Sleeper Jeep a mountain track king
Trail Rated. To me, that means Rubicon Ready.
Interesting place the High Sierra — the mosquitoes come out by day, there’s an outhouse every few hundred metres and the guides tell tales of ten metre snow drifts in those gorges in winter. And I fondly remember completing the pretty challenging Rubicon Trail running through there without getting stuck, many moons ago.
So when this so-called Jeep Compass Trailhawk appeared on our driveway complete with red 'Trail Rated' badges on its flanks, we scratched our heads.
Sure, it packs all the soft creature comforts you can dream of in its well-stacked soft-touch but typically Jeep sketchy cabin. A classy 7-inch full-colour dash and multifunction steering enables 8.4” Navigation infotainment with Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and the kitchen sink, to match all the regular rivals.
But can they really call this soft utility mom’s taxi ’Trail Rated’?
Now there’s a communications relay station on top of a little mountain down the road called Matoppie, that keeps our hamlet in touch with the real world. It has an access road that reminds me of the Rubicon — a mostly steep 750m climb up a minutely manicured old 4km logging track that requires a certain amount of skill to traverse.
Not quite a Rubicon level 4x4 trail, but add a good old Cape Northwester and as a certain element of the local population will say, ‘Rubicon se ma.’
Now getting back to our Trailhawk, it looks like a secondary school curb hopper with a couple of red tow hooks in its jowls and those red gongs on its flanks. On the road, it's actually quite dire — hard and crabby and that nine-speed tranny seems undecided which cog it should really have engaged.
Trackhawk performed well enough in its road tests, the big-bore naturally aspirated 129kW 229Nm 2359cc petrol four-pot matches some of the similar sized softer cars with downsized engines that pretend to be utility vehicles and it gets on well enough on performance, as the data below attests, although it's quite thirsty.
I recognised something in that ride as we went through our test routine though — it felt like a rally car does on the road between special stages. An omen, perhaps? Still, until that moment, we remained unconvinced — how could they possibly call this soft thing ’Trail Rated’?
As it happened, the Northwester was blowing up a storm and he trail up to Matoppie has also deteriorated a bit through the winter, so the further we progressed, the worse it became. Not to mention the howling wind belted the rain in horizontally to add mud and a fair little torrent down the rocky track too.
But twist that Selec-Terrain dial to seamlessly engage 4WD Lock and its splendid Jeep Active Drive low-range 20:1 low-range crawl gear, finger Rock mode, and the Compass Trailhawk seamlessly and almost miraculously transforms into a completely different realm as it morphs into a most capable four-by-four.
So much so, that you actually wonder why you never really noticed its 30mm taller 216mm ride height in the flesh. Or its class-leading 26.5-degree approach, 21.2 degree break-over and 31.6 degree departure angles and the custom crafted skid plate. I certainly did miss it touching down as we tackled some of our Ma se Trail’s most severe undulations and steps up though.
And when it did occasionally bottom over only the most extreme of Ma se obstacles, Trailhawk returned a reassuring thud to report a properly sorted and thought out 4x4 chassis. Any other soft ute in this neck of the woods would have crunched and crackled as the plastics tore off. Not Compass — it is clearly designed to bang and scrape along the floor when needed.
Having braved the gale up top to shoot the images in a spot of sunlight, we took an older less traveled but more severe track down and only became even more enamoured with the Trailhawk. The Hill descent control works wonderfully, especially at crawl speed over extreme surfaces, even stopping the car, likely sensing those long droop struts dropping too quickly to safely continue, before releasing once terra firma is confirmed again.
We may have wondered about it when we first encountered Compass Trailhawk in our driveway, but a week later it left is thoroughly impressed and absolutely convinced that this Jeep absolutely earns those Trail Rated badges on its flanks. If anything, it shocked us at how good it really is over the most demanding of trails.
Yes it is coarser and ruder on the road than its many soft rivals — never mind it uses more fuel and more expensive too. However, if you drive on the dirt everyday and may well need a proper 4x4 from title to time and don’t want the Raider of the Lost Ark image, or you want a soft-looking weekday runabout that will scare Cruisers and Landys on the weekend 4x4 trail, this could very well be your car.
Surprised? Yes — so are we! — Michele Lupini
ROAD TESTED: Jeep Compass Trailhawk
Engine: 129kW 229Nm 2.4-litre petrol I4
Drive: 9-speed automatic 4x4
0-60km/h: 4.26 sec
0-100km/h: 10.18 sec
0-160km/h: 29.62 sec
400m: 17.1 sec @ 130km/h
80-120km/h: 7.62 sec
120-160km/h: 15.08 sec
VMax: 185 km/h
Fuel: 9.4 l/100km
CO2: 230 g/km
Warranty/Service: 3y 100K/3y 100Kkm
LIST PRICE: R605K