Friday, September 15, 2017

Pointing Toward Magnetic Jeep | 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Review

Photo: Matthias Horst
Before I begin discussing the car pictured above these words. I must enlighten you on its context. Because what you see is a far cry from what was.

Back in late 2006, the folk at DaimlerChrysler released the original Jeep Compass. It’s a great name for what was a terrible SUV. The idea from what I understand was to release a Jeep aimed at hip young urban people for some reason. The ads featured bubbleheads carpooling to work listening to a pretty sweet bass heavy beat.
Unfortunately the car resembled a bobblehead designed by bubbleheads for bubbleheads. So the ads worked! The truth is the Compass was ugly and barely a Jeep. It shared its platform, terrible powertrain and cheap interior with the Dodge Caliber and neither were really meant to go off-road. 
Now, before you start commenting below, I do know the Patriot exists. But it’s much more traditional and Jeep made valiant attempt to make it off-road worthy. So it’s not as bad. Though, it still shared the dreary engines, transmissions and interior with the Compass. At least it looked good.
Now, here’s the crazy bit. I see old Jeep Compasses everywhere in the town where I live. They haunt me. I don’t know what to make of it, or what it says about the people I live among. Or perhaps I’m missing something.
I doubt that.
Because in these parts we also have a huge and serious off-roading Jeep community. You know, the types who spend their weekdays getting their Jeep off-road worthy and then their weekends off road. The type who talk about Sand 60s and selectable lockers. Whatever they are. 
When I met up with a few of them and asked about the old Compass I literally got blank stares. They couldn’t remember it. Or, perhaps more likely, they intentionally blocked it from their memory.
So this new one… We'll it’s nothing like the old one. Thank goodness. It’s based off a Fiat platform and engine, which it shares with the slightly smaller Renegade.
Photo: Matthias Horst
It’s clear that Fiat/Chrysler wanted to provide customers an alternative to the controversial Cherokee and the Tonka truck toy Renegade. The idea with this new 2017 Jeep Compass is to create something a little more upmarket, with “premium styling.” HID headlights are available; as is a heated steering wheel. But perhaps the most telling premium aspect of the Compass is the price. 
I’m sure in the near future you’ll be able to find discounts at the dealer. But the fully loaded Compass TrailHawk I tested stickered around $41,500! A base model can be had at a more modest $26,795. But realize that everything will be an optional extra, even heated seats. If, at the very least, you want to get the off-road capability of the TrailHawk model be prepared to pay $34,790. And no that one doesn’t have heated seats standard either.
Photo: Matthias Horst
And there are parts of the car that make you question those prices. In the front you do get some premium touches. The Touchscreen uConnect system is worthy of all praise. The seats are appointed with the optional leather and the dash topped with soft touch plastics. But as you head into the back the leather turns to pleather and the plastics get hard. 
As well, the turn signal stalk breaks the premium facade. It feels really cheap, and the detente were so loose that I, and other drivers, on multiple occasions flashed the high beams when trying to merely signal for a lane change.
If you are changing lanes to pass someone, make sure to press the pedal all the way to the floor and good luck. The 2.4 Litre Tigershark 4-cylinder engine should get you up to speed. It produces an adequate 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque. It is a bit drony, but mainly it’s quiet and smooth through the rev-range. Which is good because all the power is at the top end.
Unfortunately the 9-speed automatic transmission doesn’t seem to care about the engine’s special tuning. It doesn’t like the lower gears at all, and it’s focussed solely on smooth shifting which means in this case slow shifting. One could be misled into thinking this was a CVT. Unfortunately it doesn’t listen to the manumatic mode’s commands with any urgency and there’s no sport mode. On top of that, despite 9 gears the Compass is thirsty. Government ratings are set at 10.8|7.8|9.5 L/100km (city|hwy|combined). But in the week I drove it, by my calculation consumption was around 12 L/100km. Though driving off-road and filming definitely contributed to my numbers. 

Photo: Matthias Horst
At this point it seems like I’m poopooing on the poor new Compass. But the story doesn’t end here. I really like the styling and I really like the size. It sits in a unique sweet spot between the subcompact crossovers and the small crossovers. And while that means rear space isn’t massive. It’s not a pinch either. As long as you don’t get the panoramic sunroof which kills rear seat headroom.

Styling wise, you can see with the Compass that Jeep really worked to keep things mature. It’s boxy and chunky and less alien. The front-end references the larger Grand Cherokee. Though it should be noted that the seven slot grill is there purely for show. No air goes through it. I guess it’s an irony of where we have come to aerodynamically.

The roof is sort of a floating job that sits on the car like a backwards cap incorporating the rear window glass. I wonder if the small quarter windows at the back could have been made a little bigger. But other than that, this is a pleasant Jeep to look at especially the TrailHawk model I tested.
Photo: Matthias Horst
The TrailHawks are the “real” Jeeps. These models are engineered to be more capable than the pavement princesses. The bumpers don’t have a chin, helping increase approach and departure angles. The ground clearance is up a little to 8.5 inches. And there are stylish but useful red tow hooks in case you get stuck somewhere and need a friend to winch you out. It’s serious kit deserving of the “Trail Rated” badge. Right?
Well to find out I took it out on a trail with some help from the Four-Wheel-Drive Association of BC. The group knows about all the good trails in this part of the world, and they make sure that off-road enthusiasts can still run on them.
The trail the group took me on wasn’t the most challenging thing a Jeep could traverse. But it showed just what kind of Jeep the Compass was. Namely, all the premium was put in here. The ride was amazing, nothing rattled. Hard rocks and divots felt more like pillows. 
Photo: Matthias Horst
In TrailHawk trim the Compass comes with a special Active-Drive Low 4x4 system. Which means at the push of a button and a twist of a dial there’s a 20:1 crawl ratio on offer for steep uphill sections and downhill there’s hill descent control. As well, the throttle is dulled significantly so that you don’t spin the wheels when setting off on an uphill section. All together the system really helped make the Compass an extremely easy and comfortable car to take off the beaten path. Even for a novice like me.
And all the off-roader folk liked it. Though I think they’ll probably stick to their older project Jeeps. Because making your truck more capable is half the fun of off roading. I’m curious what these Compasses will be like 10 years from now. Will they be found with huge tires in the backwoods trails? For now, I anticipate even the TrailHawks will be sticking to the asphalt. Though the strange thing is the Compass is better off road than on.
So the new Compass flawed. And yet with its go anywhere character, it wormed its way into my heart. I like it. It harkens back to a simpler time, when the internet was new and people bought certain vehicles because they went off road, even though they’d never take them there. It’s a crossover with legit off road credibility and that’s worth something, though maybe not $41,500.

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