What’s Russell Crowe’s famous line in Gladiator? “Are you not entertained?” he asks to the blood-thirsty masses. Well, he might as well have been asking about the new Jeep Gladiator. The brand’s first pickup truck in decades is not your typical luxury vehicle — it’s much more entertaining. And that’s exactly why we love it. We caught up with Jim Morrison, head of Jeep North America to talk about the new Gladiator Mojave, the “Jeep wave”, and to try to understand what, exactly, the “it” in “It’s A Jeep Thing” really means.
What’s it like to drive flat-out across the desert with the doors and roof off in one of these new Jeep Gladiator Mojave pickups?
It’s incredible. You’re in a visceral environment. First, the Jeep is kind of digging in and then it starts to float as you’re moving through the sand at high speed. You’re flying. The sand sliders we put on the side of the Gladiator Mojave edition; they’re designed to displace the top of a sand berm if you’re going over it.
What exactly is the Mojave edition?
The Mojave edition is our first desert-rated Jeep. It’s a purpose-built, sand, high-performance, desert-racing machine.
What special gear does it have to tackle the desert?
It’s got a one-inch lift in the front, and 2.5-inch internal-bypass Fox shocks and hydraulic jounce bumpers. Basically, it all helps with the compression as you’re going fast over the dunes. We put all-terrain tires on this too, so there’s actually a little more feeling of acceleration under the Jeep as you’re gaining traction in the sand.
How does the Gladiator hold up to that kind of abuse?
We actually had a couple of Gladiators running in the Baja 1000 (the legendarily grueling off-road race in Baja California). The Gladiator came back with a class win and a championship. Other competitors showed up and broke down. We showed up and won.
But really, how many people actually take their Jeep off-road?
I always say 100 per cent of Jeep customers take their vehicles off road, it’s just most only do it in their minds. Now, when you get into a purpose-built Jeep Rubicon or a purpose-built Gladiator Mojave, that number of customers who actually take it off-road approaches more like 60 or 70 per cent.
Jeep has become synonymous with off-roading. How did that happen? What’s the history?
It started back in 1941 when we ended up making military Jeeps (built then by Willys-Overland) in response to the World War. Fast forward to the mid ‘40s, after the war, a lot of these vehicles started to come back from overseas. People found real uses for them on their farms and in their everyday lives. It then evolved into the Grand Wagoneer SUVs of the ‘70s and the Cherokees of the ’80s. Then, the Jeep Grand Cherokee in the ’90s, was really the first combination of luxury and technology and four-wheel drive capability.
What’s the deal with the Jeep Wave, the way all Wrangler drivers kind of salute each other on the road?
The Jeep Wave is simple, just two fingers off the steering wheel, but that actually has military roots as well, which isn’t commonly known. In the U.S. military, they would wave back and forth at each other in their Jeeps as they’re going by. It was a reference: “Hey, we’re actually on the same side.” We have this code that if you didn’t do it, if you didn’t wave back, you were probably a bad guy.
That bumper sticker you see on Jeeps — “It’s A Jeep Thing” — what exactly is “it”?
It’s a lifestyle. It’s the ability to go anywhere and do anything. Over nearly 80 years, we’ve been true to our off-road roots and heritage back to military days in 1941. It really is about the ability to expand your reach and do whatever you want as a human being.
Any tips for drivers interested in expanding their own reach who might be new to hardcore off-roading?
The main thing is to get familiar with your Jeep and the four-wheel drive capability. Whether you’ve got a Wrangler Rubicon, with front and rear lockers, sway bar disconnects, or whether you’re in a Gladiator Mojave with rear lockers and crazy capable suspension, get to know what your Jeep can do. Then, start out small and just keep working up to tougher routes. Get to know the surroundings and then continue to push the limits — that’s what our jeep customers do every day.
This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.