Jeep's new Compass Trailhawk: Keeping a hawk’s-eye over its market niche

S. Muralidhar | Updated on: Jun 07, 2019

Much of the cabin’s design and layout is similar to the Jeep Limited Plus  S Muralidhar

Much of the cabin’s design and layout is similar to the Jeep Limited Plus S Muralidhar

Jeep’s new Compass Trailhawk delivers on the brand’s promise of “Go Anywhere, Do Anything”

For a vehicle-maker that has slotted itself into a niche, one would think that there is hardly any room left for a brand like Jeep to discover more buyers. But it has gone down the price and size categories to lasso in buyers who are keen on owning a Jeep but can’t afford a Grand Cherokee or a Wrangler. The Compass was the more-approachable Jeep for many buyers in India and in other markets too. With sports utility vehicles still so much in demand globally, Jeep is riding the wave with its range of models.

With so many new SUVs due out across the price range in India too, everyone is trying to corner a niche within this niche. So we’ll have the connected SUV, the urban SUV, the spacious SUV and the true-blue off-roader SUV. That last one is Jeep’s new Compass Trailhawk. Not all Jeeps are the same, the Trail Rated versions are extra special and certified as such only when they meet some reliable measurements for true off-road performance capability. While the brand is meant to represent an inherently off-road capable vehicle, Trail Rated models are built to offer higher crawl ratios, capable of fording deeper waters, offer higher wheel articulation, and feature higher clearances, approach and departure angles to take on the wilderness.

Design

First point to note is that this new Compass Trailhawk is not a minor upgrade in terms of its core strength. It is purpose built to take on some serious off-road activity. I got a taste of this earlier this week at 19-degrees North, an off-road park near Lonavla. From the outside, the new Compass Trailhawk may not look very different from the existing variants. In fact, some of the changes, like the matt-black decal skin patch on the centre section of the bonnet, look like after market add-ons. But, they are all there for a purpose — the bonnet patch is meant to cut glare while you are off-roading. Similarly, the ground clearance has been increased by about 30 mm to 205 mm and the engine air-intake snorkel height has been raised (up 120 mm) inside the bonnet to reduce the risk of water entry. So, the Trailhawk’s water depth capability is now a higher 483 mm.

The Compass’ design was already likeable with its classic Jeep lines and features like the trademark seven-slatted bonnet grille and the wide, squat stance accentuated by the squared-off wheel arches and cladding. The chassis and other underpinnings remain the same overall, but get specific changes meant to boost the Trailhawk’s off-road capability. The front and rear fenders, for example, have been reworked, so the approach angle is 26.5 degrees, the break-over angle is 21.2 degrees and the departure angle is 31.6 degrees. Also, additional skid plates now offer higher protection from underbody damage while you are tackling rocks and logs. Of course there is the Trail Rated badge on either side of the front panels identifying the special status of this vehicle and the Trailhawk logo has been plastered on to the bottom right edge of the tailgate. The optional addition is the dual pane panoramic sunroof. The other small change that can be observed when you get close is the red-coloured tow hook peeking out of the rear fender. Indian pedestrian safety norms don’t allow tow hooks at the front. This can handle 1.5 times the gross weight of the compass.

Cabin

With so much genuine focus on enhancing the Compass’ off-road prowess, it was not surprising to see that the cabin of the Trailhawk is pretty much the same in terms of design and layout as that of the Limited Plus. The new version gets a black interior theme with much of the dashboard sporting the same soft-touch and textured plastic panels we have already seen. A few touches of colour in the form of contrast red double stitching on the leather seats, steering wheel and door panel inserts, and red accent surrounds for the instrument binnacle and speaker panes, liven up the cabin a bit. The addition of an engine start/stop system can be seen from the new control button for the same. The instrument cluster is a new seven-inch, reconfigurable display and the dual zone auto climate control can now also be used with voice-activated commands.

The seats are plush as always in the Trailhawk too and three passengers at the rear should be doable. Interesting to note that the rear USB slot also connects to the infotainment system through Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There are a number of smaller additions that again point to the Trailhawk’s purpose-built character. The mode control knob, which Jeep calls the 4X4 Selec-Terrain dial, now has the addition of an exclusive Rock mode. There is also a four-wheel drive low and hill descent control buttons. But, the Trailhawk is missing some of the comfort features that the Limited Plus variant offers such as auto headlamps, auto wipers and electric seat height adjustment.

Performance

The Trailhawk gets a lot of special equipment under the bonnet. This will be the first Jeep model to get the reworked, BS VI emission norms compliant, two-litre Multijet II turbo diesel engine. This 1,956 cc, four-cylinder engine gets exhaust treatment and other emissions reduction tech such as SCR (selective catalytic reduction) to meet the stringent new norms that come into effect by the middle of next year. The engine now generates 170 HP of peak power and 350 Nm of torque. Also new is the nine-speed, torque-converter automatic gearbox that the engine has been paired with.

Driving the Compass Trailhawk on regular tarmac with the 4X4 system in auto mode, immediately delivers the message that this is a quieter and more refined unit compared to its previous avatar. Jeep officials tell me that considerable work has been done to dampen the noise levels in the cabin, including twice as much engine bay insulation compared to the older versions. The Trailhawk also gets the addition of a AdBlue tank and injection (urea or ammonia) as part of the SCR treatment. This leads to the big reduction in NOx levels; with BS VI diesel, which should be available nationwide in the coming months, the SOx emission levels will also be lower.

On the road, the enthusiasm about the powertrain’s refinement was dampened by the rather short ratios on the nine-speed gearbox. Gradual throttle inputs in traffic leads to acceleration and imperceptible gear changes. Floor the pedal and the gearbox behaves differently — gear changes lead to a bit of head nod and the transmission’s relative laziness is probably affected by the engine’s short to mid range performance band. Peak power is generated (at 3,750 rpm) well after peak torque has plateaued (1,750-2,500 rpm). And so there is nothing much to exploit after the needle crosses the 3,000 rpm mark, even if one was to shift manually by using the gear stick up/down (steering-mounted paddles were missed). Quick overtakes needed me to shift up since the engine was getting out of breath.

Testdrive
 

The Trailhawk comes alive when it is off tarmac. Amidst rocks, loose gravel, and the small water bodies surrounding Aamby Valley in Lonavla, the Trailhawk really impresses with its ability to pick its way easily through what looks like non-negotiable terrain. Endowed with a selectable low range, the Trailhawk’s final drive ratio allows for a higher crawl ratio of 20:1. Selecting 4WD low and Rock mode keeps the transmission in first gear and the Selec-Terrain system and Active Drive Low together modify torque distribution to ensure that any slippage or loss of traction in any of the four wheels is compensated. While each of the other modes Snow, Sand and Mud feature varying torque distribution levels meant to offer slipping wheels more bite into the surface, in Rock mode it focusses on climbing out of some of the hairiest situations off-road. Even though many of the rock climbs and downhill descents were prepared ahead at the Lonavla park, the Trailhawk’s prowess was clear from the ease with which it managed to wiggle its way out. It was also a good demonstration of what assistance the higher ground clearance can offer.

Bottom Line

The Trailhawk’s suspension is an improvement, especially given the raised stance from the higher clearance. Frequency selective damping and the all-terrain, all-season Falken Wildpeak tyres manage to keep me quite comfortable even during the toughest spots off-road. On the road, though, I would have liked tyres that offer a bit more grip while cornering. The mild oversteer that the Compass has always had didn’t help either. The Trailhawk also gets a full range of safety and driving assistance systems including side and curtain airbags, ESC and traction control.

The Trailhawk is meant for buyers who will truly appreciate its off-road capability. That is the kind of buyer that will be willing to forego some of the creature comforts for the sake of this prowess, even though he or she may only rarely experience the Trailhawk’s real abilities. If Jeep India keeps the on-road price well below ₹30 lakh, they’ll find many takers.

Published on June 06, 2019
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