Moab Trail Ride: 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk, Grand Cherokee Trailhawk

May. 04, 2017 By Josh Burns

Easter Jeep Safari is a celebration of the Jeep culture. During the week leading up to Easter, the small, charming town of Moab, Utah, plays host to Jeep lovers from all over North America, and youíll see everything from mild to wild, custom builds Ė and everything in between.

After having the chance to get behind the wheel of Jeepís Concept Vehicles the day prior, Jeep hosted another type of ride the following day. This time, we didnít hit the trail with a Wrangler or any of the concepts sitting on 35s or 37s Ė nope, weíd instead be taking out the far more civilized Compass and Grand Cherokee SUVs, but we would be driving the Trail-Rated Trailhawk models of each.

The Trail Rated badge is something the designers and engineers at Jeep take very seriously. Regardless of the Jeep being a compact SUV, a mid-size SUV or the brand ambassador Wrangler, if it has a Trail Rated badge that means it can hold its own on the trails.

The new Compass came on the scene for 2017 as an entirely new model for Jeep, filling in the compact SUV spot held by the previous incarnation of the Compass and the Jeep Patriot. The new Compass Trailhawk model can make a solid case as the most capable compact on the market, and what helps make it more trail-ready is that it sits 1 inch higher than the 2WD model. The Trailhawk model sits a 1/2-inch higher than the standard AWD model. The approach angle nearly doubles from roughly 15 to 30 degrees, which is due to the lift and the redesigned fascia unique to the Trailhawk. Mind you, the Compass Trailhawk still only features 8.5 inches of ground clearance, but thatís just enough to still have some fun on mild trails. Added peace of mind comes in the form of underbody skid plates.

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The Compass Trailhawk is powered by a 2.4L inline four-cylinder engine that is rated to produce 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque. The SelecTerrain system fine tunes wheel speed depending upon the terrain. Hill ascent and descent control takes the speed out of the equation for tricky off-road sections and allows the driver to focus on just driving. The Compass Trailhawk doesnít have a proper transfer case but it does have 4WD low setting that keeps the vehicle in the low end of the 9-speed transmissionís gear range, with a decent first-gear ratio of 20.4:1.

Situated a little further outside of town, Boxcar isnít the most challenging trail in Moab by any stretch, but there are a few sections that could cause some trouble for drivers if they donít take the right line. On the trail, our Compass Trailhawk performed better than expected. The upgraded Falken Wildpeak H/T tires offer great grip on the rocky, sandy, slickrock trails, with the 2.4L engine offering enough get-up-and-go to power up the steeper climbs. While the AWD Compass offers settings for Auto, Sand, Mud and Snow, the Trailhawk version also offers the Rock setting, which is the setting we used most of the time on the trail. Rock mode clearly helped with wheel spin reduction while climbing obstacles, offering a more composed and predicatble crawl up steep sections.

Overall, the Compass feels right at home on mild trails and can take outdoor lovers just about anywhere they want to go Ė especially if itís off the beaten path. The cabin feels spacious (larger than the Renegade but not quite as large as the Cherokee), and the loaded Trailhawk package not only offers improved capability but also unique exterior styling and a loaded interior. For a little more than $30,000, the Compass Trailhawk is a great option for the adventurous minded who doesn't want a full-size SUV.

The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk still may not rival the Wrangler, but it offers far more capability than most realize considering it is aimed at a family-focused, luxury buyer. The Grand Cherokee Trailhawk can tackle more aggressive sections than the Compass thanks to its longer wheelbase and its Quadra-Drive II 4x4 system, which offers a limited slip rear diff to help provide additional traction. The catch with all of that capability is you have to have the guts to do it with a $50K vehicle. Thankfully we had Nena Barlow of Barlow Adventures leading our trail ride for the day, who provided her local knowledge of the trails and helped the group pick the proper lines in tricky sections.

One of the best off-road features of the Grand Cherokee Trailhawk is the Quadralift air suspension system that provides the Grand Cherokee with 10.8 inches of ground clearance in the highest off-road setting. We tackled a few climbs that would offer a bit of challenge for even Wranglers, and yet the Grand motored up the grades with supreme confidence. Our vehicle, priced at right around $50,000, features the standard 3.6L V6 engine, which is perfectly adequate for the trails and the highway. The option of the 3.0L Ecodiesel engine is an option, if you can afford to fork over the additional $4,000.

The addition of skid plates for the front suspension, fuel tank, transfer case and underbody certainly doesnít hurt driver confidence. One added benefit for the Trailhawk when on the trails is that it offers improved suspension articulation thanks to bumpstops that are smaller than non Trailhawks Grands. Itís those little differences that add to the Trail Rated label, and itís what make Jeeps so unique in their respective segments.

Arguably our favorite upgrade on our Trailhawk is the optional rock rails to help protect the rocker rails - especially important on a pricey vehilce such as this. Of course, just like the Compass, the Trailhawk version features bold red tow hooks up front - just in case the trail gets a little too tough and recovery is needed.

After a full day on the trail with Jeep and Nena from Barlow Adventures, we came away with the reminder that the Jeep Trail Rated badge isnít simply a marketing slogan. Sure, the Compass wonít be your next hard-core trail rig by any means, but that Trail Rated badge tells you it aims to be the most capable vehicle in its class. Regardless of what SUV segment youíre looking at, Jeep has a capable SUV in it, and chances are the off-road version will be as capable or better off of the highway than its competitors in the class.

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