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The smallest Jeep in India learns from its siblings and gets itself an off-road-specialist version. And guess what? It’s coming to India

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Australia offers the sort of terrain that Jeep loves. The vast outback, the treacherous, lifeless expanses that are larger than some nations in Europe, offer up challenges that Jeep owners would die for. It throws up the ultimate challenge for an off-road junkie. But why am I telling you about a country where Jeep doesn’t have origins, and neither is it a world-renowned place for off-road events? That is because I’m here, sitting in a Jeep, looking at rocky mountains and a trail that’s famous among local off-road devotees. This isn’t the Outback, though. This is near a city called Hobart situated in Tasmania state – the state that broke off the Australian mainland many million years back.

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Outside the window lies the territory of kangaroos and Tasmanian devils and Tasmanians who often bring up their 4x4s to catch a good view of the expanse. The Jeep that I’m sitting in is no ordinary one. And I say that for two reasons – it has a tiny red badge on the fender that means a lot, and this very model has some relevance to India. What relevance and what badge, you ask? So, Jeep’s Ranjangaon plant in Maharashtra is home to all Compasses that have the steering on the right side and people from my country have put this Compass together. To tell you more about the badge that I’m referring to, allow me to elaborate on Jeep’s history a bit. Jeep has come a long way. From making utilitarian army vehicles to the latest gen of the Wrangler to the Grand Cherokee SRT, with its massive V8, to this, the humble Compass. It’s put its 75 years of expertise in making SUVs to good use, and internationally, there’s a Jeep for every occasion. It has reached cult status and has admirers from all parts of the globe, in every age group. And to stick to its roots and ideologies, every Jeep model that rolls off the assembly line has to have one variant that loves the wilderness. One variant that can conquer the wild and deal with rocks, sand and muck. It’s called the Trailhawk version.

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The guys at Jeep use their magic wands and alter a few things on the regular version to create this, the ‘Trail Rated’ variant. Depending on the variant that the guys are working on, a lot can change on the Jeep. Some models might get bigger wheels and much bigger tyres, while some get a new transfer case and diff locks. In the case of the Compass Trailhawk that I’m driving today, it doesn’t get bigger wheels and chunkier tyres, but it does get all the other things I just mentioned. It’s properly prepped for an outing in the wild. It sits 225mm above ground – 50mm higher than the Compass that’s currently sold in India. The visual differences, apart from the badge, are reworked bumpers that allow better approach and departure angles for the SUV. But apart from that, all of it remains the same.

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The major additions are hidden under the skin. It gets the necessary off-road hardware to go the distance and gobbles up everything that’s thrown at it by Mother Nature. For now, what the Indian Compass gets is a four-wheel drive for the faint hearted. Yes, the system does send power to all four wheels smartly, but it isn’t made for the hardcore stuff. The Trailhawk is a different story. It gets a 4WD with a proper low-range transfer case to offer the sort of ratios that no ordinary 4WD system will. It helps you crawl over rocky bits and distributes power cleverly when struggling through muck. To make things easy for the driver, Jeep has the Selec-Terrain system that has Sand, Rock, Snow and Mud presets which alter things like pedal sensitivity, power distribution and stuff like that to suit the conditions better. And even if you’re lazy to select the mode, Jeep’s got you sorted, all you do is simply leave it in Auto for the system to figure out what lies beneath the tyres.

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Anyway, coming back to the hardware – it’s got almost all the necessary things to get you across a mountain and some streams and a small desert, if need be. The low-range transfer case is assisted by a rear diff-lock so that no energy is wasted on spinning a wheel that’s got no traction; instead, it’s routed to the wheel with more traction. Apart from this, the Trailhawk also has higher ground clearance and better approach and departure angles to allow bigger boulders to pass under the car. And should they still hit the underside, there’s protective cladding so that you don’t need to be towed away from your off-road patch. Now, many may think that this increased ground clearance and altered suspension setup to suit off-road driving may have affected on-road performance. But fortunately, it hasn’t. The Trailhawk drives well on the road too. Yes, it does roll a bit around corners, but it’s a fair bargain for the added off-road advantage that it has over the regular version.

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The Trailhawk we drove in Australia – the one that’ll most likely be sold in India – is powered by a 2.0-litre oil-burner that pumps out 168bhp and 350Nm out of its four cylinders. It may not sound like too much, but it’s more than sufficient to tug it along the road and even to pull it out of sticky situations off the road. But there’s a hiccup in the drivetrain. The engine is mated to a nine-speed transmission. Yeah, the nine ratios and the ability to offer flexibility to the engine is awesome, but it’s the torque converter type. Not the famous dual-clutch that is currently being applauded in the Compass. The guys at Jeep reckon the torque converter is better suited for off-road driving. But on the road, it has its disadvantages. The gearbox takes a wee bit longer to change cogs than you expect. It isn’t as spontaneous as you’d like it to be. Sigh.

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Now to the important question: when will the Trailhawk come to the Indian market? Yes, it is made in India and ideally, it shouldn’t take too long to make it to showroom floors. But knowing Jeep and FCA’s history with doing things swiftly, we reckon it’ll still be a good eight months away. Now to the second most important question: how much will the Trailhawk cost? Currently, the top-spec Compass costs `21.9 lakh (ex-showroom) with the 4x4 system. The Trailhawk, with its added off-road hardware and an automatic ’box, will cost about `2 lakh more than that. With that sort of a price tag, it competes with the Hyundai Tucson. Though it might not have the finesse of the Tucson in the cabin, it does have an extremely capable 4x4 system that will appeal to a lot of off-road enthusiasts.

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With the Trailhawk, the Compass will offer a homogeneous Jeep experience and will stand true to the value that the badge on its face represents, for so many years. It’s for the enthusiasts, this Trailhawk. And it’s hardcore enough to stand out like a seagull would in a flock of crows. It will just about be stretching its legs to prep itself for a hard workout in the wilderness, while others will back off at the mere sight of muck and boulders. It’s what Australia needs to get across the Outback and India to teach all those who thought the Compass was just a city dweller. It’s a Jeep thing.

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