What does it mean for a Jeep to be ‘Trail Rated’? Ishan heads to the southernmost point of Australia to drive the Jeep Compass Trailhawk to find out.
Intrigue can be quite complex and fascinating. The very fact that it can play with our minds is food for thought. The act of revealing something to someone, but withholding just the right amount of information is an art. The resulting mystery is enough to drive most people nuts. And if you’re someone like me, you’re likely to drive yourself to the verge of insanity.
The plot thickens
Jeep’s APAC-region PR department used this age-old technique on their latest drive event in the deep south of Australia, where they invited us to drive the Trailhawk version of the rather successful made-in-India Compass. Steve Zanlunghi, the head of Jeep brand for the APAC region, stressed multiple times how proud they were of Jeep India’s achievement in terms of the Compass’ manufacturing, sales and, more importantly, of the fact that the made-in-India Compass is being exported across the globe – something that we all should be proud of.
Anyway, back to the mystery surrounding the drive. While we knew were going to drive the Compass’ Trailhawk version, Jeep India had been tight lipped about what we were going to experience till the very last moment. And then right before we were about to set off, we were told that we were to drive around a technically laid out off-road course, along with highways and twisty roads – to demonstrate both on-and-off-road capabilities of the car.
The chosen location for this intriguing ride was the area around Hobart, the capital of the state of Tasmania (as the cricket fans amongst us already know) – an island with a small population (around 500,000 people) and some gorgeous roads and vistas. I’d never been to Hobart before, but after seeing the natural beauty of the region and the stunning driving roads in the hills along the coast, I’ve made a commitment to myself to come back someday soon.
On the (paved) road
Coming back to the car – in the flesh, there’s little that differentiates the Trailhawk from the standard version. There are a smattering of badges indicating its Trailhawkness, some red detailing on the interior and a big red badge displaying its ‘Trail Rated’ capability. What I like most is the Trailhawk motif embossed on the seatbacks. To those not in the know, Trail Rated means that a particular Jeep variant has been rated to complete a certain stretch of trail in Jeep’s off-road playground in the US. It’s a badge that Jeep products proudly wear and Jeep owners are proud of – a badge of honour of sorts. Also, the Trailhawk comes with a black bonnet and red tow hooks – both front and rear.
The main changes, then, come at the powertrain end of things. While the Trailhawk comes with the same 2-litre diesel engine of the other variants, which produces the same 168bhp and 350Nm of torque, here it’s paired to a 9-speed torque converter automatic instead of a 6-speed manual. The other major changes are the addition of the Active Drive Low 4x4 system (the system engages 4x4 automatically on demand and has a 4WD Low mode, which can be selected manually) and the Selec-Terrain traction management system, which offers various setting like Rock, Sand, Snow and Mud. Additionally, given the types of terrain a Trailhawk is expected to withstand, it comes with added underbody protection – with thick skid plates protecting the fuel tank, front suspension, transmission and transfer case from damage during serious off-roading. Or, as we Indians like to call it – a long drive on our highways.
The driving experience on-road, to start off with, is also remarkably similar, as one would expect. The Compass feels like a well-finished quality item, for the refinement and fit-and-finish of the car is top notch. On the uber-smooth, but winding, Tasmanian roads, the Compass felt right at home. With the diesel engine providing peak torque at just 1,750rpm, fast progress became an easy task. However, like the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic on the petrol, the 9-speed torque converter transmission on this variant is a little on the lazy side, and seems more tuned more for efficiency rather than perky throttle response. And, as I mentioned last month in my Compass AT review, I really miss paddle shifters – which, I think, would be a great addition to both cars and would resolve the one gripe I that I have with both of them.
Off the beaten path
After about an hour of tackling the rather empty, but well maintained, Tasmanian roads, we reached the trail that was our main driving challenge. And suddenly, without any warning, the beautifully smooth tarmac road turned into a gravel track. And, as we gained altitude, it continued to get trickier. Led by a Trailhawk Grand Cherokee and followed by a Trailhawk Wrangler – to make sure that no one got stuck or remained stuck – our progress got increasingly slower with an increase in the terrain’s difficulty level. We soon shifted into 4WD Low with Rock mode and Selec-Terrain activated, which changed the whole nature of the Compass – the wheels now stopped slipping and sliding and began to find traction. But what still bothered us was the intermittent rain that punctuated what was a day of mixed weather patterns.
Without any hesitation, I can vouch for the safety that the underbody protection of the Compass Trailhawk offers. Despite my best attempts, I bottomed the car out on a couple of tough stretches – but, to my surprise, the car’s underbody showed virtually no evidence of it. My fellow drivers from India and Japan also emerged unscathed despite some hairy stretches. The Compass stood the test, and all the cars reached the finish line on their own power!
To put it simply, our off-road excursion demonstrated that the Compass in Trailhawk trim can take almost everything you can throw at it – both on- and off-road. The 30.3-degree approach, 33.6-degree departure angle, with a wading depth of 480mm, and some serious four-wheel drive makes it a serious contender off-road. Add to that the automatic transmission, powerful diesel engine and excellent road manners, and the on-road requirements are well taken care of too. This was adequately proved on our long drive back to Hobart on some fantastic winding mountain roads running along the coast. On these narrow roads, in intermittent rain, the Compass revelled in the conditions and demonstrated its ability to carry speed through the corners. Of course, the gorgeous scenery subliminally added to the overall experience.
At the end of the day, I can safely say that the Compass Trailhawk will probably be the first SUV in its size and class that offers true on- and off-road abilities. It’ll prove to be a great car for someone who likes to hit dirt trails over the weekend.
The intrigue, however, wasn’t over yet. Jeep officials were tight lipped throughout our drive about whether the Trailhawk will make it to India, but in the end they conceded and confirmed that it will – most likely in 2018, but we’re not sure when.
Perhaps, the most important question in India concerning the car would be its price.
Well, there I can’t help you either – as we have no official indication of the cost. However, I think that the Trailhawk will be at least 2 to 3 lakh Rupees north of the current top-spec Compass, which is justified by its automatic gearbox and additional four-wheel drive hardware. But, even at that price, the Compass Trailhawk would offer a great combination of on- and off-road ability. So stay tuned – if the intrigue doesn’t kill you in the meantime.
- Jeep Compass Trailhawk
Engine: 1,956cc / In-line 4-Cylinder / Turbocharged
Transmission: 9-Speed Automatic / Four-Wheel Drive
Power: 168bhp @ 3,750rpm
Torque: 350Nm @ 1,750rpm
X-factor:In Trailhawk trim, the Compass is a genuine off-road SUV that is also great on-road. A segment first, then.
• Proven off-road ability
• Selectable 4WD Low mode
• Expect to pay a premium for the off-road ability
• Gearbox, a little lazy