LEAD THE WAY

JEEP HAS SLAPPED A TRAIL-RATED BADGE ON ITS NEW COMPACT SUV. WE HEAD TO SOME TRACKS JUST OUT OF HOBART TO SEE IF THE COMPASS TRAILHAWK IS BUSH-CAPABLE.

WORDS DEAN MELLOR PHOTOS FCA

EVER since the tiny Renegade Trailhawk was labelled a Trail Rated vehicle, we’ve wondered if Jeep has gone soft and devalued what was once a respected badge of honour.

Trail Rated, according toJeep, means a vehicle has passed a series of rigorous tests in five off-road categories: Traction, Water Fording, Manoeuvrability, Articulation and Ground Clearance.

The Compass Trailhawk’s traction comes in the form of a driveline and electronics package that consists of Jeep’s Active Drive Low 4X4 System and Selec-Terrain with Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud, and Rock Modes, as well as Hill Descent Control.

No, it doesn’t have a two-speed transfer case, but hit the 4WD Low button and it’ll lock the transmission into first gear, which has a handy 20.4:1 overall reduction. Think of it as a crawler gear, much like in a Volkswagen Amarok.

Water fording is a reasonable 480mm, which is up from the lesser 405mm maximum wading depth of the Compass Limited. The engine’s air intake is located up reasonably high behind the driver’s side headlight.

Manoeuvrability comes courtesy of the Compass Trailhawk’s compact dimensions and 10.76m turning circle. Yep, it’s a small vehicle, measuring just 4398mm long, 1819mm wide and just 1657mm tall. It also has handy approach, ramp-over and departure angles (30.3°, 24.4° and 33.6°) thanks to raised suspension and redesigned front and rear bumpers exclusive to Trailhawk.

Articulation? Well, it’s got a claimed 170mm of wheel travel up front and up to 200mm at the rear, which isn’t really a helluva lot, but the clever electronics package manages to overcome that when wheels are lifted into the air over undulating terrain. And without much droop travel, wheel lifting happens quite a bit on rough tracks.

Ground clearance is a claimed 225mm, which is pretty impressive for a compact 4X4, and when the Compass Trailhawk does whack its belly on the ground it’s reassuring to know that vulnerable components are tucked up and out of the way and protected by bash plates.

We took the Compass Trailhawk up some rocky tracks that most of its competitors would’ve baulked at. Engaging Rock Mode offers increased brake lock differential capacity, which minimises wheelspin and provides decent drive to the wheels with grip. While it’s certainly no rock-crawling beast, the Compass Trailhawk is more capable than you might expect.

Power comes from a 2.0-litre fourcylinder turbo-diesel engine that makes a claimed 125kW at 3750rpm and 350Nm at 1750rpm. The engine is mated to a smooth-shifting nine-speed auto that was co-developed with ZF.

On-road performance is more than adequate and the engine has nice low-rpm response and a healthy midrange, and the auto is a smooth and predictable shifter.

The Compass is quite refined on the open road; it offers good noise insulation, a compliant if slightly firm ride, lively handling, and predictable and well-weighted steering.

The Compass Trailhawk costs $44,750 and is well-equipped for the money with standard features including 17-inch alloys with 225/60R17 rubber, a big 8.4-inch touchscreen with sat-nav and Apple CarPlay/Android Auto, reversing camera, front and rear parking sensors, chunky recovery points, cloth/leather seats, tyre-pressure monitors and more. For an extra $2450 you can add an Advanced Technology Group package that consists of forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning, exterior mirror courtesy lamp, power tailgate, adaptive cruise control, auto high beam, and blind-spot monitoring

Jeep insists it’s going to great lengths to improve customer satisfaction, along with service and parts back-up, starting with a five-year/100,000km warranty with capped-price servicing and lifetime roadside assist (it’s called The Jeep There & Back Guarantee). Jeep also admits that winning back previously disgruntled customers and rebuilding its reputation won’t happen overnight.

The Jeep Compass Trailhawk certainly looks the goods, with its highriding stance, blacked-out bonnet decal, red recovery hooks and, of course, Trail Rated badges, and while it might not be your typical long-distance bush tourer, it certainly offers a good blend of on-road finesse in a compact package with reasonable off-road capability.