Just what is Trail Rated?
For years, Jeep has separately branded its most off road-oriented models. Years ago, it was the Up Country package. Today, it's the Trail Rated badge, which is affixed to all Wranglers and certain versions of Jeep's Renegade, Compass, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee. Yes, it's a marketing effort, but Trail Rated Jeeps do have the goods to back up their badging—and that's important here, since the rest of the Compass lineup is decidedly pavement-oriented with their street tires and limited ground clearance.
If you define "off-road" as more than a gravel trail, you'll certainly want the Compass Trailhawk. It adds beefier skid plates, recovery points, chunkier Falken Wildpeak all-terrain tires, about an inch of suspension lift, and unique front and rear bumpers that improve its approach and departure angles.
One other thing is part of the Compass Trailhawk package: a panel with buttons and a knob for low range, hill descent control, and various traction control modes. Gone are the days of tugging up a lever and finagling an off-roader's transfer case into low range.
READ: 2017 Jeep Compass review
That's because "low range" here isn't quite what it seems. Instead of a proper two-speed transfer case, the Trailhawk has its own final drive ratio that allows it to normally start in second gear. This lets Jeep hijack first gear to imitate a 20:1 crawl ratio. That's not a great number by real off-roader standards (a Wrangler Rubicon's is about 73:1), but it does make the Compass the mud-pluggiest of its road-oriented class of rivals like the Honda HR-V, Subaru Crosstrek, and Nissan Rogue Sport.
2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk off-road
It is what it is...
Exploring old mining trails above Idaho Springs, Colorado, I pushed my Compass Trailhawk tester as far as I could. The end result? About what I expected. It'll chug up a rocky trail without much difficulty, but limited wheel travel and a suspension keen to hit its bump stops left me realizing that this really is a crossover with chunky tires and a good traction control system. With the 4WD Lock button engaged—which tells what is normally a front-biased system to send power to each corner; there's no center differential to lock—my blue tester scrabbled up loose terrain easily, as long as its wheels didn't leave the ground.
But over undulating terrain, where a Wrangler's solid axles would compress and stretch to keep its tires on the ground, the Compass Trailhawk's traction control worked silently to keep things going...as best it could. A trail that only weeks prior didn't cause a Toyota Tacoma TRD Off-Road to break a sweat left the Compass spinning all four wheels. More aggressive tires would help, but ultimately the problem is more complicated. It needs better wheel articulation.
Coming in for approach and departure
Two big advantages to the Compass Trailhawk are its front and rear bumpers, which aren't just for looks. They endow it with vastly better approach (30.3 versus 16.8 degrees) and departure (33.6 versus 31.7 degrees) angles. At under 17 degrees, the standard all-wheel drive Compass will barely clear a curb without scraping some plastic.
The Trailhawk's raised suspension helps a little, too. It sits 0.3 inches higher than the standard model and its breakover angle improves from 22.9 to 24.4 degrees.