The Jeep Compass Trailhawk is comfortable, spacious and great off road – all for a price that helps it occupy a niche in the mid-sized SUV market. It’s perhaps best seen as a comfortable yet hard-working family SUV for those who need genuine ability in the rough on a regular basis. A Skoda Kodiaq Scout offers more space, an entry-level Land Rover Discovery Sport could just about match the Jeep off road and a BMW X2 blows it out the water as a road car. But there’s a niche appeal to the Compass Trailhawk that’s rare to find in today’s market.
The new Jeep Compass Trailhawk brings an added dose of off-road capability in a class that’s almost entirely dominated by road-biased mid-sized family SUVs.
Sitting at the top of the standard Compass range, Trailhawk trim adds a suite of off-road hardware and a rough-and-tumble makeover; it’s more or less unique in its class thanks to a curious mix of off-road ability, compact size and a near-£37,000 asking price that includes a hefty amount of kit.
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Rivals include toughened-up family SUVs like the Skoda Kodiaq Scout, but also more capable offerings like the Subaru Forester and – if you’re willing to forgo some standard equipment – the Land Rover Discovery Sport.
Key to the Trailhawk’s off-road prowess is Jeep’s Active Drive Low four-wheel drive system. This incorporates a low-range gearbox with a crawl ratio of 20:1 (the Wrangler Rubicon boasts a maximum 77.2:1 ratio, for reference) and a four-wheel drive system that can send all power to one wheel if required. Hill descent control also features alongside Jeep Selec-Terrain, which brings selectable off-road modes: Snow, Sand, Mud, Rock and Auto. Rock mode is exclusive to Trailhawk-badged Jeep models, while Auto allows drive to the rear axle to be disconnected for improved economy on the road.
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These mechanical changes are joined by additions that hit home the Trailhawk’s off-road focus: a full-size spare wheel, all-season tyres on 17-inch alloys, raised suspension, underbody skid plates and a bright red rear tow hook, plus chunky bumpers front and rear to round off the look.
Power comes courtesy of FCA’s 2.0-litre MultiJet II diesel engine, here producing 168bhp and a useful 380Nm of torque. Claimed average economy of 42.8mpg and emissions of 175g/km are acceptable if not class-leading; the Discovery Sport D150 returns 40.9mpg and up to 152g/km, while the petrol-only Subaru Forester returns 32.2mpg and emits 168g/km.
Standard equipment is generous, with Trailhawk models adding to the mid-range Longitude spec. Leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, eight-way electrically adjustable seats, a heated leather steering wheel, an 8.4-inch infotainment system and 7.0-inch driver’s display all come as standard, along with a nine-speaker Beats stereo system, plus front and rear parking assistance with a rear-view camera. Blindspot and cross-path detection is also included.
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It is clear that costs have been cut elsewhere, however. Inside, the Compass’ cabin is filled with hard plastics which, though likely to wear well, don’t quite tally with the Trailhawk’s near-£37,000 price tag. Space, however, is great – there’s loads of it front and rear, with room for two six-footers to sit tandem with rear legroom to spare. The 438-litre boot is on the smaller side as a result; the loading lip may be too high for some, but the opening and load area are usefully wide.
For all of its mud-plugging pretensions, the Compass Trailhawk is competent on the road. Ride quality is good, with a pliancy and smoothness over all but the worst bumps that – in combination with the very comfortable front seats – makes for relaxing progress. There’s more roll in corners than you’ll find in sportier rivals, but its not excessive except during enthusiastic cornering.
The 2.0-litre diesel engine gives decent, if not blistering, performance and remains generally quiet on the road, but gets pretty vocal when working hard under full throttle. The standard nine-speed gearbox can get confused and occasionally holds onto gears a little too long on the overrun, but generally it works well.
Grip and traction are generally good, but the standard all-season tyres weren’t entirely convincing on our test route’s particularly greasy Italian mountain roads, letting the front end push wide much too easily in tighter turns. The trade-off, of course, is their contribution to Trailhawk’s deeply impressive performance once tarmac is left behind.
It’s hard to think of an SUV in this price range that’d go further off-road than the Trailhawk. With low range, four-wheel drive lock and the Selec-Terrain’s Auto mode engaged, the Compass made short work of deep mud and steep gravel tracks. The Jeep feels light and agile off-road and there’s a sense of real structural rigidity that puts old-school 4x4s to shame, letting the revised suspension do its best work over ruts and bumps. Hill descent control does a convincing job of battling against gravity on slippery downward slopes, too.
The Compass’ closest rivals in terms of sheer off-road ability are the Land Rover Discovery Sport and Range Rover Evoque. Neither offers quite the same level of standard equipment as the Jeep, but overall quality and polish is better in both.