I agree the Compass is for light off-roading, but that's what most consumers want. I get onto some rough tracks, but I'm not taking on a swamp or climbing rocks.
Basically, I just want to get through the mountains if I get caught in a snowstorm. Curiously, just looking at my Compass, it seems that the lowest point is the front fascia. Is that to warn the driver before danger hits the pan? I suspect that low fascia could be a problem if the snow is heavy, wet & sticky.
The lower airdam on non-Trailhawks I suspect is just you make the Compass look a bit more sporty and may give it a slight bump in MPG. It is actually pretty well designed and I understand it can split in the center to allow it to fold under if needed. However we would have done ripped it off along with some of the front and rear fascia wheeling where we go. arudlang has taken his non-Trailhawk though some rough stuff and deep snow and says his lower facia and airdam has managed to survive. So unless you really bashing hard a lot it most likely will be fine.
I still say even the Non Trailhawk Compass are more than light trial rigs I owned a Honda CRV with real time 4wd that is a light trail rig as you could hardly ever tell that rear axle had engaged it just never seems to move much power at all rearward and the ground clearance was nothing. It also had no traction assistance not sure if the new ones do or not but the videos we watched indicated the new ones are not better than the 06 we had.
Subarus do pretty well off road depending on which AWD system they have. If it is a manual they are at the top end of light trail if it is a automatic with X-mode which use BLD quite well they land at the very bottom of medium trail. Non-Trailhawks compass land a bit further up they simply have a better 4wd system than Subaru which has the better AWD system. TrailHawks a bit further up from that in the middle of medium duty trail use. This is pretty much where the stock XJ Cherokee lands In fact because the Trailhawk has a much more aggressive tune in its Traction control with the BLDs it sits slightly ahead of the XJ in capability in most conditions as I think the best traction adder on a factory XJ was a limited slip rear. For comparison Wranglers run up to the lower end of hard trail use unless they are Rubicon or equivalent they run up the other end of hard. Custom built rigs can run into extreme use if built correctly.
These Compass do very well when actually pushed off road. You can lift a tire and keep going the Trailhawk can lift 2 diagonal tires in rock mode on lower traction surfaces and keep going even up hill. They will run up a hill steep enough to brush the lower fascia on the rear bumper as it rotates down. Breakover is ok but we have hit the fuel tank skid so another inch or even 1/2 an inch more ground clearance would have been great. We certainly would have dreamed of taking anything else we looked at the places we go. Mind you I have been out offroad for many years now so that plays a part.
I would also add these Compass are not like the old school 4x4s and to get the most out of them requires a few changes in how you drive off road. We use to pull up on obstacles that did not require wheel spin and let off the gas and even back up pretty quick and pick a new line. In the 4wd Compass you need to hold the throttle sometimes for a few seconds to let the computer figure out if and how to get you moving and keep you moving. So simply increase throttle a bit and hold it then the computer will work it's magic if it is something it can get through or over.
In our trailhawk I have found it simply will not get super aggressive with the BLDs in auto mode for it to really get super aggressive in a situation of low traction and lifted or unloaded wheels you have to use rock mode. I pulled up off camber on a dirt hill that unloaded one front and one rear wheel and it would try to climb it but simply would not dial in enough brake on the unloaded wheels to keep it moving. Shifted into rock mode and started applying throttle it spun for a second or so then you could feel and hear the brake locks working and the Jeep started to climb I held the throttle at that point and it just went every now and then letting a wheel spin then stopping it and transfering power to the 2 wheel that were well loaded. I had driven other with BLDs but not near as aggressive as this.
I suspect in other tims selecting the terrain your on it will help the computer to make a traction solution. However without rock mode I'm thinking other trims simply do not work the system as hard. My guess is this is to try to help keep other trims out of trouble in places those skid plates would be required and the low facia ripped apart.
As I stated though non-Trailhawk trims are not to be taken too lightly watching some of the videos on youtube prove this quickly. This is one I kind of liked off the top of my head. This is not the domain of a light trail vehicle and they still did not come close to really pushing even this non-Trailhawk Compass. But it shows some different terrain and water forging. Most others that are considered to be in the Compass class would have been in a lot of trouble trying to follow it. The video starts off easy but before long they are taking on wet and slippery stuff and ok climbs. There is a couple a nice views as well. We have pushed our Trailhawk over much rougher terrain than in this clip and yes even in the rain very heavy rain doing pretty good damage to the roads we were on. We have yet to get stuck or even close to it just had to back up and pick better lines a few times. I just don't think those that have not really ask the Compass to get into the rough stuff don't really know how well they actually do when things do get rough. In part I think it is because they do have that more sport type look it makes people worry because the non-trailhawk trims look like road beaters and not like the very capable trail runner they really are.