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This is the Compass that off-road enthusiasts have been waiting for. This is also the Compass that Jeep India needs to reignite its sales. The Jeep Compass Trailhawk builds on the already best-in-class off-road ability by adding 4-Low on the 4×4 drivetrain while, finally, introducing an automatic transmission on the diesel. The latter is crucial to rekindle sales, now that nearly 50 per cent of SUVs in this segment are bought with an automatic transmission, though for now it is only the Trailhawk that gets the 9-speed auto and the regular versions will only get it later in the year. The former now puts the Compass in a sweet spot: no other SUV in this class, not the Hyundai Tucson nor the Volkswagen Tiguan, offers low-ratio 4×4. And together with changes to the bumpers to alter approach and departure angles, greater ground clearance and more off-road oriented tyres, the Jeep Compass Trailhawk can raise eyebrows when the going gets nasty.
The big changes to the Jeep Compass Trailhawk are in its off-road ability but first we have to get to 19 Degrees North adjacent to Aamby Valley in Lonavala. It’s a 20km drive up one of our favourite driving roads and it reconfirms what we’ve said in the past about the Compass, once you pick up speed the ride quality is fantastic. The all-independent suspension and Frequency Sensitive Damping (re-tuned on the Trailhawk) just flattens all ruts and bumps in its path and feels solid and unflappable. A big benefit of FSD dampers are the quicker rebound, so when the wheels leave the ground, the dampers force them back down to ensure the tyres are always in contact and thus you get better traction both on and off the road. Lastly, the hydraulic bump stops prevent any unnecessary judder when the wheel drops.
The extra 30mm lift in the suspension over the regular Compass did not lead to any noticeable difference in its on-road dynamics, we didn’t have any extra body roll nor floatiness, though the more off-road-oriented pattern on the tyres does lead to a bit more tyre noise and an earlier onset of understeer. The noise from the Multijet II diesel is well damped, there is plenty of power (170.5bhp), solid torque (350Nm) and now that there is an automatic gearbox, the long distance mile-munching ability of the Compass goes up several notches since you no longer have to deal with the heavy clutch and gearbox. Plus, this engine is BS-VI compliant and it can run safely on BS-IV fuels. It has an AdBlue tank that needs to be topped up every 7,000 to 10,000km, which means once by the owner between every service.
The steering has also been retuned for reduced effort, the engineers say it is somewhere in between the very light weight one preferred by the US markets and the very heavy one that the European market is accustomed to. After driving it on road, I can confirm it is well-judged for India.
This is a first in class, the nine-speed automatic gearbox, and is imported from the US. In terms of the shift smoothness, it is as we’ve come to expect of modern automatic gearboxes — smooth, non-intrusive, completely jerk-free. It is a bit relaxed, and, especially when overtaking, you will want a quicker and more urgent downshift. There are no paddle shifters for manual control, and there is no Sport mode on the gearbox to quicken the shift action. You can shift the gear lever to the left and tap it up and down to engage manual mode and that helps it hold on to gears when you’re in the hills and also deliver engine braking. The additional ratios also allow a lower first gear for better acceleration and a taller top for more relaxed cruising and of course better fuel efficiency, aided by the Power Take Off unit that disconnects the rear axle when cruising on the road. We didn’t really get a chance to test the efficiency on the way, but back from our off-roading we did see 11kmpl on the display while heavy off-roading saw the figure drop to 5kmpl.
The Compass is natively front-wheel-drive, in the interests of fuel economy and emissions, and when it starts to sense slip, the clutch on the rear axle opens making it four-wheel-drive. If you do see a tricky section you can engage the four-wheel-drive lock so that the Compass is primed in 4×4 and there’s no delay in drive going to the back wheels. All this is the same as on the regular 4×4 Compass. What the Trailhawk has is an additional button on the 4×4 selector knob, 4-Low. 4-Low is only available on 1st gear (it locks it in first gear) and it results in a crawl ratio of 20:1. Crawl ratio is the first gear ratio multiplied by the transfer case multiplier and axle ratio — basically it almost doubles the torque you get in first gear, the additional grunt helping it climb hills and power over obstacles that would have the regular Compass running out of breath.
The Trailhawk also has an additional mode on the Selec-Terrain traction management — Rock. As you toggle between Snow, Sand and Mud the level of traction control intervention reduces to allow the tyres to dig through the loose surface and find grip on the harder surface underneath. Rock mode only works with 4-Low where the front and rear driveshafts are locked and the traction control system is more aggressive as you want to be tip-toeing over boulders with maximum grunt and not spinning the tyres and letting rocks fly, damaging your own 4×4 and those following you.
Before we hit the trails, some background on the Trail Rated badge. While the exact specifications for Jeep to certify its 4x4s as Trail Rated is a closely guarded secret, there are five key parameters that go into the certification — traction, ground clearance, articulation, manoeuvrability and water fording.
First we tested traction and articulation by putting the Trailhawk through a series of ditches and side slopes that tilt the Compass at crazy angles, hoist the wheels in the air and the 4×4 system sends torque to the tyres with traction (braking the uselessly spinning wheels with no traction) and keeps the Jeep chugging along. The Compass can do the three-wheeling trick and handle axle twisters very well. We stick it in 4-Low and use the 20:1 crawl ratio to pull up some steep slopes that have a slippery surface for an added challenge. Here, the additional torque in the first gear (thanks to the transfer case multiplier), as well as the stronger bite from the tyres, help the Compass crawl up. A word on the tyres, unlike the Firestone tyres on the regular 4×4, the Trailhawk gets imported Falken Wildpeak H/T tyres, the same 225/60 17-inch size as before, but with improved side wall protection and trapezoidal link tread for better off-road grip — all of which are genuinely evident on the trail.
Next is manoeuvrability, where we climb up some steep hairpins and again the Compass pulls through. Unlike other 4x4s, in the Trailhawk, the turning circle does not go for a toss in 4-low, compromising the manoeuvrability. The trails we’re driving through are all natural tracks at 19 Degrees North in Lonavala but have been custom mapped out for Jeep, to push the Trailhawk’s capabilities, and to drive home the point these trails have also been mapped on the Compass’ navigation so you can tackle it on your own Trailhawk.
Ground clearance is great, the new bumpers giving it an improved 26.5 degree approach angle, 21.2 degree break over, 31.6 degree departure, and the additional 30mm lift in the suspension raises the ground clearance to 205mm meaning we don’t scrape its underbelly while water fording. Of course, with the monsoons yet to set in, there isn’t much water to ford through, but the unseen rocks pose no dangers even though the Trailhawk now gets skid plates to survive a bashing. The water fording is also enhanced by moving the air inlet higher (820mm to the regular Compass’ 720mm), additional electrical and body seals and it can traverse water up to 480mm deep. There is even a Trail Rated test, to wade through 200mm of water at 50kmph and tackle the bow wave without damage — the Compass Trailhawk passes that test.
The Trial Rated badge is no marketing mumbo-jumbo! The Compass was already very capable, a clear step above its competition in terms of its off-road ability. The Trailhawk now raises that benchmark, not one but two levels higher. The 4-Low makes all the difference in tackling loose surfaces, steep gradients and challenging obstacles while the increased ground clearance doesn’t just help off the road but will come in handy on your everyday commute too, especially with the imminent arrival of the monsoons. And everything on the Trailhawk is there for a reason, including that black strip on the bonnet — while being the biggest visual differentiator it also prevents glare when you’re off roading.
The best part is that all the off-road ability does not compromise any of the on-road skills. If anything, the Compass Trailhawk is now much, much better on road thanks to the automatic gearbox making commutes and mile-munching a breeze.
Of course the old sticky points remain. The back seat isn’t as spacious as its rivals and it is too claustrophobic to be chauffeured around in. In town, at low speed, the ride is very firm. And it has a healthy appetite for fuel. But if you’re looking for a 4×4 that can be your daily driver and weekend mud-plugger, there really is nothing at this price — the Toyota Fortuner 4×4 will set you back a fair bit more, a Mahindra XUV 500 AWD or Tata Hexa AWD doesn’t have half the off-road ability and while you will save a tonne of cash with a Mahindra Thar (and go further off the road, no question) there’s no way you can commute in that daily, neither will your wife and friends ever ride in it.
The Compass Trailhawk, then, occupies a neat little niche for itself. It won’t be cheap — the current Limited Plus is Rs 23 lakh, so expect the Trailhawk to be at least Rs 25 lakh (ex-showroom). But if Jeep are smart, they will also offer the Trailhawk on the Limited which will bring its price to around Rs 23.5 lakh, a price that the 250 or so off-road enthusiasts who’ve already pre-booked the Trailhawk will find appealing enough to fork up the rest of the cash and drive off into the trails.