2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Video Review

2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Video Review By Auto Critic Steve Hammes

The term SUV gets thrown around pretty liberally these days and in the compact class there aren’t many you’d really trust off-road. But Jeep’s Trailhawk models are different. With more ground clearance, improved approach and departure angles and advanced 4-wheel drive systems, models like this all-new Compass can be specified with the tools to take you farther.

Intended to grow the brand outside of North America, Jeep introduced the Compass concept at the 2002 North American International Auto Show, followed by the production-ready model 4 years later. Under Daimler stewardship at the time, the Compass broke new ground for the Jeep brand by forging into small, more fuel-efficient, front-wheel drive models such as the Patriot, which along with the Dodge Caliber, shared common underpinnings. Its optional all-wheel drive system didn’t possess the off-road chops of the Wrangler or Grand Cherokee but with a starting price of under $16,000 Jeep was bringing younger buyers into the brand.

Over a decade has gone by since and much has changed. The Germans are out, the Italians are in and the international consortium of Chrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi that produced the original Compass engine has been replaced with a Fiat-developed motor. Production has moved too, from Illinois to Mexico.

Let’s start with the positive: the all-new 2017 Compass looks like a Jeep; a mini version of the Grand Cherokee, if you will. It has a rugged design and comes in cool color schemes like this Spitfire Orange. Specifically, this is the new Trailhawk model, so even though it’s still front-wheel drive-based, it comes with the Trail Rated badge, fortified with a standard, low-range 4-wheel drive system, an extra inch of ride height raising it 8 ½” off the ground, skid plates, tow hooks, unique fascias, hill decent control, and 17” off-road tires. Selec-Terrain allows you to dial-in whichever ground you’re traversing for expert tuning of the Compass’s various drive systems and it works extremely well. So take it down that rutted road, ford up to 19” of water, and crawl over those rocks – this is the new Compass at its best, feeling capable and secure like a Jeep should. You’re not getting this level of go-anywhere performance from the competition. It’s also neatly sized for snaking down narrow trails. Though they’re not particularly supportive nor do they have slide or recline functionality, rear seating is spacious. The optional Uconnect big screen is a Compass highlight, with embedded navigation, full smartphone integration, simple to use controls and a hard-hitting Beats Premium Audio System. Optional amenities are plentiful, like a heated steering wheel and heated seats, remote start, leather, rain sensing wipers, and blind spot and cross path detection. Using the chassis from the Fiat 500X, the KONI shock absorbers do a nice job of controlling large body motions yet remain soft on rough roads. It’ll also tow 2,000 pounds.

And now, for the rest of the story…

This Compass would definitely rather be on the trail than on tarmac. The combination of SUV tires and less than precise steering delivers a sloppy drive and the powertrain is a terrible fit with a touchy throttle and an utter lack of power. It’s really fun off-road but completely disappointing on-road.

The 2.4-liter Tigershark engine with its 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque simply isn’t enough. The 9-speed automatic is geared aggressively in 1st for a lurchy, pseudo-quick take-off but after that the engine just disappears. This is the most underpowered vehicle I’ve driven in a long time. On top of that, there’s little precision engineered into the driver controls making the Compass feel primitive by comparison. And you just can’t have halogen headlamps on a 2017 model with a price point over $30,000. Base price of the Trailhawk is $29,690 and optioned up here to $34,455. With an engine stop-start feature, gas mileage is rated at 22 mpg city/30 mpg highway but with a lot of off-roading, mine checked in at 20mpg for the week.

A lovable off-roader, Jeep will have to get out in front of these other important Compass issues quickly to assuage a negative first impression.

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