Top Gear America Desert Toy Shootout! Jeep Gladiator vs. Polaris RZR

We all need to get away sometimes, and if you live in the American Southwest, getting out to open land to thrash your favorite desert toy can be the perfect escape. But, there are a myriad of vehicles to choose from—take these offerings from Top Gear America hosts, Dax Shepard and Rob Corddry: The 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave and the 2020 Polaris RZR Pro XP. Both very capable vehicles in locations like the Mojave Desert, but with totally different styles of driving and ownership. How do you choose?! 

The Jeep Gladiator Mojave takes the already capable bones of the base Gladiator, then ups the ante with 2.5-inch Fox internal bypass dampers and 33-inch tires and the first ever factory-equipped pneumatic front bump stops on a pickup truck. The Polaris RZR Pro XP has 22 inches of independent wheel travel at all four corners, over 180 hp (just) and 30-inch tires—that all put power into the dirt. Sure, there’s no windshield, but with nearly half the weight-to-power ratio of the Gladiator Mojave, we can forgive the lack of air conditioning.

Jeep Pickup Truck or Polaris Side-by-Side: How Do You Go Off-Roading?

You’re in the middle of the Mojave Desert, the sun hasn’t hit its peak, but the sand is scorching and temperatures are already breaking triple digits. You have two off-road vehicles to choose from: One has a fully enclosed cabin with air conditioning, the other has the wind blasting in your helmeted face at up to 85 mph—so you might forget that it’s a little hot outside. Whether you’re comfortably ensconced in the Jeep Gladiator Mojave’s refined-meets-utilitarian interior or white-knuckling the steering wheel, choking on your own dust clouds while dodging tumbleweeds like a terrier on an agility course in the Polaris RZR Pro XP, you’re going to be having a good time hooning either of these off-road vehicles.

But the numbers don’t help in choosing one over the other. The Polaris is nearly a third the cost of the Jeep at only $23,000 versus the Gladiator Mojave’s $63,000 price tag. The RZR, on the other hand, isn’t street-legal in many states—namely, California, where Dax and Rob are testing their desert toys—so owners would need a transport rig of some sort to get their RZR Pro XP to their favorite off-highway vehicle park. The Gladiator is just a regular, old pickup truck—maybe with a bit more capability.

Street-legal everywhere, we have to mention the air conditioning again, there’s even a windshield, too—but if you like, the Jeep JL Wrangler/JT Gladiator cousins make it easier than ever before to drop it out of the way and remove the remaining roof panels for open-air cruising. The Jeep Gladiator Mojave can do everything the Polaris Pro XP can, while holding more people and cargo. The only sacrifice is a little speed.

The First Jeep of its Kind Compared to the Best Polaris RZR

The Jeep Gladiator Mojave marks a first for the storied maker of 4x4s. Jeep’s Trail Rated badge has been around for a few years now and those who know understand that any Jeep with a Trail Rated badge can handle much more than the average four-wheel-drive vehicle. Fred Williams took a bone-stock Trail Rated Jeep Renegade over Black Bear Pass for an episode of Dirt Every Day. Granted, he is a highly skilled and experienced driver, that’s still an impressive feat for a 4×4 CUV destined to live most of its life on tarmac. 

Unlike its more crawl-and-climb oriented brother—the Gladiator Rubicon—the Gladiator Mojave is not Trail Rated; it is the first Jeep in history to wear the Desert Rated badge. Where a Trail Rated Rubicon is built to handle nearly any off-road situation you can throw at it, the Desert Rated Mojave has a more singular focus: go fast in the desert. 

Sure, it still has solid axles front and rear, but those 2.5-inch Fox shocks have been tuned to eat up whoops and blast through sandy washes like a Ford F-150 Raptor or Ram 1500 TRX. OK, maybe not as fast as the big guns, but the Mojave-equipped Gladiator can definitely outrun any other Gladiator or Wrangler in a fast baja run and not feel like you’re bouncing off the trail the whole way. Trouble is, it’s still a solid-axle pickup truck. While it can handle the high-speed damping needed in fast desert driving, it still doesn’t hold a candle to the lightweight, powerful, and nimble Polaris RZR.

It cannot be forgotten that this is no plebeian RZR. The Pro XP is the most capable and powerful in the Polaris RZR lineup. The most wheel travel, the biggest tires, and you can even order a Rockford Fosgate Edition. So how do you choose? A true desert toy, singularly focused on fast off-road driving or one of the most capable go-anywhere 4x4s that also happens to be a comfortable, safe, and reliable pickup truck well-suited to daily driving? These are existential questions that have no real answers other than, “get out and drive.” Still can’t decide? The MotorTrend App has 8,000+ episodes of car shows to choose from, so we’re sure there’s something there that can help—sign up today!

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