On the Road Review: Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4X4

If the initial public reactions are any hint about this all-new Compass, Jeep has another hit on its hands.

Outfitted in Redline Pearl Coat, with black hood and red tow-hook accents in off-road oriented Trailhawk trim, the latest all-new Jeep received hearty thumbs-up from the unofficial office pool as well as on the street. Looking like a 4/5ths scale Grand Cherokee, the new Compass is nothing like its former predecessor.

Slotting into Jeep’s lineup just a tick larger than the Italian-built Renegade (6 inches shorter at 167 inches overall) and 9 inches shorter than the Cherokee (182 inches long), the Compass rides the fence between being a large subcompact crossover or a small compact crossover offering. But that’s just like Jeep — running to the beat of its own drummer.

Replacing the former Compass and Patriot models (still available for a short time as leftovers) this new Compass pushes past its rivals with more composure and polish as well as greater off-roading promise than anything else in this segment. Name another small crossover wagon with locking-4WD, 4WD low-range, five different traction modes, hill descent control, underbody skid plates and front and rear tow hooks. There just aren’t any — that don’t wear the Jeep name.

That image, or implied image, carries marketing clout, which transfers into sales. Even if you don’t buy the Trailhawk model featured here, Jeep has created a persona that carries over to the front-drive and regular AWD Compass models.

Power comes from the Fiat-based 2.4-liter MultiAir four-cylinder engine — 180 peak horsepower with 169 foot-pounds of peak torque running through a nine-speed automatic. To avoid the teething issues experienced with the nine-speed automatic debut in the Cherokee, Jeep changed vendors for the remainder of the Compass’s running gear, so the transmission vendor makes all associated components, as well as the software, so buyers should not experience unintended issues. In our hands, the motor was eager and delivered more power than any size-associated rivals (Chevy Trax, Buick Encore, Honda HR-V, Kia Soul, Subaru Crosstrek, Toyota CHR), yet it lacks the smoother and stronger output of a Ford Ecoboost turbo-motor. Fuel economy exceeded the EPA combined rating, however; 26.5 mpg over three fill-ups against the EPA estimate of 22/30/25 mpg.

Jeep will still offer a front-drive Compass, and it comes with either a six-speed stick or a six-speed automatic. Trim levels range from Sport to Latitude and Trailhawk or Limited, with base prices beginning at $20,995 for a front-drive Compass. Add $1,500 for AWD. Our Trailhawk shown starts at $28,595 and stickered for $34,755 with a full assortment from the Jeep parts bin — advanced electronic driving aids, navigation, remote start, power liftgate, Beats Audio, power leather seating, heated steering wheel and premium lighting. The Compass comes with a split-folding rear seat (very roomy for the space allotted), push-button ignition and a rarity — a full-size spare tire. Apple and Android Car Play are also standard with the various U-connect screens.

Compared to the previous Compass, the new wagon is a home run. Interior materials are better, the styling is more attractive, and the content level jumps up a big notch. This street cred also applies against the Chevy Trax and Honda HR-V models, which lack the Compass’ level of presentation and/or features.

Compass high points include its attractive styling, functional and upscale interior, plus the owner aids like the power liftgate and assorted electronic driving aids. Sizewise, the Compass felt good, too, not too small, nor overly heavy or large. Unlike the boxy Renegade, which is marginally less in price, the Compass has a more mature stance — it is smart for FCA/Jeep to have the Compass and top-selling Grand Cherokee look similar.

On the flip side, the styling emphasis left out any hint of a defined rear exhaust pipe presentation, which has become a common FCA objective of late, as the Compass has nothing here, and while the MultiAir engine returned decent fuel economy, the gas tank seems small and the Compass’ performance left me thinking that a crisp turbo-four engine would better suit the wagon’s driving acumen as well as the customer base. The Compass is built in Toluca, Mexico.

In a few months, we will have a new Wrangler in the market, while a Wrangler pickup is promised for late this year/early 2018. Jeep and Ram are key to FCA’s success. This new Compass will help dealers meet those sales goals.

Tim Plouff

Tim Plouff

Columnist at The Ellsworth American
Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles in the pages of The Ellsworth American weekly for nearly two decades.
Tim Plouff

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