The 2018 Jeep Compass Trailhawk has mastered the meaning of K.I.S.S: Keep It Simple, Stupid. The new Compass is anything but stupid, and Jeep designers have done their best to keep it simple.
Because the tested Compass came in the off-road-rated Trailhawk version, it has more versatility than its competitors, which lurk in a class of crossover sport utility vehicles parked between subcompacts like the Honda HR-V and compacts like the Toyota RAV4.
Its size is close to the new Subaru Crosstrek, which comes standard with all-wheel drive but without much of the off-road sophistication of the Compass Trailhawk.
The Trailhawk is 3 inches shorter than the Crosstrek but has more interior room – a total of 127 cubic feet to the Crosstrek’s 119. However, the Trailhawk also is more powerful, heavier by about 400 pounds, more expensive and less fuel-efficient. The Crosstrek, though it has some off-road capability, focuses primarily on highway performance in foul weather. The Compass Trailhawk can handle that and also deal with rough stuff off the road, though not as capably as its garage-mates Jeep Wrangler and Unlimited.
Its all-wheel-drive system has five all-terrain drive modes: auto, rock, snow, sand, and mud, along with four-wheel-drive low range, four-wheel-drive lock, and hill-descent control.
This is where it exhibits simplicity. All modes are controlled by buttons on the console that are legibly labeled and easy to operate. They complement the 8.4-inch touchscreen in the middle of the dash, which also is a paragon of simplicity for controlling infotainment and navigation functions.
The Compass replaces its previous-generation sibling and the Jeep Patriot, a similar crossover SUV. Fiat Chrysler discontinued the Patriot after 2016.
Four Compass trim levels are available in your choice of front- or all-wheel drive, three different transmissions, and one engine: a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder that delivers 175 lb.-ft. of torque. The four trims are Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited, the last being the loaded luxury model.
A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the Sport 4×2 and 4×4, and the Latitude 4×4. The Latitude 4×2 comes with a six-speed automatic transmission. Jeep’s nine-speed automatic transmission with manual shift mode is standard on Trailhawk and Limited, both of which come standard with all-wheel drive. The nine-speed also is an option on the Sport and Latitude 4×4 models.
Though not a scorcher on acceleration, there’s enough power for anything the Compass encounters. It handles decently on and off the road and delivers a compliant, somewhat choppy though quiet ride with some intrusion of engine and road noise.
The tested Trailhawk came with a starting price of $29,690 and, with options, topped out at $33,560, which is slightly below the average price of a new car now in the U.S.
Equipment was extensive, including roll mitigation, front and rear tow hooks, rear cross-traffic alert and blind-spot warning, along with navigation, parking assist, satellite radio, remote starting, and a power tailgate. One handy item, especially for adventuresome backwoods boomers, was a full-size spare wheel and tire; though the wheel was plain steel and not handsome alloy like other four.
Receiving increasing attention are vehicles that roll away if the driver inadvertently turns off the engine while the automatic transmission still is in Drive. Some systems automatically shift into Park but the Compass finesses the situation by refusing to let the engine shut down. An instrument message orders the driver to shift into Park.
Though the interior contained a number of plastic trim items, the seats were upholstered in a combination of sturdy cloth trimmed with leather. The front seats had well-bolstered seatbacks to hold the torso in cornering and off-roading.
The outboard back seats had plenty of head room and knee room for average-sized adults, and even the center-rear position – hampered by a floor hump, intrusion of the console, and a cushion instead of a real seat – actually could accommodate a fifth passenger. Overall, this new Compass is a bundle of compromises that delivers a potpourri of capabilities.
2018 JEEP COMPASS TRAILHAWK
Vehicle type – 5-passenger 4WD crossover SUV
Engine type – 16-valve MultiAir Tigershark 4-cyl.
Horsepower – 180 at 6400 rpm
Transmission – 9-speed automatic
Overall length – 173 inches
Turning circle – 35.3 feet
Curb weight – 3,633 pounds
Fuel capacity – 13.5 gallons
EPA mileage rating – 22 mpg city, 30 mpg highway