There are plenty of off-road trails in Moab, Utah, that won’t even let you look at them without a set of 35-inch tires. They also have scary names like “Hell’s Revenge” meant to intimidate drivers.
Engine: 2.4L 4-cylinder
Output: 180 hp, 175 lb-ft of torque
Transmission: 6-speed manual; 6-speed auto; 9-speed auto
US Fuel Economy (MPG): 22 city, 30 hwy (AWD)
CAN Fuel Economy (L/100 km): 10.8 city, 7.8 hwy (AWD)
US Price: Starts at $20,995
CAN Price: Starts at $24,900
And it’s here that Jeep sent us out into the wilderness with a new Compass Trailhawk, a compact crossover that claims to be Trail Rated by a little badge on the fender that brings with it the promise of off-road competence. There is nowhere better in the world to put such a badge to the test, with the Utah rocks putting traction, articulation, and clearance all under the microscope.
Not Just Paint and Plastic
Just by looking at the specs, it is clear that the Trailhawk model has some fairly serious off-road modifications. A total of 8.5 inches of ground clearance are offered, half an inch more than the standard Compass with four-wheel drive and a full inch more than the front-wheel-drive Compass. Thanks to new fascias, the approach angle nearly doubles to 30.3 degrees, with departure angle sitting at 33.6 degrees. Breakover is rated at 24.4 degrees, and in case all of that isn’t enough to keep you out of the rocks, skid plates have been bolted on underneath to protect vitals like the transmission and fuel tank.
The brains of the Trailhawk have also been tuned for trail running, with the Jeep Selec-Terrain system offering five different drive modes, including a Trailhawk-specific Rock mode. In Moab, we ran in Rock mode for most of the day, which makes sure that power is evenly distributed between the front and rear wheels for ideal traction.
A proper transfer case isn’t part of the equation for this Compass, which instead gets Jeep’s Active Drive Low all-wheel drive system, which allows the Compass Trailhawk to use a 20:1 crawl ratio using first gear, not a bad number for the small off-roader.
The powertrain remains untouched for the Trailhawk model, which means a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine provides 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, sent through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Fuel economy is pegged at 22 mpg city and 30 on the highway.
Despite the focus of the Trailhawk being off-road modifications that change this vehicle’s capabilities, the real key to its success will come from its on-road driving characteristics. Pulling out onto the highway, the Compass offers adequate power, with its nine-speed automatic surprisingly well dialed in. I say surprisingly because the nine-speed automatic found in the Jeep Cherokee has certainly had its issues, but in the Compass, the transmission seems to know where it wants to go.
A light, loose steering wheel insulates this small crossover from the road below it, while the suspension swallows up road imperfections, combining to offer a comfortable drive for both driver and passenger. Little road noise comes into the cabin of the Compass as well, adding to the already pleasing drive.
It also doesn’t hurt that the Trailhawk is well appointed inside. Leather seats with mesh inserts look good and offer decent support, colored bezels around the gauges add a touch of color and soft-touch materials make the cabin a nice place to be. Not to mention the updated 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen found in the center stack, which offers lightning fast operation and a clean, aesthetically pleasing layout.
There is little wrong with the Jeep Compass when it comes to commuting duty, although if you’re looking to haul the family, there are better options for interior space. With 38.3 inches of rear seat legroom, the Compass offers competitive legroom in the back, but storage space is lacking. With 27.2 cu-ft (770 liters) of space behind the rear seats and 59.8 cu-ft (1,693 liters) with them folded, the Compass is cramped compared to just about all of its competitors.
But the tradeoff for that lack of space if off-road confidence, and the Compass Trailhawk offers a healthy dose.
Climbing the steep sharp Moab rocks is where the Compass Trailhawk displayed its biggest strength, especially compared to many of its mundane, road-going competitors like the Honda CR-V. With the added clearance and angles, keeping well above the rocks was easy, and the few times the angles weren’t enough, the underbody armor left us confident that nothing underneath this little crossover was damaged.
The set of Falken Wildpeak H/T01A2 tires provided excellent grip over the bare rocks. In some of the deeper sand, the tires had a little bit of a tough time biting in, but they were enough to get us through some shallow sandy washes. The rubber here is just aggressive enough to keep most adventurers happy, but not enough to upset the Compass while it rolls down the highway.
Another inherent advantage of the Compass is its size. It feels nimble on the trail thanks to its compact dimensions, never feeling like it won’t fit, measuring in at 103.8 inches (2,636 millimeters), while its overall length stretches 173 inches (4,394 mm).
If there’s one area where the Compass falls down on the trail, it is with the powertrain. As mentioned before, out on the road, the power is adequate, but the issue becomes exacerbated by steep climbs, where suddenly the Compass lacks some low-end grunt. Mid-climb, you’re forced to bury the accelerator to get the Compass up over the rocks, making it a hard off-roader to run smoothly over slow obstacles.
If you’re looking for a new Trailhawk, it will set you back $28,495 ($32,895 in Canada), not a bad price considering the off-road capability you get. A base model with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive will go for $20,995 ($24,900 in Canada), while a top-of-the-line Limited starts at $28,995 ($34,895 in Canada).
The Verdict: 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Review
If passenger and cargo space are at the top of your priorities list, the Compass Trailhawk isn’t the base choice in its segment. But for those that need a comfortable commuter that can convert into capable off-roader on the weekend, there is nothing in the segment that comes close to the Compass Trailhawk.