Jeep doesn't just whack a Trail Rated badge on just anything. That's why we were keen to see just how good the all-new Jeep Compass Trailhawk is.
Getting a 'Trail Rated' badge is far from just a marketing attempt to win sales. Jeep only awards the badge to bona fide off-road Jeeps capable of tackling a hardcore off-road course that would send most SUVs packing.
The all-new 2018 Jeep Compass not only brings the brand massively forward from the last one, which scored a sub 5/10 rating from CarAdvice, it comes with the coveted Trail Rated badge in Trailhawk trim.
Ahead of its arrival in Australia, we flew to Los Angeles to see how the 2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk stacks up against some tragic LA traffic and a bit of off-road driving.
The Jeep Compass range kicks off in Australia from $28,850 (plus on-road costs), moving all the way through to the top-specification Trailhawk model tested here from $44,750 (plus on-road costs).
It's worth noting that while the Compass Trailhawk we tested in the USA features a naturally aspirated 2.4-litre four-cylinder petrol engine with a nine-speed automatic gearbox, the Australian version of the Compass Trailhawk will get a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel mated to a nine-speed automatic gearbox.
When we grabbed the keys for our Compass Trailhawk, the CarAdvice orange colour really hit us for six. It looks amazing in person, and the addition of red tow hooks and off-road tyres massively increases its street appeal.
Trailhawk models pick up 17-inch wheels, Falken off-road-focused tyres, black detailing instead of chrome, signature red tow hooks, a raft of sill plates and underbody bash plates to protect the vital organs off-road, and a revised front lower bar section that delivers a much more practical approach angle.
Buyers of the Trailhawk will be impressed with its off-road credentials. Featuring a 216mm ground clearance, the Trailhawk has a 30-degree approach and 34-degree departure angle, plus significant underbody protection to protect it while driving off-road. There's also a proper low-range transmission.
The cabin is a huge step forward from the last Compass, featuring a giant 8.4-inch UConnect colour touchscreen that comes with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The new screen is very high resolution and navigating through the menus is an absolute breeze.
It is teamed with an excellent voice-recognition system that understands a variety of user inputs that range from phone contacts through to navigation addresses.
Other features include a cracking nine-speaker sound system with DAB+ digital radio, dual-zone climate control, bi-xenon headlights and LED tail lights, automatic headlights and windscreen wipers, leather seats, satellite navigation, power front seats, reverse-view camera with front and rear parking sensors, push-button start, auto-dimming rear-view mirror and heated front seats.
The meaty steering wheel sits nicely in hand, while the rest of the cabin offers plenty of storage – an electrically assisted parking brake helps free up extra space in the centre of the cabin.
Sitting in the driver's pew offers a commanding view of the road with great visibility out the front, sides and rear. The only thing we took issue with was the size of the A-pillar. It's quite chunky and can sometimes get in the way of spotting traffic.
The Compass will go up against cars like the Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan when it lands in Australia. On that front, it offers a commendable amount of leg room in the second row – although it feels a little more cramped than the Tucson and Tiguan, but not by much.
The second row folds in a 60/40 split-folding configuration and includes ISOFIX anchorage points.
In terms of cargo capacity, it's down on the competitors with 438 litres on offer. That's in comparison to 488L in the Tucson and a whopping 615L in the Tiguan. But, it does offer a dual-level load floor that allows the owner to customise the height of the load floor – an extra handy feature for hiding valuables beneath the cargo floor.
Powering the Compass Trailhawk for the US market is a 2.4-litre naturally aspirated petrol engine that produces 134kW of power and 237Nm of torque. It's mated to a ZF Sachs nine-speed automatic gearbox and an on-demand four-wheel-drive system with low-range.
Getting around LA is like most other big cities, except everything happens much faster and there's always a traffic jam nearby. As a result of this, the Compass Trailhawk felt underwhelming in terms of performance and power delivery.
While it's certainly not the smallest engine in the segment in terms of power and torque, it is considerably heavier than some vehicles in the segment, tipping the scales at 1670kg. That puts it at a performance disadvantage, and it was certainly felt when getting about Los Angeles.
The engine's lack of performance was particularly noticeable when we had a full car of camera gear and more than one passenger. As a result, the fuel economy was pretty poor, coming in at around 15L/100km.
On the upshot, the nine-speed automatic gearbox is great. It delivers slick gear shifts and is responsive enough to allow for sharp jabs of the throttle to move through traffic. The engine is also quite eager, willing to run all the way around to redline to get the job done.
Australia's Compass Trailhawk will get a far better suited engine in the form of a 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder diesel that pumps out 125kW of power and a meaty 350Nm of torque. It also picks up a ZF Sachs nine-speed automatic gearbox. Official fuel consumption figures for both the petrol and diesel are yet to be confirmed for Australia.
Along with traffic, Los Angeles is known for some pretty shoddy roads. Riding on 17-inch alloy wheels with meaty 65-profile tyres, the off-road-oriented tyres are fairly narrow and measure 215/65R17 on all four corners, but they are quiet at highway speeds and offer a contoured profile for off-road work.
The ride is excellent, again, and with the poor-quality LA roads it really shone. Communicative steering works well in unison with excellent brake pedal feel to deliver an engaging driving experience when you're not waiting on the engine to deliver torque.
Of course, being a Trail Rated Jeep, we wanted to try some off-road driving. We found a great spot with a fairly decent hill that, with the benefit of hindsight, we wouldn't have tried driving up.
In addition to 216mm of ground clearance, the Compass Trailhawk will wade through 480mm of water, but more impressive is its ability to enter a low-range gearbox mode.
The low-range mode teams with five selectable drive modes – automatic, snow, sand, mud and rock. We slipped into rock mode, which was best suited for the scrabbly stones beneath the tyres. We also locked the centre differential to distribute torque evenly between the front and rear axles.
Much to our surprise, the Compass climbed the hill effortlessly most of the way. When we reached the three-quarter mark it began to slow down as the tyres struggled to get traction.
Keeping at it and burying the throttle had us just manage to reach the top of the hill. We gave it another crack for some more photos and this time it was much harder. Ruts had formed in the channels and we had to attempt it a few times before eventually making it up again.
This is the type of hill you wouldn't really bother with in most proper four-wheel drives, let alone a pocket-sized SUV like the Compass.
That Trail Rated badge means a lot to Jeep, and it's awesome to see this product actually delivers on the off-road front. The wheels won't articulate like a Toyota Landcruiser, but a sophisticated multi-link rear suspension set-up allows greater articulation than anything else in this segment.
If you put the engine to one side, we were really impressed with the Jeep Compass Trailhawk. It's a cool SUV that works perfectly as a lifestyle vehicle, and then knocks it out of the park if you ask it to hit the bush for some off-road driving.
Pricing and specifications have been confirmed for Australia, but we're looking forward to driving the Compass Trailhawk in diesel trim when it launches in Australia this month.