Blaze your own trail

BY Willy Williamson. Oct 06 03:00 am

The compact utility vehicle class is indeed crowded, but what makes the new 2017 Jeep Compass — equipped with the Trailhawk package — really stand above the competition is one key element: it can actually be driven off-road.

I know this because mere moments into my weeklong test drive I clicked the Jeep’s Selec-Terrain system to mud mode and headed out to our 10-acre backyard for some prewinter planning. This past summer, before the rain started falling, my nephew, Josh Passey, moved an old shed deep into our backyard that will serve as a warm-up shack for our snowmobile trail and I wanted to make sure the raccoons hadn’t taken over. Now that the ground is wet and mucky only our Kawasaki Mule, a small but mighty UTV with knobby tires, could make the trip down the swampy trail without getting stuck in the muck.

The Jeep Compass Trailhawk made it there without breaking a sweat. And if there were any raccoons, me laughing out loud like a maniac as I throttled through the muck surely scared them away.

The rugged Trailhawk package is also offered in the Jeep Renegade, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models, and puts Jeep back where it belongs — playing around in remote spots where most vehicles would surely struggle.

Among many other features, the Trailhawk trim on the Compass increases ground clearance, offers Active Drive Low all-wheel-drive and the Selec-Terrain system, which has specific drive modes for snow, sand, mud and rocks. It also adds skid plates and bright red tow hooks at the front and rear of the vehicle — presumably to pull others out.

The Compass Trailhawk has respectable 30-degree approach and 34-degree departure angles, which aid greatly when climbing and descending hills, especially when traction is an issue. The Trailhawk package also adds a low range with 20:1 crawl ratio, four-wheel lock and hill descent control, which means the engine will assist in slowing you down on the way down a steep hill.

Other standard Trailhawk features include rain brake support, electronic roll mitigation and hill start assist. If all this off-road technology seems like overkill, you’re probably better suited for a base Compass Sport or the next model up, the North package. But if you’re an outdoors nerd like me the Trailhawk trim definitely amps up the off-road capability — and the fun factor.

The Compass shares a platform with the Renegade and Cherokee, but actually looks more like a junior Grand Cherokee. All Compass trim levels use a 2.4-litre Tigershark MultiAir inline four-cylinder engine, making 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Compass Trailhawk models are only available in 4x4 with the nine-speed automatic transmission. While the 180 ponies is decent, it does struggle a bit when passing on the highway, but the nine-speed transmission also keeps the fuel economy in check. I was able to average just 8.9/L per 100 kilometres over a 400 km range that included highway driving, tooling around town and that trip deep into our backyard — and back. Smiles per miles were definitely high.

While the Compass is slightly longer than the Renegade, it is still quite narrow. That said, I never felt cramped and in fact found the interior to be cosy but comfortable. The Uconnect infotainment system is a $700 option, but boosts the stock seven-inch touchscreen to an 8.4-inch unit with navigation that works flawlessly. Our tester also had a backup camera.

Other Trailhawk trim features include leather-faced bucket seats with perforated inserts, special ruby-red stitching, a leather wrapped steering wheel with audio controls and ambient LED interior lighting.

From the driver’s seat the Compass Trailhawk feels just right and features more than enough nifty and useful technology. When combined with the soft touch materials and the sweet sounding audio system, the entire package made me want to pack up my gear and a cooler and set out on an off-road adventure. With all due respect to Honda, you probably shouldn’t be doing that in a CR-V.

The base MSRP for a 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4x4 is $32,895, but our tester, loaded with niceties that included advanced safety and lighting features, the leather interior group with power heated seats, a heated steering wheel and a dual-pane panoramic sunroof, meant our tester rang the register at $39,605. I could easily enjoy this little rig with only the additional features offered standard with the Trailhawk package — and see decent value here at under $33,000.

Jeep purists may balk at my assessment, but overall the Jeep Compass Trailhawk is a winner in my books. It has respectable manners on the highway and around town, is decent on fuel and surprisingly capable off-road. Essentially all the things a Jeep should be!

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