Jeep has to be one of the brands that has benefitted the most from the most recent crossover craze.
Not only have they continued to sell the real-deal Wrangler in droves, but the success of the Grand Cherokee and Cherokee have finally started to build in-roads into the smaller SUV markets. The success is well deserved, as Jeep really has a line-up of SUVs that’s not only very complete, but also very competitive in each of their respective segments.
They’re also been building on the success of the Trailhawk package originally fitted to the Cherokee, but now expanding to more of the lineup, including the practical compact Compass. I spent a week with the trail-ready 2019 Jeep Compass Trailhawk to see if the added off-road kit can give the already competitive Compass a worthy edge.
The Compass was fully redesigned for 2018 and is a pretty handsome looking little SUV, with a very mini-Grand Cherokee vibe, especially up front. The Trailhawk benefits from the more rugged looks. Firstly, the oddly shaped chrome C-pillar trim is blacked out, but beyond that the matte black cladding, prominent red tow hooks and unique front and rear fascia (for better approach and departure angles off-road) all make the baby Jeep look a lot more substantial.
The rugged looking 17×6.5” alloys help too, though the 215/65/R17 tires are quite narrow, which makes the Jeep look a bit like it skipped leg day a few too many times, especially from behind. That said, the tires are Falken Wild Peak all-terrains, capable of some proper off-roading. Our tester came finished in Redline Pearl, which really pops against all the black accents. As far as compact crossovers go, the Compass Trailhawk is probably the most SUV-looking of the lot, and that’s great.
Like the exterior, the interior of the Compass is laid out very similarly to its larger siblings, which means a smart dashboard layout with controls in easy to reach and intuitive locations. The gauge cluster is also well laid out with a nicely lit seven-inch LCD screen. The Trailhawk gets the larger 8.4” Uconnect touchscreen, which remains one of the most praised systems in the business. It also has Android Auto and Apple CarPlay capabilities.
The Trailhawk also gets unique leather bucket seats with Ombre mesh cloth inserts; they’re sporty looking and supportive, but a bit hard. The thick leather wrapped steering wheel feels good in your hands and is telescopic, however it doesn’t tilt down quite far enough for me to find a truly comfortable driving position – your results may vary.
Despite its compact dimensions the Compass offers plenty of space for four adult passengers comfortably, five in a pinch, and even boasts a surprisingly large cargo area. As always, the rear split bench folds nearly flat for even more cargo space when necessary. Storage up front is a bit limited with a narrow center console and smaller door pockets, so finding safe places to keep daily carry items is a bit of an annoyance.
The Compass is built to an aggressive entry price point, so materials are not going to be Grand Cherokee quality inside, but I’d put them pretty close to on-par with the smaller Cherokee (reviewed here). There are lots of plastics, but they are mostly matte finish and soft-touch, so the interior of the Compass doesn’t totally feel like an economy entry. The optional panoramic full-length sunroof and Beats Audio system also make the space feel a bit more upscale.
The Compass’s biggest selling feature though is its capability. It’s easy to find entries in this segment that are essentially AWD cars with a bit of lift, but the Compass is actually a proper small SUV, and boasts many of the capabilities you might expect when equipped with the Trailhawk package. The package features a very aggressive 20:1 crawl ratio to help the Jeep slowly crawl through the worst of terrain. It also has with hill descent control and a extra “Rock” setting on the Selec-Terrain knob, along with the standard Snow, Sand, and Mud settings. The Rock setting actually uses the brakes to simulate the effects of a locking differential to help manage really uneven terrain.
The Selec-Terrain system also has an auto setting, which is where I left it during on-road testing. This automatically adapts to changing driving conditions and maximizes efficiency. You’ll also get a full set of skid plates to protect the underside, and convenient tow-hooks to help get you out of trouble. In addition to its off-road prowess, the Compass also boasts a 2,000-pound towing capacity. This will handle a small boat or a family tent trailer with ease, while many of the Compass’ competitors are not rated to tow at all.
In order to achieve this capability, all Compass models come standard with the 2.4L MultiAir naturally aspirated four-cylinder. Unlike many of its smaller displacement turbocharged competitors, the Compass uses a more traditional, larger displacement engine that produces a healthy 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft. of torque. While a six-speed manual or automatic are available in lower trims, the Trailhawk comes with a nine-speed automatic. After continuous improvement over the years it’s now a very quick shifting and smooth unit.
While the engine makes good power and allows for some nice-to-have capabilities, it is also probably the Compass’s biggest negative. It’s noisy, doesn’t feel nearly as peppy as the numbers would have you believe, and runs out of steam quickly when making highway passes. Moreover, it’s not particularly efficient, returning an average of 10.8L/100km over our test.
On the road however, the Compass is quite pleasant to drive, the biggest factor being the surprisingly refined ride quality and quiet cabin. Even at highway speeds and running all-terrain tires, the Compass is one of the quietest in its class. Turn-in is sharp, and while body-roll is prevalent when pushed, the Compass delivers a very confident on-road driving experience thanks to well weighted steering with some road feel and a nice on-center feel. Bumps and potholes are well controlled as well, making this a very comfortable urban commuter, aside from the slightly awkward driving position.
If the Compass’ extra truck-like qualities have you looking its way; you can get into a base model FWD Compass Sport for as low as $23,808, but you’d be giving up most of those qualities. However, you can add a real 4×4 system to any of the six trim levels the Compass is available in, so if you’d looking for just a basic 4×4 the Compass as you covered. If you want something more like our tester, the Trailhawk starts at $33,645, which really is a pretty decent price for the level of equipment and capability the Compass offers.
Adding options gets expensive, and our tester came to an as tested price of $41,630. The list includes the Cold Weather Group ($995) for heated seats, heated steering wheel, windshield de-icer and remote star – a must add package in Canada. Ours also got a Premium Lighting Update ($695) which adds LEDs everywhere along with bi-xenon headlamps. Add to that the panoramic sunroof ($1,595), power liftgate ($525), Beats Audio ($995) and navigation ($995), and you’re looking at a very expensive compact SUV. Since the base price of the Trailhawk is decent, the move here is to wisely pick your option packages.
The 2019 Jeep Compass Trailhawk, while far from perfect, is a refreshing offering in a crowded space because it really is the most SUV-like of the subcompact crossovers. With a more refined engine this really could be a run-away winner in the segment, but even as it sits, the Compass Trailhawks extra capability, good looks and legendary Jeep character make it a tempting choice.