Like my colleagues, I love cars and relish the opportunity to drive anything and everything just for the sake of doing it. However, there are moments where it’s easy to get jaded, with seemingly everything being the same compact crossover with the same anonymous four cylinder engine and the same faux-tough styling and same touch screen mounted the same way to control all the same things. This cynicism is generally easy enough to stave off – almost all new cars are at least pretty good and, and there’s always something to like. Our 2022 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Elite made it really hard to keep the jade at bay.
They say “It’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.” Okay, well help me understand: Who is this for? For 2022, the Jeep Compass receives a refreshed front fascia and new dashboard design; the former of which makes it look just like a Cherokee, and the latter makes the interior space visually much more neat and tidy. This gives the Compass a slight leg up on the slightly larger (but still compact) Cherokee crossover, as it has a much more modern interior aesthetic and boasts more usable space in its smaller footprint, but it still suffers immensely from a lack of some real engine options.
On the other hand, Jeep offers the slightly smaller Renegade, which brings with it a quirky, boxy style and charm that we liked. It’s aided and abetted by a vastly better turbocharged engine, and more sophisticated multilink rear suspension. Its tighter, boxier proportions offer better off-road angles for those who care about that sort of thing, and better headroom for everyone else. They’re both built on similar platforms, originally engineered by Fiat, the Renegade just brings more to the table in a more memorable package.
Perhaps the most memorable thing about the middling Compass is the Tigershark 2.4-litre naturally aspirated inline-four cylinder motor, and that’s not a good thing. It saunters up to the table with all of 180hp and 175 lb-ft of torque to lug the Compass’s 3,470 lbs around. The leisurely performance offered could be forgiven were it not for the engine’s very un-leisurely demeanor; it’s coarse, unrefined, entirely too loud and buzzy – so much so that the engine hits a bizarre frequency under high load that resonates most of the dashboard, and your fillings.
Despite these compromises, it’s not very efficient, either. We observed an indicated fuel economy of 11.2L/100km, worse than any of Jeep’s claims and a step behind most of the competition – nearly all of which are more powerful and more refined. The fact that this is the only engine offered is hugely disappointing, and bewildering given that its platform-mates offer more modern power plants that perform much better.
If you’re not trying to go anywhere in a hurry, the Compass fares better, but it still fails to impress. The steering has a good weight to it and a natural, linear ratio, which makes it easy to place despite being completely numb. The ZF nine-speed automatic generally does okay but occasionally struggles with how to best hide the engine’s inadequacies, and can be slow to shift. The ride is decidedly firm, and rough terrain/broken pavement is decently isolated, with only big bumps sending crashes through the chassis.
The 2022’s Compass interior update makes the cabin a substantial improvement over last year’s model, with the dashboard being updated to match its contemporaries. Our Trailhawk Elite model came with a patterned carbon-fibre-esque material with red stitching and metallic trim framing the width of the dashboard, with a 10.25-inch touchscreen perched on top in the tombstone style that’s so vogue these days.
Said touchscreen is powered by the newest Uconnect 5 interface, which is excellent in every other Stellantis Group vehicle we’ve tested and is no different here; good stuff. The main display is exceptionally crisp and bright, which can’t be said of the new digital gauge cluster – its design sees a lot of the screen being underutilized, and it almost appears out of focus at times, as if it was designed for a higher resolution display.
The leather seats are heated, ventilated and power adjusted, but are wide, flat, hard, and generally unsupportive – a jaunt into the countryside left my backside sore and numb no matter what I did. Rear seating has good legroom, but subpar headroom and exceptionally poor comfort, being flat and too upright. Controls and switchgear are sensibly placed, but felt cheap to use and weren’t always consistent – the button for the lane keep assist usually required multiple presses or one very firm one before it responded.
Said lane keep assist and radar cruise generally worked okay, but other competitors have done better implementing them – it tended to wander more than we’d like within lanes and was easily confused by imperfect road markings, and it also inexplicably decided to slow me down to 85km/h in the fast lane for no discernible reason. The collision warning system is obnoxious and way too overbearing, meaning you’ll probably turn it off, defeating the purpose of it. Other toys were great – our tester came with the $2,195 Sun and Sound package, which includes an excellent Alpine audio system and a massive panoramic moonroof, which were handily the best things about our Trailhawk Elite.
I suppose you could say the best thing about our Trailhawk is its off-road prowess over its competitors, but I have to wonder who’s going to really make use of that in a commuter crossover? If that’s what you want and you’re already at a Jeep dealer, you could get a Wrangler, which sacrifices some car-like manners for incredible capability and classic rough-and-tumble character. For the $46,380 our Trailhawk Elite cost, you could certainly get into a decently specced Wrangler easily – or any other much more refined crossover. There are so many key things where the Compass falls flat on its face, which could maybe be forgiven at a lower price point. Our loaded tester’s tall sticker means it has no excuse for this. You can do better.
I’ve been trying to figure out who would want to buy the 2022 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Elite we had this week, and my first thought was someone like my mother, who has only ever owned Fords. Some Jeep equivalent of her, maybe. But even then, she would see the sticker on this and realize you could get a much better value without having to stray from the Jeep brand – or at least skip the Trailhawk package and pocket some coin. This die-hard Jeep person would also have to think the charming Renegade is a little too small and cute and the other, larger, more legit Jeeps are a little bit much.
This is someone who is, put generously, loyal to a fault. Or perhaps put more sharply, they just don’t know any better – with regards to cars, anyway. They’ve only ever driven other Jeeps, so they don’t know there’s better value to be had out there. They don’t know that seats can and should be comfortable. They don’t know the dash vents shouldn’t whistle at high fan speeds. They don’t know that engines don’t have to be that loud, and they definitely shouldn’t resonate like that, or that the stop-start function shouldn’t hold you up.
Finally, they don’t know that the rest of the industry is leaps ahead in terms of refinement and attention to detail, and usually for less money, too. They’ll say “it’s a Jeep thing, you wouldn’t understand.” Well, if the 2022 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Elite is what a Jeep is supposed to be, then I’m not sure I want to understand.