2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk [Off-Road Review]: New Design, But Is It Still a Jeep?

2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk
Photos courtesy of FCA.

The 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk compact crossover allows Jeep to hitch another ride on the growing global domination of crossovers. The brand has not one, not two, but four crossover offerings spanning a gamut of sizes and prices. From the small Renegade to the ever growing Grand Cherokee, Jeep seems intent on offering a crossover for every demographic.

The all-new Jeep Compass fits into the gap between the Renegade and Cherokee even though it shares underpinning with the former. Based on FCA’s “small-wide 4×4 architecture”, the new Compass is 6.4 inches longer than the Renegade. This means an additional 3.2 inches of leg room for rear seat occupants.

It also means the Compass is heavier. At around 3,300 pounds, the new Compass is no lightweight. Powered by a 2.4 liter, 4-cylinder, the 180 horsepower and 175 pound feet of torque is barely adequate for off-roading. The nine speed automatic in our test model helped maximize the most of the little 4-banger, but a turbo or V6 would be a welcomed addition.

Although only one engine is offered, several transmissions are available. Front wheel drive models come with either a six speed automatic or six speed manual. Four-wheel-drive models feature an optional nine-speed auto or standard six-speed manual transmission, depending on trim. The Compass scores respectable EPA numbers of 25 MPG combined for 4WD-drive vehicles and 26 MPG combined for 2WD-manual transmission models.

Jeep sells the Mexican-built Compass in four trims starting with the $22,495 Sport and on up to the $28,995 Limited. The one we tested, the off-road oriented Trailhawk, starts at $28,595, plus a $1,095 destination charge. That number includes front and aft tow hooks, more underbody protection and 8.5 inches of ground clearance.


Venturing off-road over the Boxcar trail in Moab, Utah, a somewhat easy trail offering a variety of sand and slick rock terrain, we found the somewhat aggressive Falken off-road tires provided adequate traction. The Compass’s 30.3-degree approach angle and 33.6-degree departure angle provided plenty of clearance for climbing up and diving down a mix of terrain. What proved less effective was Jeep’s Active Drive Low 4×4 system.

Equipped with auto, snow, sand mud and rock modes, the Trailhawk had little issue delivering power to the wheels that needed traction. However, the 4WD-low setting didn’t provide the necessary gearing to climb some obstacles without requiring an uncomfortable amount of momentum (a.k.a, speed). While described as “4×4 low,” the system is not a true 4WD-low gearbox, one that changes final drive through the use of a transfer case. Enabling the Compass’s 4×4-low mode simply locks the vehicle into first gear, something anyone could do manually with the manumatic shifter.

Also troubling off-road is the lack of wheel articulation. Even the smallest obstacles caused the Jeep to lift a wheel or two off the ground. Thankfully, Jeep installed a complex system of traction control and power distribution electronics to kept the Jeep climbing hills.


But we suspect most Compass owners won’t find themselves on more than dirt roads or forestry trails, and for those purposes the Jeep should perform just fine. It’s comfortable interior surprised us with a general use of high quality materials, though a vast amount of black plastics are present throughout the interior. While the Compass’s hip little brother, the Renegade features and interior full of “easter eggs” — little, subtle brand marks that remind the driver they are piloting a Jeep — the Compass is more sophisticated and functional. As for controls, the optional 8.4-inch Uconnect touch screen infotaiment/climate control system proved very easy to use and amazingly intuitive.

After our time in the dirt, rock, sand and rare water crossings of Moab, we can definitively say the interior, design, and overall fit and finish are miles better than last year’s model. And while the Compass may not be ideal for boulder bashing or rock crawling, it provides comfort and roominess in a package ready to hit dirt and gravel roads and light off-roading.

For more info and thoughts on the new Compass and its off-road capabilities, check out our video below!