Buying Guide

What are Jeep's Trail Rated and Desert Rated designations? Is there a difference?

The Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the first model to wear the Desert Rated badge.

Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Jeeps often come Trail Rated. They wear a Jeep Brand Trail Rated badge that denotes a level of prowess and equipment to conquer terrain that the average SUV or truck does not have. Now, there's also Desert Rated, which debuted at the 2020 Chicago Auto Show on the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave. This new badging takes the mission of tried and tested off-roading even further.

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What is Trail Rated?

Only four-wheel drive (4x4) Jeep models can earn the Trail Rated badge. But, it's only the first step. Models that earn that designation have based tests of traction, water fording, maneuvering, articulations, and ground clearance.

Harsh and unpredictable driving conditions including deep mud, loose gravel, and snow are part of the traction testing.

To assist with the water fording capability of the vehicle, Jeep seals electrical connections and body openings, and rearranges the air intake to a higher position, to protect the vehicle in several feet of water. How much water depends on the model.

The best off-roading vehicles are also agile. Jeep tests each Trail Rated model for the ability to deftly dodge obstacles. The Jeeps' wheelbases and steering are optimized for handling off-road terrain like tight switchbacks and emergency driving situation.

Trail Rated vehicles are capable of impressive articulation thanks to suspension flexibility. Achieving good articulation meal that wheels remain stable and engaged when one or more tires are off the ground.

2020 Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk All of Jeep's vehicles are available with a Trail Rated badge.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Having Trail Rated ground clearance means that a vehicle has a good amount of room between the bottom of the vehicle and the harsh terrain it will conquer. This means that the Jeep can traverse rocks, water, and logs without damaging the underside of the vehicle. The rating also means that the SUV or truck has high approach, breakover, and departure angles.

To test all of these models, Jeep takes to the Rubicon Trail. Located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, the trail is 22 miles of treacherous landscape that will put any vehicle to the ultimate test. The natural off-road adventure park where the trail is located features boulders, water, and well-worn landscape.

Jeep also develops and tests its vehicles at FCA US headquarters in Michigan and beyond, including the harsh winter conditions of Northern Michigan.

What is Desert Rated?

Like Trail Rated vehicles, Jeep's Desert Rated lineup has been developed and tested in harsh conditions. To earn the Desert Rated badge the 4x4s had to pass traction, desert prowess, ride control and stability, maneuverability, and ground clearance tests.

2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave The Jeep Gladiator Mojave is the automaker's first model to wear a Desert Rated badge.Photo courtesy of FCA US LLC

Most of that testing is similar to Trail Rated testing, but takes place in a desert climate. Jeep's Desert Rated vehicles have been engineered to take on the intense heat, coarse sand, loose gravel, and pervasive dust that makes up desert landscape.

The first Desert Rated Jeep is the 2020 Jeep Gladiator Mojave. More vehicles that sport the badging are planned.

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New SUV Review

2021 Ford Bronco review: Return of a legend

Several of the Bronco's body panels are removable.

Ford

Ford says its 2021 Bronco is 'Built Wild' like its wild-horse namesake and, as this iconic model returns to the U.S. market after a 25-year hiatus, it's ready to gallop to glory once again. Released from the Ford stables in 1965, the Bronco was America's first-ever "sport ute" and heralded as the first "4WD sports car" with both off-road capability and on-road competency; it was also dubbed the "G.O.A.T." (goes over any terrain). The all-new model is reincarnated as a modern-day midsize SUV with heritage-inspired styling; rugged engineering; and a collection of smart technologies for the backcountry and four-wheeling, as well as for a smoothish ride around town and on the highway. It marries the tough attributes of Ford's F-Series trucks with a fully-boxed steel-ladder frame and advanced 4WD systems to the performance spirit of the Mustang—and, once again, is nicknamed G.O.A.T! Larger than its stablemate, the Bronco Sport competes with vehicles like the Jeep Cherokee, while the Bronco is a direct competitor to the Jeep Wrangler. It goes on sale this summer starting at $29,995

Bronco Trims and Configurations


2021 Ford Bronco Two- and four-door versions of the Bronco are available.Ford


The new Bronco comes in 4WD only, and is available in a two-door version that seats four people or a four-door model with room for five, plus hard-top and soft-top options. There are two engine choices: A turbocharged 2.3-liter I-4 that offers up to 300 horsepower and 325 lb.-ft. of torque (best-in-class) is standard. It pairs with either a 10-speed auto or a 7-speed manual. The optional engine is a 2.7-liter V6 with a twin turbo that produces 330 horsepower and 415 pound-feet of torque, which is also best-in-class. The V6 is available only with the ten-speed automatic transmission.

The manual transmission has six traditional gears, plus a "crawler gear" that has a best-in-class gear ratio of 94.75:1. There are seven Bronco models that include Base, Big Bend, Black Diamond, Outer Banks, Badlands, Wildtrak and a limited First Edition that quickly sold out when order banks opened.

Bronco Features and Styling

The Bronco comes in a staggering number of exclusive color combinations that vary between models. The highly configurable off-roader is designed for both novice and hard-core 4WD experts, with easily removable roof panels, bumper sections and doors that can be stored in the trunk.

Though all-new, the latest Bronco takes its design cues from the proportions, square, boxy looks and flat sides of the original model. Large, open wheel wells are amplified by removeable bolt-on front and rear fenders, while the Bronco's fender flares sport quick-release fasteners to help with customization. Interior appointments vary by model but are designed to appeal to the heart and lifestyle of weekend warriors and 4WD adventurers with durable, with waterproof surfaces, an off-road performance app, and an available 12-inch LCD touchscreen paired with Ford's SYNC4 system touchscreen (an 8-inch is standard), among other communication and audio features. A 12-volt hook-up and USB power connections are at-the-ready to mount cameras, navigation units, phones or other devices.

Bronco First Drive Impressions


2021 Ford Bronco Several color combinations are available with various Bronco trims.Ford


We tried out 5 different models during our test drive that began in the urban environment of Austin, TX and took us to Ford's first Off Roadeo 4WD playground in Marble Falls. Our road-going drive was in a 2-door Outer Banks model with the manual transmission. On the plus side, the manual shifts smoothly, and we had the opportunity to use the crawler gear at a local boat launch. On a steep uphill over loose-surface terrain-we found it suitably impressive.

In general, there was good power, plenty of torque, and competent steering that carved the twisty roads with ease. The Bronco offers surprisingly smooth braking, although we'd like the brakes to be a bit "taller" for more aggressive stopping. Notable is the quietness of the cabin and comfort of the seats. Our only complaints were seatbelts that are not height-adjustable and a couple of ergonomics complaints for our 5'2" driver (although Ford is looking into making changes for both!).

We navigated our way through three off-road courses designed by 4WD experts that included rocky terrain, muddy motoring and dirt two-track with up and downhill climbs. We were impressed with Ford's Terrain Management System with G.O.A.T. (goes over any terrain) modes, which allow up to seven driver-selectable settings (Normal, Eco, Sport, Slippery and Sand, plus Baja, Mud/Ruts and Rock Crawl for off-roading). Two 4WD systems include a two-speed electronic shift-on-the-fly transfer case and an optional two-speed electromechanical transfer case with an auto mode for on-demand selection between 2H and 4H. A Dana 44 solid rear axle and Dana independent front differential unit are both available, as electronic locking differentials-provide more grunt. Bead-lock 17-inch wheels compliment aggressive off-road tires.

We also tested the Bronco's Trail Toolbox, which is a suite of off-road technologies that includes Trail Control (cruise control for low-speed trail driving), class-exclusive Trail Turn Assist (tightens off-road turning radiuses through torque vectoring), and Trail One-Pedal Drive (aids in acceleration/braking control for precise and confident low-speed rock crawling).

The Bronco's four-wheel-drive attributes include:

  • Up to 11.5-inches of ground clearance
  • 43.2-degree approach, 26.3-degree breakover and 37.0-degree departure angles
  • Best-in-class water fording of up to 33.5 inches (w/ optional 35-inch tires that are available on every series)
  • Steel underbody armor to protect vulnerable parts and an available front bash plate
  • Heavy-duty modular steel front bumper w/ an integrated accessory winch mount
  • Side rock rails
  • Standard front and rear tow hooks
  • Sway bar disconnect
  • A 360-degree camera system with class-exclusive off-road spotter views for additional visibility in technical off-road terrain
  • Trail sites (a styling cue from the first Broncos) on the front fenders that also serve as tie-downs with a 150-lb. capacity for securing longer items, such as canoes.

The Bronco moves with ease at both slow- and high-speeds as a result of its class-leading front and rear suspension travel with a high-performance off-road stability suspension system (HOSS). Up front is an independent front suspension set-up with a solid rear axle with long-travel coil springs; suspension systems vary by model-for instance, the Sasquatch off-road package (available on all models) and standard on Badlands is long-travel position-sensitive Bilstein dampers, with end-stop control valves that allow more articulation, reduce harshness and bring durability.


2021 Ford Bronco The Bronco can be ordered with either a hard or soft top.Ford


After years of buildup and speculation, the Ford Bronco had to be good, and for the most part it accomplishes that goal. The combination of technology and off-road prowess, combined with a mostly reasonable price tag, should be enough for the Ford to put up serious competition against the Jeep Wrangler and other off-road SUVs.

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New SUV

New Jeep Compass Coming Soon

The Compass gets a major update for 2022.

Stellantis/Jeep

The Chicago Auto Show is happening now, which means we've already seen a few new models and concepts. Just yesterday, Jeep introduced the new 2022 Compass compact SUV. It gets a new design inside and out, updated tech, and a load of new available driver aids. The Compass' refresh comes as new models from Ford, Subaru and others could cut into Jeep's off-road dominance.

As it was in previous model years, the new Compass is powered by a 2.4-liter "Tigershark" four-cylinder engine that makes 177 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque. It's good for up to 31 mpg on the highway in 2WD models and can deliver a max towing capacity of up to 2,000 pounds in 4WD models. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard for Compass Sport and Latitude 4X2 models, while all others get a nine-speed automatic transmission that can handle the 20:1 crawl ratio setting in the Trailhawk model.

An all-new Latitude LUX trim joins the Compass lineup for 2022 as well. It features leather upholstery, heated front seats, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, an eight-way power driver seat, a seven-inch full-color gauge cluster, and the larger 10.1-inch screen.


2022 Jeep Compass The new Compass is more upscale than its predecessor.Stellantis/Jeep


The Compass comes with a class-leading 8.4-inch infotainment touchscreen, but higher trims get an even larger 10.1-inch unit. It offers standard wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and runs Uconnect 5, a colorful, responsive infotainment system with advanced features and tech.

Several new safety features make an appearance, but most are added-cost options. The highway assist system offers a semi-autonomous driving feature, which Jeep says will become available later. Other tech includes traffic sign recognition, standard pedestrian/cyclist automatic emergency braking, a surround-view camera system, parallel and perpendicular parking assist, and a long list of more traditional advanced driver aids like blind spot monitoring and parking sensors.

The Compass lineup for 2022 includes five trims: Sport, Latitude, Latitude LUX, Limited, and Trailhawk. Pricing for the new Compass starts at $26,490, including a $1,495 destination charge. At the top of the lineup, the Trailhawk and Limited models both start at $32,890. It's expected to start arriving on dealers' lots in fall 2021.


2022 Jeep Compass New color schemes highlight the Compass' interior.Stellantis/Jeep

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