trailhawk
trailhawk

Jeep Compass Trailhawk: The lowdown

Riley Riley

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What is it?

Compass is the baby of the Jeep family and looks much like a downsized-version of Grand Cherokee.

Introduced in 2007, Compass and sibling the Patriot, a reskinned, rebadged version of the car, were the first of Jeep’s softer crossover offerings.

Compass was rounder, cuddlier and generally more citified twin, while the Patriot which was dropped in 2016 was a bit squarer  and more macho.

Survivor Compass continues to fly the flag for the iconic American brand, targeted at first time buyers and those whose driving is confined mainly to paved roads.

In fact, for the first four years of its life, the Compass range didn’t include a Trail-Rated version, which in Jeep speak is a guarantee of off-road prowess.

The current MY22 Compass Trailhawk is however Trail-Rated and is also powered by a turbo-diesel, preferred choice of the off-road community.

That at least gives it the makings of something special.

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What’s it cost?

The latest Compass is a modern beast, with enhanced tech, redesigned dashboard, a refined cabin and impressive list of driver assistance systems.

Trailhawk is distinguished by a unique radiator grille, body-coloured fog light surrounds, a prominent bash plate and unique 17-inch alloy wheels.

The horizontal lines of the front are repeated at the rear, with tail lights that provide a more modern and commanding look.

Bumpers, fog lights and camera radar have been relocated higher and out of the way to avoid damage off road.

LED daytime, high beam, low beam and fog lights boost brightness by 100 per cent.

Prices start from $39,950 for Night Eagle (love that name), followed by Limited at $45,350, S-Limited at $48,350 and finally Trailhawk at $52,650 — with Premium paint another $645.

A Premium Package adds a twin-pane sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and premium Alpine nine-speaker audio — all for $3950.

The interior has been redesigned with functionality and better use of space in mind, while a kick-operated power tailgate is standard on all but the entry level grade.

Standard kit includes leather with red stitching, two-zone climate air, push-button start, power adjust heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, rubber mats and reversible cargo area liner.

There’s also LED head and tail lights, auto high beam, parallel and perpendicular park assist, front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming rear-view mirror and an electric parking brake.

Infotainment is provided by the latest Uconnect 5 system, with a 10.1-inch touchscreen and six-speaker audio as standard, featuring voice control, Bluetooth, TomTom navigation, DAB+ digital radio, fully customisable homepage and new ‘touch and swipe’ mode with the option to create widgets.

You can create multiple user profiles that store customised music preferences, apps, seat position, mirror angles and aircon levels, plus frequent destinations and ‘Valet’ mode.

There’s also wireless charging and wireless integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with first row USB Type A/C and second row USB Type A/C, 230V and 12V outlets.

The optional Alpine system boasts a 12-channel, 506 watt amplifier, with nine strategically placed speakers including a dual voice coil and  20cm subwoofer.

In terms of safety, front, side and curtain airbags are standard, along with forward collision warning, electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, lane departure warning plus and rear back-up camera.

Added to these are traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed assist, drowsy driver alert and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist recognition.

A new 360-degree camera is standard with Trailhawk.

Compass comes with a 5-year/100,000km warranty and lifetime roadside assistance for vehicles serviced by Jeep.

Capped-price servicing for Trailhawk means you’ll pay $399 per visit for the first five services, with intervals set at 12 months or 20,000km — whichever comes first.

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What’s it go like?

Trailhawk is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel that delivers 125kW of power and 350Nm of torque, the latter from 1750 revs.

The diesel is paired with a 9-speed sequential auto, which means you can change manually with the transmission shift.

The 4×4 system is the same ‘Jeep Active Drive Low’ system that can be found in Limited and S-Limited models and is a part-time system that sends torque to the rear wheels as required.

What this means is that most of the time it operates in front-wheel drive.

The dash from 0-100km/h takes 9.7 seconds and fuel consumption is a claimed 6.9L/100km.

To put this in perspective, diesels are fast approaching their use by date, especially in the context of smaller SUVs, which makes this one a bit desirable.

Not only do diesels offer superior fuel economy, the lazy, low-revving engines are better suited to the demands of off-road driving.

They are not prone to water problems and are able to operate just above stall speed which allows drivers to pick their way through tricky terrain.

First up, however, we need to address Trailhawk’s on-road performance where it will spend most of its time.

It’s generally slow to respond to the throttle, with two seconds of turbo lag and feels like you’re driving with the handbrake on most of the time.

The steering is heavy at low speeds but becomes lighter the faster you go, when ideally it should be the other way around.

Driving, it feels like you’re fighting against the lane keeping assistance the whole of the time.

As an experiment, we deactivated this feature and it transformed the way the car drives.

The steering immediately became lighter and more manageable around town, but the prospect of having to switch it off each time is unappealing.

Inside Trailhawk is well kitted out, a snug but comfy fit, with limited rear legroom and a smallish boot.

The driver faces a new, ultra-high definition, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster which can be configured differently with the push of a button. 

And, at this point, I’d like to inquire when did Chrysler-Jeep hire the infamous Toyota safety nanny?

In Toyotas she’s the one that stops you from operating the touchscreen once the vehicle is moving.

Guess what. Now the screen in Jeeps is exactly the same, or at least it is in the Trailhawk.

At first we thought the system wasn’t working properly, but then the penny dropped.

In the old days, a pop up asked whether you were the driver or passenger?

If you answered passenger, then you were allowed to proceed unhindered — who the hell dobbed?

Other minor annoyances include the handbrake which does not engaged automatically when you put the transmission in park and the surround/rear view camera which just isn’t that good.

But the doozy is the cruise control button.

Take note because the big cruise control button on the right of the steering wheel does not in fact activate adaptive cruise, just the garden variety that doesn’t do the braking for you.

We discovered this when we almost ran up the bum of a car in front.

To activate adaptive cruise, you need to use the button to the left of the big one.

It’s a trap waiting to catch the unwary and wonder how this one got through to the keeper.

A lot of reviewers of Trailhawk bang on about how this is the only compact SUV you can get with real off-road ability.

After all, it’s got low-range, 225mm of ground clearance and wading depth of 480mm, with approach and departure angles of 30.3 and 33.6 degrees.

It also has a 180A alternator, 4.334 rear axle ratio, four underbody bash plates and two recovery hooks.

And, it rides on smaller, more practical 17-inch alloys with chunkier 225/60 series Falken All-Season rubber plus a full-size steel spare.

The big drawcard, however, is that Trailhawk is ‘Trail-Rated’ which once upon a time meant that it had been tested on the famed Rubicon Trail, west of Lake Tahoe in California.

But, digging a little deeper, it turns out that Trailhawk doesn’t in fact have low range.

Although it has a button called 4WD LOW, it does not have a two-speed transfer case and therefore couldn’t possibly have a low range gear set.

All this button does is keep the transmission in first gear, which is possible with most automatics.

Another button promises 4WD LOCK. What this does is transmit torque equally to both the front and rear wheels.

In most SUVs, the front wheels do all the work and torque is only diverted to the rear if there is a loss of traction.

Most SUVs come with this feature too.

There are other buttons for Rock, Sand-Mud, Snow and Auto modes.

Preparing to do battle, we sat facing a boggy waterhole on our favourite section of fire trail.

It was the wettest we’d ever seen it and we were not confident of the Trailhawk’s ability to get through, particularly after talking to the driver of a BT-50 who had almost become stuck.

That about sums up the situation and it begs the question: what does ‘Trail-Rated’ actually mean?

According to Jeep: “It’s earned. Every Trail Rated 4×4 Jeep Brand vehicle has succeeded against a series of gruelling tests in five categories: Traction, Water Fording, Manoeuvrability, Articulation and Ground Clearance.”

Short answer. A Jeep doesn’t have to go anywhere near the Rubicon to be certified Trail-Rated.

The rating is actually part of an ‘independent’ certification process, conducted by the Nevada Automotive Test Centre (NATC), which does not reveal scores.

Make of it what you will.

For more information check out this excellent article by Practical Motoring’s Isaac Bober.

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What we like?

  • It’s a Jeep
  • Looks like a downsided Grand Cherokee
  • Comfortable seats
  • Cruises easily
  • Nice big infotainment screen
  • Rubber mats to keep interior clean (reversible in boot)

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What we don’t like?

  • Where do I start?
  • Too expensive
  • No low range gearing
  • Recalcitrant touchscreen

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The bottom line?

Trailhawk is expensive for a small SUV.

Like most Jeeps, it looks pretty good, is well equipped and there’s that promise of adventure.

But if you’re looking for a serious off-roader, then we’d suggest taking a closer look at the fine print and reading all the footnotes — basically it’s too much money for something that’s not going to do the job.

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Jeep Compass Trailhawk, priced from $52,650
  • Looks - 7.5/10
    7.5/10
  • Performance - 6/10
    6/10
  • Safety - 8/10
    8/10
  • Thirst - 8/10
    8/10
  • Practicality - 7/10
    7/10
  • Comfort - 7/10
    7/10
  • Tech - 8/10
    8/10
  • Value - 7/10
    7/10
Overall
7.3/10
7.3/10