Jeep Compass Trailhawk looks like a leader

Jeep photoThe Trailhawk version of the Jeep Compass carries enhanced off-road capabilities, along with stand-out styling that gives it added flair. 

The Jeep Compass is a moderately sized crossover sport-utility vehicle that carries the go-anywhere, bring-anything hallmarks of the Jeep brand to the rest of the world. When promoting the model to the media, the car maker describes Compass as a “global” model. It is manufactured in Brazil, China, India and Mexico. Jeep sells the Compass in more than 100 countries around the world.

Here in the United States, the Compass adds a contemporary, freshly styled wagon to the brand’s lineup of six vehicles. Available in front- or all-wheel drive, with the high-riding body and elevated carriage that characterize crossover SUVs, the Compass stays nicely proportioned enough and gracefully contoured enough to look tidy and fashionably functional in a suburban driveway.

“Many young families and single people seek it out as one of the coolest crossover SUVs on the market,” observed Brian Heney, chief operating officer of the Kelly Automotive Group, which sells the Compass at Kelly Jeep Chrysler in Lynnfield.

But the Compass is still a Jeep. To stay true to the brand’s go-anywhere, bring-anything image, the vehicle incorporates some real off-road capability. While many other crossover wagons offer all-wheel drive largely just to improve traction on challenging road surfaces – especially on the snow-coated roads we’ll see here in two or three months – the Compass really is set up to travel over rocks, sand, mud, ruts, gravel and bumps that are nowhere near any pavement.

That’s especially true of the Trailhawk version. Out of the tidy wagon’s four trim levels, the Jeep Compass Trailhawk is the variation that carries special equipment and some body modifications that make it most capable over the rough stuff.

When I evaluated a Compass Trailhawk through a week of ordinary, family-oriented suburban driving, I was most impressed by the standout style and tastefully rugged good looks that distinguish the Trailhawk.

“The Compass Trailhawk stands out with its rugged, off-road capability, and also with its rugged off-road appearance. They are both factors in why many are drawn to purchase or lease it,” said Heney. In addition to the Lynnfield Jeep and Chrysler dealership, the Kelly group operates Kelly Ford in Beverly, Kelly Infiniti and Kelly Volkswagen in Danvers, Kelly Honda in Lynn, Kelly Nissan in Lynnfield and Kelly Nissan in Woburn.

The Jeep Compass starts at a list price of $23,590 for a Compass Sport model with front-wheel drive. All-wheel drive adds $1,500, bringing the Sport’s list price to $25,090. Compass Trailhawk is the highest price variation, with a list price of $30,940. But all-wheel drive isn’t an add-on; it’s part of the package. The extra tire grip of four-corner power is necessary for the enhanced traction that off-road travel requires.

All Compass levels come with a four-cylinder engine that puts out an ample 180 horsepower. Unlike most other vehicles sold in America, the Compass offers a manual transmission, installed as the standard transmission in the basic Compass Sport and mid-level Compass Latitude.

Most likely the six-speed manual gear box is available here because the Compass also is sold in so many foreign countries, where manual shifters are popular for their greater economy and the engaging driving experience they provide. Here in America, most Compass buyers choose one of the model’s automatic transmissions – a six-speed automatic in front-drive models, and a nine-speed automatic in all-wheel-drive variations.

An enhanced traction system that Jeep calls Selec-Terrain also comes in Compass models with four-corner drive. The setup enables drivers to dial in traction-control settings for mud, sand and snow, or to let the vehicle decide with an automatic setting. Selec-Terrain varies power delivery to each of the four wheels to maximize tire grip on the selected surface.

The Compass Trailhawk adds a fifth selection: Rock, for optimizing traction over hard, craggy, and torn-up terrain. On top of that, the Trailhawk’s all-wheel-drive system includes a slow, crawling speed range for times the Compass needs to step slowly and carefully over uneven ground. And it has hill-descent control, which holds the vehicle at a controllable speed while it creeps down hills.

Other special enhancements that equip the Trailhawk for off-road travel include its specially tuned suspension, with ground clearance elevated one inch higher than other Compass versions. It has skid plates to protect its under belly, one rear and two front tow hooks, off-road tires, and reshaped bumper areas that enable it to mount and dismount steeper hills.

Those are functional features which give the Compass Trailhawk an edge on unpaved surfaces. Jeep also dresses the Trailhawk variation to appear above the ordinary. Its primary embellishments are polished aluminum wheels with their recesses painted black, gray roof rails over a black roof, matching gray side mirrors and front-end accents, and a matte black decal covering the raised central portion of the hood – its purpose is to reduce glare under a bright sun, but mostly it just stands out as a distinguishing detail.

The Compass Trailhawk also wears red accents on prominent badges that read “Trailhawk” and “Trail Rated.” Its three tow hooks are painted red too. The red detailing carries into the model’s cabin, with decorations like the glossy rings surrounding the speakers and the gear shifter. They contrast with shiny black surrounds ringing the radio and air vents. Other stand-apart interior details are the Trailhawks leather and mesh-cloth seats with embroidered logo, and LED accent lights.

Added together, the distinguishing details made me feel like I distinctive by association – the way you feel when you’re well dressed in jaunty sports clothes.

I also felt well served by the Compass Trailhawk’s performance of standard suburban-family transportation tasks. It was nicely powered, quick to launch and smooth to cruise. Its back seat accommodated two children’s seats handily. On another occasion, three college students sat across the back bench. They probably would have felt cramped together and uncomfortable during an hours-long trek. During the 30-minute run to a restaurant, they remained comfortable and cordial.

That’s just the sort of around-town duty a Compass Trailhawk will be called on to perform most often. Its added prowess off-road gives greater assurance that it’s also a Jeep.

“Jeep loves to promote and showcase its off-road capabilities on every vehicle it makes,” observed Heney. “It is part of their fabric and a big part of their success.”

Jeffrey Zygmont is an author of fiction, non-fiction and poetry books, and a long-time auto writer. Contact him at

2020 Jeep Compass

Vehicle type: 4-door, 5-passenger, front- and all-wheel-drive compact crossover sport-utility vehicle

Price range: $23,590 to $30,940 (plus options)

Warranty: 3 years/36,000 miles basic warranty; 5 years/60,000 miles powertrain warranty

Engine: 2.4-liter I4

Power: 180 horsepower at 6,400 rpm; 175 lb.-ft. torque at 3,900 rpm

Base transmission: six-speed manual

Fuel economy: 22 mpg city; 31 mpg highway (with AWD)

Wheelbase: 104 inches

Length: 173 inches

Width: 74 inches

Height: 65 inches

Weight: 3,184 pounds

Fuel capacity: 13.5 gallons

Turning circle: 36.3 ft.

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