You see that familiar seven-slot grille on the road, and you immediately think of the iconic Wrangler. A heroic off-roader, conquering inhospitable terrain and building up a fan base all over the world. Despite being the face of the brand, the Wrangler is not Jeep’s bread and butter. That responsibility falls to its crossovers: the subcompact Renegade, the mid-size Cherokee, and this – the new Compass. The standard Compass competes in the most competitive segment – the compacts – against the likes of the Toyota RAV4,Honda CR-V, and Ford Escape.
This isn’t just any Compass however – it’s the off-road prepared Trailhawk. It joins the Renegade, Cherokee, and Grand Cherokee to round out Jeep’s lineup of Trail Rated, terrain-conquering models. As crossover sales are expected to continue growing in the coming years, Jeep gave special consideration for its replacement of the old Compass and the aging Patriot. With this edition, FCA is counting on the Compass Trailhawk to carry on Jeep’s intrinsic off-road identity to a new, larger generation of crossover owners.
The Jeep Compass is all-new for 2017. It rides on a stretched Renegade platform, and bridges the narrow gap between that car and the slightly larger Cherokee. Exactly, in fact – it’s 8 inches longer than a Renegade, and 8 inches shorter than a Cherokee. The trim levels from the previous Compass carry over. For $20,995, you can have the base Sport, and farther up the ladder are the mid-level Latitude and more luxurious Limited. However, the big difference with this model is that, for the first time, you can have a “Trail Rated” version – the Compass Trailhawk.
The old Compass stuck out like a sore thumb in the range as it was the only Jeep not to feature a Trail Rated badge on the fender. The new model changes all that, and as a result features a few pieces to make it more suitable to off-road duty than your run-of-the-mill Compass. Jeep lifted this model half an inch to a respectable 8.5 inches, and complements the lift with meatier, off-road oriented tires. The front and rear bumpers have also been changed to improve approach, break over, and departure angles for when you do decide to take your Compass Trailhawk off the beaten path. Spitfire Orange paint, bright red tow hooks, and new 17-inch wheels make the Trailhawk’s presence unmistakable on the road.
Off the road, the Compass Trailhawk also gets Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel drive system. The system features a knob controlling the car’s 5 Select-Terrain Settings: Auto, Snow, Sand, Mud, and Rock. As for the buttons, there’s “4WD Lock”, in which the system splits power equally front and fear; “4WD Low”, which really just locks the car in first gear; and Hill Descent Control.
In the U.S., you only get one engine choice with any Compass: FCA’s 2.4-liter Tigershark inline-four. It makes 180 horsepower and 175 lbs.-ft. of torque, but you have to wring it out if you want to achieve those numbers. In the case of the Trailhawk, that engine is mated to a ZF 9-speed automatic.
Despite that transmission’s previous issues, the version in the Compass Trailhawk was drama-free. It was admirably smooth and reliable. What it was not, however, was fast. In fact, it’s not hyperbole to admit the Compass is painfully slow. That was especially noticeable any time I had to try and merge into traffic (much to the chagrin of surrounding motorists). The engine-transmission combo we have here just doesn’t give enough oomph to shift the Trailhawk’s bulk at a reasonable pace. At sea level, the Tigershark is good for getting the Compass to 60 in around 9 seconds. Up here…it’s a bit slower than that. How much? Well, both it and the Renegade fell off the track when we tried to find out. On the whole, it just needs a bit more power and torque to make the best use of that nine-speed transmission.
Accelerating isn’t the only issue I found that hamstrung the Compass Trailhawk’s performance chops. That ZF gearbox, despite shifting smoothly, was incredibly slow to respond every time I wanted to kick down, or even when I tried to shift manually. In the mountains, that’s an issue if you want to save your brakes going down hills. Whenever I wanted to use some engine braking to slow the Compass down on hills, it took over three seconds to downshift, by which time I instinctually went for the brakes. Fortunately, the brakes did offer a positive feel, even if they don’t slow the Compass Trailhawk’s 3,633 pounds down quickly.
Even with the Trailhawk’s lift over the ordinary Compass, the ride was compliant on the road. The suspension is on the firm side, and the ride was a bit bouncy, as you’d expect from an off-road focused car. However, it felt composed as I traversed the highways of metropolitan Denver. Even more impressive, I found, was how well the Jeep hangs on in corners. Those tires may not have the out-and-out grip of more pavement-oriented rubber, but even when I pushed it, the car held on admirably. Steering effort is moderately light, if a little numb. It’s certainly direct, but didn’t offer me quite enough feedback to let me know what the wheels were really up to.
I’ll admit, it took me two attempts to find out how the Compass Trailhawk really handles itself off-road. My first experience on a trail just outside Estes Park, Colorado wasn’t promising. I selected the Trailhawk’s Rock mode on the Selec-Terrain system to try and tackle my first major obstacle. Rock mode puts the Compass in low-range, locks it in first gear, and is capable of sending power to any one wheel that has the most grip. The Trailhawk also uses its brakes to mimic locking differentials, which help enormously if you have one wheel on a given axle spinning helplessly on obstacles like the one I encountered. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough. The one front wheel I had on the ground couldn’t grip the earth enough to pull the Compass forward, and it ground to a halt. I ultimately backed down to the start
That evening, I wondered if it had been the car or my ability that led to my downfall on the trail. I took another stab at a different trail – this time Pennsylvania Gulch, outside Nederland, Colorado. Again Rock mode, again first gear, again rocky terrain. This time was largely successful, as the Compass Trailhawk hauled itself up rock faces and off-camber hills I never thought I’d be able to crest. Heading up the trail, sight lines in the Compass Trailhawk are good. The 215/65 R17 Falken Wildpeak tires did struggle for grip at some points, but keeping your foot into it and letting the computers route the power will see you through, most of the time.
I made it about three-quarters of the way up the trail in the Compass – way farther than I thought I would make it. Along the way, there were craggy uphill climbs, washed out trail sections, and huge off-camber leans that left me hanging with a wheels completely off the ground. Through it all, the Compass Trailhawk prevailed. It has impressive off-road ability, considering its off-road systems cater more to the weekend off-roader crowd. Nevertheless, at the point pictured above, I turned back. Even if the Compass could have made it, my driving ability might not have seen both of us through without some major damage.
Comfort and Convenience
The new Compass sports attractive styling, both inside and out. Anyone who has spent any time in a Cherokee or Renegade will feel right at home in the Compass Trailhawk. Step inside, sit on the Trailhawk-branded seats, and you’re welcomed by a chunky steering wheel festooned with buttons. On the left are buttons for the multi-function cluster display and phone controls. On the right are buttons for the cruise control. As with other FCA products, there are also buttons on the back of the steering wheel to control the stereo. One minor annoyance – where there would normally be three buttons for adaptive cruise control in the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, there are just three blanked off pieces here. Besides that, there are quite a few tempting features in the new Compass Trailhawk.
From a comfort and utility perspective, the Compass compares well to its competition. The front seats were fairly comfortable, rear set leg room is commodious, even when set to my 6’0″ driving position. There’s 27.2 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats up, and 59.8 cubic feet with the seats folded.
For a base price of $28,595, you get FCA’s Uconnect 8.4 infotainment system. It’s loaded with features including media controls, navigation (if equipped), and driving assist features. The system was fast and responsive, and for those who have gone without, it does support Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The ParkView back up camera, push-button start, leather-wrapped steering wheel, and heated mirrors are all standard on the Compass Trailhawk.
However, to get all the toys you have to spend a bit more. Would you like heated front seats and steering wheel? That will be $645. Advanced Brake Assist, LaneSense Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning and Automatic High Beam Control will set you back $895. The ParkSense Rear Park Assist System, Blind Spot and Cross Path Detection, rain-sensitive wipers and a security alarm will cost you $795. Navigation? That’ll be $895 (although you do get a year’s subscription to SiriusXM Guardian Service thrown in). Finally, if you want a power-adjustable driver’s seat, remote start, and an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, you’ll have to shell out $495.
The Compass Trailhawk we drove, including the $1,095 destination charge and the options listed above, comes out to $34,060. That’s reasonable, given the competition, and all the features you get for the money should keep you occupied for awhile. The Compass Trailhawk’s fuel economy is also competitive, with an EPA-rated 22/30/25 MPG city/highway/combined. During my test (including the off-road excursion), I managed 26 MPG.
The Compass remains faithful to Jeep’s off-road identity. It handles the rough stuff better than any of its competitors. The bright orange crossover However, its underpowered engine and slow-shifting transmission hold the Compass Trailhawk back from a great recommendation. To see just what makes the Compass a good off-road car (and what holds it back), check out this video of the Compass compared to its little brother, the Renegade Trailhawk.
SPECIFICATIONS: 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk
|Price as Tested:
|2.4-liter Tigershark MultiAir four-cylinder
|180 hp @ 6,400 RPM
|175 lbs.-ft. @ 3,900 RPM
|ZF 9-speed automatic w/ Auto Stop/Start
|Front: MacPherson strut, coil springs, flat front steel crossmember, high-strength steel double shell lower stabilizer bar
Rear: Chapman strut, high-strength steel links, isolated steel rear cradle (4×4), coil springs, stabilizer bar
|Four-wheel disc brakes with single-piston floating calipers
|Falken Wildpeak H/T 215/65 R17 all-seasons
|Fuel economy (EPA):
|22 City/30 Highway/25 Combined MPG
|80.0 inches (including mirrors)
|64.6 inches (without rails)