Ever since it came out in the Forties as a military vehicle during World War II, the Jeep nameplate opened up a whole new world for the adventurer. It showed us the absence of a road isn’t an excuse for not venturing into the unknown and exploring the world beyond. It also set the blueprint for several other off-road vehicles that went on to achieve legendary status in their own right. As long as man has the urge to go beyond the beaten track, the Jeep badge will always remain an icon. While the current JL Wrangler has built on this fabled history by staying true to the brand’s original attributes, the Gladiator picked up where Scrambler, the stretched CJ-8 with a small pickup bed, left off back in the early Eighties. Unmistakably Jeep, with that iconic 7-slot grille and round headlamps, it added a generous dose of practicality, versatility and coolness to the Wrangler’s fabulous off-roading credentials with that cargo bed and enhanced towing capabilities.
Now, Jeep has updated the Gladiator with several significant suspension upgrades that make it the first vehicle to get the brand’s new Desert Rated badge. Dubbed the Mojave in international markets, and the Sand Runner in the Middle East market, this new variant is set up for high-speed desert running in addition to all the usual off-road gear that goes into Jeeps with a Trail Rated badge. Jeep Gladiator Sand Runner models are equipped with specially tuned Fox 64mm (2.5-inch) internal bypass shocks with external reservoirs in the front and back. It also gets a Sand Runner-exclusive Fox hydraulic jounce shock up front for extra damping. Add to these a reinforced frame, a 25mm (1-inch) front suspension lift with a skid plate, stronger axles with cast-iron steering knuckles, front seats with integrated upper bolsters and standard 33-inch tyres, the Gladiator Sand Runner becomes Jeep’s fastest and most capable desert vehicle.
Out on the sands by Maleha Road, these changes lend the Sand Runner a level of capability that is superior to most other off-roaders and specifically to the Gladiator Rubicon. It scrambles up dunes with ease and handles impacts from dips with aplomb. The Sand Runner also gets Jeep's Off-Road Plus setting, which when activated in 4WD High, enhances throttle response, alters the shift points for the transmission and cuts down the electronic stability control’s intrusion. Although I did not venture deeper into the desert, the upgraded suspension seems to be capable of taking way more abuse than the Rubicon Gladiator or Wrangler can. Every Gladiator Sand Runner vehicle has been developed to succeed in a series of strenuous tests in five categories which grant it the Desert Rated badge: Ride Control and Stability, Traction, Ground Clearance, Maneuverability and Desert Prowess.
However, for a vehicle that is rated for high-speed desert running, the 285 horsepower and 260lb ft from the naturally aspirated 3.6-litre V6 is just adequate, especially when you compare it with a Raptor and its 450-horsepower twin-turbo engine. The Sand Runner is quick on sand, but still not as quick as a Ford F-150 Raptor.
Back on the road, the Sand Runner drives like any other Jeep. The steering response on road is vague, and the ride isn’t anywhere close to the Raptor’s in terms of composure, but for an old-school Jeep pick-up with two solid axles, the ride quality is fine up to speeds of 120kph. While road noise does seep in quite a bit from the chunky 33-in tyres, a long drive to Dibba and back from Dubai was not fatiguing as it would be in a Rubicon Wrangler. Getting in and out of the truck could prove a bit of a chore for those with lower-than-average height thanks to the vehicle’s increased ride height. However, once settled inside, the cabin is a decent place to be in, with the thickly bolstered front seats being wide and reasonably comfortable. The list of goodies include Keyless Entry, Remote Start System, Park Sense Rear Park Assist System, Integrated Off-Road Camera, an Alpine audio system, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto and Jeep’s Uconnect 4 - 8.4in touchscreen display with navigation.
With a starting price of Dh234,900, the Jeep Gladiator Sand Runner does not offer much of a price advantage over the Ford F-150 Raptor. However, if you are looking for a Jeep specifically, and would like a cargo bed for utility and go out into the desert often, the Sand Runner is your best bet. It is the best Jeep vehicle for high-speed desert running. But does that make it the best desert-going pick-up truck? Well, that is open for debate.