thing is basically ready for the zombie apocalypse. It's got $13,746 worth of Mopar upgrades, and while a lot of them are cosmetic, there's still a lot to appreciate.
I would definitely pay $1,495 for the 2-inch Mopar lift kit. At 137.3 inches, the Gladiator has an exceptionally long wheelbase, and lifting the truck gives it a better breakover angle for scrambling over large objects. Furthermore, the kit includes upgraded Fox shocks that make short work of the sandy whoops leading up to a popular section of the King of the Hammers course called "Chocolate Thunder" (don't blame me, I didn't name it). Cruising at a steady 30 mph, the Mopar Gladiator easily soaks up the bumps, while stock trucks I'm passing are bouncing along like staplers.
Lifting the Gladiator means there's room for 35-inch BF Goodrich KO2s, another welcome upgrade. These tires generate more road noise than the stock rubber, but they have no trouble getting me through a deep silt bed without having to be aired down. In fact, during the whole trip, I never had to change the tire pressure -- that's four days traipsing around the desert without a flat.
This Mopar Gladiator is equipped with a $1,295 Decked lockable drawer-style storage system in its bed, meaning that I can carry a few passengers with me and still have space to secure my Maxtrax recovery boards, some food and a few other dribs and drabs. The Decked system can even support 1,600 pounds of cargo on top, so if I had a dirt bike, it'd be a cinch to bring it along.
As darkness falls, the Mopar lighting comes in handy. This Gladiator has two 5-inch side cubes producing 4,800 lumens, and two 7-inch round lights up front, good for 8,000 lumens. They light up the night appreciably well, but lighting has come a long way as of late, with new laser technology paving the way for a clear, bright light.
When the party's over and it's back to driving the Mopar Gladiator on road, it mostly drives like a stock
Rubicon, though the ride is a bit firmer and I do notice the little bit of extra power delivered by the cold-air intake. At $445, the latter is a fairly cheap way to add a few horses to the 3.6-liter V6. Coupled with the $1,250 cat-back exhaust, this Gladiator has a deep, throaty growl that I love (however, if you've got a long highway commute, the drone might get to be a bit much).
There are a lot of aftermarket shops that will sell you goodies for your Gladiator, but buying from Mopar means your Jeep's factory warranty stays in place, and most of the parts have their own 24-month, unlimited-mile warranty. Sure, a lot of these upgrades are merely for show, but the Mopar upgrades that affect capability and performance do so significantly.
The Mopar-equipped 2020 Jeep Gladiator can take you anywhere