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Car reviews - Jeep - Compass - Trailhawk

Our Opinion

We like
Off-road ability, roomy cabin, gutsy diesel engine, Trailhawk-specific design cues
Room for improvement
No AEB, price pushes past $50K with option packs, flat front seats, ‘Jeep’ branding on the mirrors

Jeep’s new Compass is a major turning point, but is the needle pointing due north?

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Jeep logo18 May 2018

Overview
 
AFTER a forgettable run with its first attempt at building a compact crossover, Jeep has taken a clean-sheet approach with the second-generation Compass.
 
The first one was blighted by quality glitches, equipment shortfalls, polarising styling, a particularly poor overseas crash-test result and, we suspect, confusion in the marketplace as it sat alongside the closely related Patriot and had buyers who know and love the Jeep brand – or at least have a deep respect for its heritage – wondering what on earth the American off-road specialist was doing. 
 
This second one is an altogether different vehicle, based on an all-new platform, fitted with more advanced technology, rated to a maximum five stars for its safety and deliberately styled to look like a cut-down version of the Grand Cherokee – nothing like the Renegade that slots in underneath. 
 
So confident is Jeep that it describes the new Indian-built small-to-medium-sized Compass as a clear segment leader in off-road terms and “world-class” with its driving dynamics, including superior ride quality and handling. 
 
These are claims we simply had to put to the test, and the flagship Trailhawk was the obvious one to show us the way – fully equipped and, on the face of it, holding nothing back.
 
Price and equipment
 
The Compass Trailhawk is priced from $44,750 before on-road costs are factored in, but the version tested pushes up past $50K – to $50,645 plus on-roads – with the $2850 ‘comfort and convenience’ and $2450 ‘advanced technology group’ packages and $595 premium paintwork.
 
The technology extras are detailed in the ‘safety and servicing’ section below, while the comfort/convenience items include ‘passive’ entry, keyless start (and remote start function), front seat heating and power-adjustable front seats – eight-way for the driver (including lumbar and two-position memory) and four-way for the passenger.
 
We think Trailhawk customers should not be asked to stump up an extra $5300 for the two packages, or even be forced to make the decision, and that most of these items should be fitted standard – while keeping the RRP under $50,000. 
 
The $1000-cheaper Limited variant does not require an extra outlay for the additional creature comforts, and carries a higher-grade stereo among various other features, leaving the Trailhawk to trade heavily on its headline positioning as a trail-rated variant.
 
As such, Trailhawk-specific features include a revised 4x4 system, unique suspension setting, higher ride height, hill-descent control, front and rear recovery hooks, full-size spare wheel, undercarriage protection, black anti-glare hood decal and 17-inch black/grey off-road alloy wheels. 
 
Other visual cues include a black roof and a grey finish for the roof rails, grille surround, foglight bezel, side window edging and wing mirror caps. 
 
Interior
 
The red-painted recovery hooks and other exterior details – the badging, in particular – set up a neat connection with various elements in the Trailhawk cabin, such as the red stitching on the thick-rimmed steering wheel, the cloth/leather seats (complete with Trailhawk logo), door trim and centre console storage box.
 
There’s also red trim surrounding the instruments, front door speakers and transmission lever, even ‘Trailhawk’ tags on the rear seatback pockets to remind the occupants of the investment made in this variant. Big, thick all-weather floor mats do not go unnoticed, either.
 
The driver is perched up high in a seat that is disappointingly flat, but nonetheless firm and not uncomfortable over long distances, while there is no questioning the handy amount of adjustment provided for the seat and steering wheel that allow for satisfactory positioning.
 
We like the commanding view of the road, the easily mastered steering wheel controls, straightforward instrument layout (conventional tacho and speedo with large central digital screen and gauges) and undemanding requirements for mastering the 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen display with satellite navigation, Apple CarPlay/Android Auto connections, digital radio, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, and more.
 
All the expected connection points for media devices are here, along with 12V and 230V outlets in the centre console area and a useful mix of storage facilities for pocket detritus, drink bottles and other items. We would have welcomed some space under the dash stack, but the box hidden under the front passenger seat squab is an unexpected treat.
 
The rear compartment also has enough storage options, air vents behind the console box, a USB point and maplights for outboard positions. 
 
In terms of spaciousness, there’s plenty here in all directions, and comfort-wise the two main seats are fit for purpose. Depending on your point of view, the high doors sills help produce a cosy or hemmed-in feeling. 
 
As is often the case, the central position is compromised with its firm and narrow seatback that should prove acceptable for short trips and/or small occupants but was designed for the dual purpose of folding down as central armrest with twin cupholder recesses and, sadly, no extra partition that keeps the cargo area separate to the rear compartment. 
 
Using the armrest has us feeling a bit vulnerable when small objects are stacked in the boot, which at least has hooks for a cargo net, four tiedown lashing points and two small recesses at the tailgate end of each wheelarch intrusion. 
 
There is a 12V outlet here, too, and the 60/40 seatbacks fold down to create a reasonably flat surface. 
 
Under the floor is a full-sized, steel-rimmed spare wheel, but with a sticker urging temporary use only, which flies in the face of Jeep’s promotional material that highlights the spare as a key selling point for the off-road-oriented vehicle.
 
Engine and transmission
 
The Trailhawk is fitted with a 2.0-litre ‘Multijet 2’ four-cylinder turbo-diesel engine delivering 125kW of power at 3750rpm and 350Nm of torque at 1750rpm, driving through a nine-speed automatic transmission (with manual shift option) and part-time four-wheel-drive system. 
 
This is not the quietest diesel in its class, but not harsh in any sense of the word, hesitating a little off the line from a standing start but soon hitting its straps and providing a satisfying surge through its low and medium range. 
 
Unladen, the fairly hefty (1621kg tare) Trailhawk is an easy-going tourer on the open road, spinning at 1500rpm at 100km/h in top gear and operating effortlessly with the ZF-sourced transmission. 
 
There is obviously a gear for every occasion here, and at higher speeds the auto is responsive to driver input when quick overtaking moves are required, although around town we did find it a little slow to respond. 
 
Keep everything in moderation and the diesel’s pulling power and the gearbox’s smooth nature are strongpoints in the overall package, both in on-road conditions and when hitting off-road tracks that call for slow and steady progress at lower revs.
 
There is no low-range gearing but a unique-to-Trailhawk ‘Active Drive Low’ 4x4 system and Jeep’s ‘Selec-Terrain’ traction control electronics with easily selectable modes – auto, snow, sand, mud and, specific to this variant, rock.  
 
The driver can easily engage all-wheel traction permanently via the 4WD Lock button on the console dial, and the adjacent 4WD Low button that holds first gear and provides extra reassurance when crawling up steep inclines. An electronic hill-descent control (HDC) system is provided for downhill manoeuvres.
 
For whatever reason, we had difficulty engaging HDC on our off-road tour, but can attest to the solid traction and excellent control provided when climbing up rugged trails. One acutely angled bank stopped the vehicle in its tracks, but a switch to ‘rock’ mode, which can send every bit of available torque to the rear wheels, pulled us up and over with ease.
 
The one glitch we noticed with the Compass throughout our test drive came when moving off slowly from idle, with a distinct creaking noise rising from the engine bay.  
 
Automatic engine idle-stop is included to help keep a lid on fuel consumption, which across our varied road test loop and additional off-road trails came in at a commendable 8.4L/100km. 
 
It’s well over the official lab-derived combined urban/highway claim of 5.7L/100km, but not bad considering the demanding real-world conditions in which the Trailhawk was tested.
 
Ride and handling
 
By now it should be obvious that the Compass Trailhawk really does stand as a leader in its class in terms of off-road ability. 
 
We would expect nothing less from a brand like Jeep, with a variant such as this, and while 4WD enthusiasts might look for something more hardcore, the small-medium ‘trail-rated’ SUV provides the average motorist with every reason to explore bush trails with confidence. 
 
Relatively dry creek beds left the 480mm wading depth unchecked, but heavily rutted tracks from previous winters were easily navigated. 
 
Engineering and design work that brings a higher ground clearance (225mm) and massively improved approach/departure angles (30.3/33.6 degrees) come to mind in these situations – where no backing up or second thoughts about tackling a rugged stretch were needed – and wherever we did reach clearance limits, the protective skid plates did their job.
 
Getting to these trails, however, did not have us believing in the hype that this is a world-class vehicle in its dynamic performance, whether on bitumen or dirt roads.
 
General refinement and ride quality is good rather than great, the suspension ironing out back-road surface imperfections commonly encountered on our drive route, but not always isolating the occupants from unwanted noise and occasional vibration. 
 
The steering allows a small amount of kickback to rise through the rack in rough corners, bodyroll is a factor during quick directional changes and while the level of roadholding is up to standard in this category, pushing hard through tighter turns sees the tyres squealing and an aggressive response from the (switchable) electronic handling systems.
 
The tyres also produce a din across course-chip bitumen and fast-flowing gravel roads, and some wind noise off the wing mirrors was apparent at freeway speeds. 
 
On the latter, we must also note our objection to the ‘Jeep’ logo on the exterior mirrors, particularly the driver’s side, which can be distracting. 
 
Safety and servicing
 
Every Jeep Compass has seven airbags (dual front, front side, curtains and driver’s knee), a reversing camera, front and rear seatbelt alerts, four-wheel disc brakes (with ABS), ‘rain brake support’, electronic stability and traction control, electronic roll mitigation, and trailer sway control.
 
It’s worth noting that the Trailhawk has a 1500kg braked towing capacity, while towing is not recommended on any of the front-wheel-drive lower-series variants.   
 
Rain-sensing windscreen wipers and automatic headlights (with fog and cornering lamps) kick in at the second-tier Longitude grade, while the higher-series Limited adds bi-Xenon front and rear lamps (rather than a basic lamp), tyre-pressure monitoring system, auto-dimming rearview mirror, front and rear parking sensors and a parallel and perpendicular park assist system. 
 
More advanced driver-assist technology – even at the top end – is lumped into a $2450 ‘Advanced Technology Group’ package, which includes forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, adaptive cruise control (with ‘stop and go’ functionality), blind-spot monitoring (with ‘rear cross path detection’) and automatic high beam. 
 
A power-assist tailgate and exterior mirror courtesy lamps are also provided in this package.
 
Significantly, autonomous emergency braking (AEB) is not included on any variant. This is a major omission and would have limited the vehicle’s ANCAP safety rating to four stars, but Fiat Chrysler Australia managed to have the crash test conducted just weeks before the testing protocol changed on January 1 this year. As a result, Compass stands as a five-star car. 
 
Compass is covered by a five-year/100,000km warranty with ‘lifetime’ roadside assistance provided – just so long as you keep servicing the vehicle through an authorised Jeep dealer.
 
Service intervals are 12,000km or 12 months, with the first, third and fifth services capped at $425 and the second and fourth services set at $850. 
 
Verdict
 
Jeep is playing to its strengths with the Compass Trailhawk, which is a striking and capable bigger-than-average small SUV that provides plenty of encouragement for the average motorist to explore their limits – those of both car and driver – off the beaten track.
 
This is its key selling point, and we are prepared to go along with ‘best-in-class’ claims with its off-road ability.
 
However, when isolated as a daily commuter or country tourer the Trailhawk stands as a proficient but unexceptional performer in a highly competitive segment.
 
The new Compass is clearly a vast improvement over its predecessor, but the little quality niggle in the engine bay gives us pause for thought and, despite the features onboard, it doesn’t feel as premium as we might expect from a $50K-plus vehicle (as tested).     
 
We find ourselves steering towards the slightly cheaper 4x4 Limited variant when factoring in not only the equipment levels but, if we’re honest, our desire to go too far off-road in the Trailhawk rather than a more dedicated off-road vehicle like the Wrangler.
 
Rivals
 
Volkswagen Tiguan 140TDI Highline AWD from $50,490 plus on-road costs
One of Jeep’s nominated benchmarks in the mid-size class, the Tiguan has a 140kW/400Nm 2.0-litre diesel engine and comes fully loaded at this Highline level 
 
Hyundai Tucson Highlander AWD from $47,450 plus on-road costs
Another one that Jeep has set its sights on as a key rival, and for good reason, given its excellent packaging and meaty 136kW/400Nm 2.0-litre turbo-diesel
 
Land Rover Discovery Sport TD4 110kW SE from $56,595 plus on-road costs
A bit of a step up, but if a well-credentialled premium off-road brand figures in the equation, then why not consider the competent entry-level Disco Sport?

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