SUV Review: 2022 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Elite
A family vehicle that can also handle the road or trail less travelled, this crossover has few peers in its class
At the time of writing, it’s Remembrance Day, and I’m thinking of my father and a particular black and white photo. It was taken April 19, 1945, at Canadian Artillery Training Centre Petawawa and shows the 40 or so men of G Troop, ‘F’ Battery. Standing amongst them and just behind a Jeep, is Dad, a tall, skinny, 18-year-old Private. It is likely one of his first experiences with the most iconic military vehicle of the Second World War. And though he gained a reputation throughout the troop as being able to drive any Canadian Military Pattern (CMP) truck over, around, or through anything thrown at it without getting stuck, it was the go-anywhere Jeep for which he had the fondest affection. He remained a fan of Jeep and an owner of the brand’s subsequent array of civilian models — mostly in station wagon form — for the rest of his life.
Every time I drive a Jeep of any stripe, I think of Dad. But while I also have an affection for the brand, having grown up with Wagoneers and Cherokees in our family’s driveway, it comes with a cynical streak. In short, not every one of the numerous Jeep models I’ve driven over the better part of five decades has been a gem.
Case in point, the compact-sized Compass. When it debuted 15 years ago, the rounded, bloated model was an attempt to compete with the car-based crossovers (CR-V, RAV4, Escape, Tucson, etc.) that were, quite frankly, eating Jeep’s lunch. For a manufacturer of tough, off-road-ready vehicles that could tackle any terrain at any time, the Compass was an embarrassment — a soft-roader, especially the front-wheel-drive version, barely worthy of the Jeep name. I heaped scorn upon it.
Yet, in a textbook case of “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again,” the Compass has, over the subsequent decade-and-a-half, been redeemed — reworked, redesigned, toughened up, 4×4’d and Trail Rated. Not perfect, it nonetheless now has a distinct personality and a measured toughness to it.
And for 2022, refreshed front and rear fascias and restyled LED lighting, plus an updated signature seven-slot grille. Inside, a new and more modern cabin, one with its infotainment systems upgraded, along with an interior that’s a touch fancier and a lot more comfortable for four adults, though still more skewed to function than luxury. That’s OK, though. What’s being tested is the topline Trailhawk Elite, which makes it the most off-road proficient of the Compass’s five trims, the others being the Sport, North, Altitude, and Limited.
The Trailhawk comes with a 25-millimetre factory lift — resulting in 218 mm of ground clearance — high-strength steel skid plates, red front- and rear tow hooks, 17-inch aluminum wheels and Falken Wildpeak all-season performance tires. Jeep Active Drive Low builds on the Jeep Active Drive system, with a 20:1 crawl ratio and proper low range 4×4 ability. Also, while the other 4×4 models come with the Selec-Terrain system that offers Snow, Sand and Mud modes, the Trailhawk gets an additional Rock mode.
That said, it’s no Wrangler Rubicon, though, to be fair, it’s not supposed to be, being a mainstream sort of Jeep. In other words, a lot less punishing on the long drives. Not to mention, at $38,195 — $44,535 for the well-optioned tester — significantly less expensive.
Still, $44K is a good chunk of change for a crossover, one that, at 4.4 metres in length, is on the smaller side of the compact segment. At that price, some automakers will load their top trim models with luxury and infotainment features while others will push performance with 250+ hp turbocharged four-cylinders. Neither is what the Trailhawk Elite is about.
There is but one engine for all Compass models, FCA’s 2.4-litre SOHC Tigershark four-cylinder, which also sees duty in the subcompact Jeep Renegade and larger Cherokee. The working-class four-banger puts out 177 horsepower and 172 pound-feet of torque, reasonable numbers within the compact segment though far from class leading. And, combined with the Trailhawk Elite’s 1,648-kilogram weight, acceleration is lethargic, taking at least 10 seconds to hit 100 km/h from a standstill and sounding rather growly under heavier throttle. The nine-speed automatic doesn’t help in the zip department either, the top four gears are all overdrives.