These days, if you want to make an SUV stand out, you need to do something special. And no, not just a cool name and some flash styling accoutrements. For a car to grab your attention these days, it needs special traits of engineering and performance.
With a solid dose of off-roading chops added to its DNA, this 2020 Jeep Compass Trailhawk has those necessary ingredients. However, the question is whether this concoction of a modern global platform, practical SUV traits, and off-road-focussed augmentations is worth more than the sum of its parts.
What’s different? There’s a unique wheel and tyre package, along with raised suspension, underbody bash plates and red tow hooks. There’s also a full-sized spare under the boot, and plenty of trail-rated badging.
But, it all comes at a premium. At $49,450 before on-road costs, this Compass slots itself right up at the pointy end of the small SUV class.
|2020 Jeep Compass Trailhawk|
|Engine||2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel|
|Power and torque||125kW at 3750rpm, 350Nm at 1750rpm|
|Drive type||On-demand 4x4|
|Fuel consumption, claimed||5.7L/100km|
|Fuel use on test||7.4L/100km|
|Boot size (seven-seat / five-seat)||438L/1680L|
|ANCAP safety rating (year)||Five stars (2017)|
|Warranty (years / km)||Five years / 100,000km|
|Main competitors||Jeep Cherokee Trailhawk, Suzuki Jimny|
|Price as tested (ex on-road costs)||$49,080|
According to the monthly VFACTS sales report, that’s where this Compass lives: taking on segment favourites like the Hyundai Kona, Mitsubishi ASX and Kia Seltos. However, nothing else in this segment can match the Compass Trailhawk off-road. Except for the Suzuki Jimny, which will go some way in bettering it. It’s not as practical a package, sure. But it oozes charm, and is a big chunk cheaper.
Next up on the consideration list is the engine. If you prefer petrol, you’re out of luck here because in playing opposites to the rest of the Compass range, the Trailhawk is diesel only.
The 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo diesel power plant makes 125kW at 3750rpm and 350Nm at 1750rpm running through a nine-speed automatic gearbox to all four wheels.
Most of the time, the Compass operates like a front-wheel-drive car, with its transverse-mounted engine only getting power to the back when the right driving mode is selected, or when the car notices that you are running out of traction.
That sounds like most other all-wheel-driven SUVs, yes. But, Jeep has gone to considerable effort with the Compass Trailhawk in order to make it a better prospect off-road. The 4WD Lock button ensures that power goes to the front and rear wheels permanently for off-road usage.
Claimed fuel consumption for the Compass Trailhawk on the combined cycle is 5.7 litres per 100km, which is an impressive gain over the petrol-powered variants. In our testing, we saw an average of 7.4L/100km, which crept up into the eights around town.
And as it turns out, the Compass Trailhawk is actually quite good off-road. In a strange kind of sense.
Approach (30.3°) and departure (33.6°) angles are good. The rampover angle (24.4°) is a little more average, and ground clearance is decent without being amazing, listed somewhat optimistically at 225mm. In the general four-wheel driving I did, the bash plates copped a workout, but they banged and slid without issue.
|2020 Jeep Compass Trailhawk|
|Length / width / height (mm)||4398 / 1819 / 1657|
|Tow rating braked / unbraked / payload (kg)||1500 / 450 / 568|
|Approach / departure / rampover angle (degrees)||30.3 / 33.3 / 24.4|
|Wheels and tyres||17-inch, 225/60R17|
Traction control is good, and does the lion's share of work in keeping the Compass moving forward. Suspension doesn’t really articulate after all, so the selectable driving modes have their work cut out in braking the right wheels to limit wheel spin.
There’s also a 4WD Low button, but there is no low-range. Instead, it has a nine-speed automatic gearbox with a low-ish first gear ratio. Like a Volkswagen Amarok, it gives a sense of low gearing through the torque converter, and for an occasional off-roader it’s fine.
There’s enough ability to easily handle unmaintained forestry tracks, slippery grass and shallow mud, erosion mounds and the like. It would probably handle sand quite well, also. As long as the powertrain doesn’t get too hot.
It’s definitely unique in terms of the off-road ability that Jeep has engineered into an otherwise easy to live with small-to-medium SUV. The turning circle, at 10.78m, is quite suitable for town driving.
However, I don’t think it’s a smart choice for somebody keen to go off-road all of the time. And I don’t think that’s the point of this car, or who it is aimed at. Because there is no low-range gearing, the automatic gearbox is put under a bit of stress and strain, as it plays middle-man between high revs and relatively low wheel speeds. Such action generates heat, and you can tell that the gearbox is warming up from the loud fans operating, even after the engine turns off.
And with no low-range, I found the Compass couldn’t reverse out of a tight pinch at one stage, because it couldn’t deliver enough torque to turn the wheels. If going back were your only choice, it could be a bit of a problem.
In the same stable, Jeep’s Cherokee Trailhawk does have low-range gearing and a locking rear differential. It carries a similar asking price as well (from $49,490, so only a $500 upgrade), in a bigger overall package. Although, it also contrasts as a petrol-only option: a much livelier 200kW/315Nm 3.2-litre V6.
Also, at this price you need to consider other four-wheel-drive options: the upper-middle-specification Mitsubishi Triton GLS (from $51,490) isn’t nearly as town-friendly as the Compass, but brings a gun to the knife fight in many other instances like size, payload and towing and off-road ability.
Many other four-wheel drives and utes are within range as well, including the recently updated Toyota Fortuner and soon-to-be-updated Isuzu MU-X, amongst many others. Once again, these are larger vehicles that aren’t as easy to park and have a much larger turning circle, but offer intrinsically better value for money.
Being the only Compass to get a diesel engine, there is more torque compared to the 2.4-litre petrol engine, but it’s not punchy like other modern 2.0-litre diesels. Like the petrol, it’s adequate to a point, but lacks acceleration under load and at highway speeds. It’s a good operator off-road, however.
The ride is good, with tame Falken all-terrain tyres with more diameter. While they improve things off-road, they don’t make a negative impact on the blacktop. They’re quiet and compliant. That extra ride height does seem beneficial through bumps and speed humps, giving you a little dose of confidence around the urban wilds.
The Compass holds the road well, feels balanced and easy to handle on flowing country roads. Although, it’s not dynamically pleasing. Stop-start is awful, with a bit of a thud as it kicks over and takes off. Like other Compass specifications, the Trailhawk has a tidy on-road demeanour with good body control and bump absorption.
The interior is functional and practical without being a standout. The multifunction display in front of the driver has some good information readouts like speed, volts, transmission and coolant temperatures.
The seats, finished in a black leather trim, are American-style comfortable: no real bolstering, but they are soft and lounge-like.
The extra driving modes and buttons kill some of the handy storage in front of the gearshifter, and the centre console is small. So, for your everyday bits and bobs, you could use an extra storage slot or two.
Don’t forget, you do get a handy storage spot under the front passenger seat, which helps keeping things out of sight.
Red accents and the Beats-branded sound system set the Trailhawk apart from less expensive iterations, but ergonomics and features are otherwise the same. The infotainment display is a good one, measuring in at 8.4 inches and offering all of the features and mirroring that you need (or want).
The second row is decent, with enough room for kids' seats and adults, provided the front row isn’t taking up too much space. There are air vents and a USB power outlet, along with ISOFIX and top tether points.
The boot (438L) is useable and plenty for weekends away. It could even operate as a small family car with a couple of kids, provided you don’t pack the kitchen sink. And don’t forget, there is a full-sized spare wheel under the floor, albeit on a steel wheel.
Jeep's five-year, 100,000km warranty is good, but most competitors do offer more distance, and at least as big a time frame. In terms of servicing, it's capped at $399 per visit for the first five years. Service intervals are once a year, or 20,000km.
For a small SUV, the Trailhawk does a good job of being nimble and easy to live with, along with providing a useable interior for people and gear alike. Throw in some decent off-road ability and the appeal grows. However, its asking price does leave it feeling particularly expensive, both as an off-roader and as a small SUV.
It’s good at playing both roles, but neither one exceptionally well. For those wanting a cute but capable off-roader that can also cruise around in town, the Suzuki Jimny offers better bang-for-buck. Although, that two-door box on wheels is less practical and family-friendly.
But if practicality is what you’re after, then consider the many other larger four-wheel drives that are available at this pricepoint. And of course, if you forget about the off-road ability, your options list grows to include the many small SUVs out there.
In saying all of this, the Compass is still unique in its mixed offering. And for some Australian buyers, it will nicely fill a niche of weekday ease and weekend adventure.