2020 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4x4 Review

Good in the rough, roughly good


Amos Kwon, Editor-In-Chief



Positives: Seriously capable off-road, rugged exterior good looks, infotainment is easy to use.
Negatives: Rough and underpowered engine, overly bulky interior with cheap materials, just about everything costs extra.
Bottom Line: Jeep's reputation for ruggedness is evident in the handsome Trailhawk version of the Compass. It's too bad it seems to fall behind in other key areas like driving dynamics and interior styling. We'd take it over most crossovers for camping and off-roading but not for everyday driving, especially at this price.
Forget everything you know about the first-gen Compass, a vehicle so totally forgettable, we have to Google it to remember what it looked like. The second-generation version came in 2017, and the brand put its weight behind it. What it provided was off-road prowess in a compact package, as well as looks like its bigger brethren, the Cherokee and the Grand Cherokee. It's now in year four of the current generation, and the Compass soldiers on without any changes for 2020. We drove the top trim Trailhawk for a week as a commuter vehicle. Let's see how it fared for a rough-and-ready crossover on the streets of suburban Chicago. Read ahead for our detailed review.
 

Driving Experience

6.2

 

Although we didn't get a chance to take the "Trail Rated" Compass Trailhawk off-road, we have driven it before in some pretty challenging conditions, and it emerged unscathed. The hard part is when you take it on-road in daily driving situations where it could be much better.

Ride Quality: The Compass Trailhawk ride is well damped and on the cushy side without going overboard.

Acceleration: The engine is the same at every trim level, and it could use more oomph. 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque for a heavy crossover are not enough. The transmission also hampers efforts. It's slow to downshift and leans toward copious upshifts to conserve fuel, not a recipe for good driving.

Braking: Stopping distances are competitive for the segment, but the pedal is grabby and lacks progression that provides confidence while driving.

Steering: The steering is light and lacks both effort and feedback, but it's at least not vague or off-center.

Handling: Because of the elevated ride height and the tall sidewalls in Trailhawk trim, there's palpable body roll, but it's not overly dramatic. Just don't go hot into those turns because of the vehicle's heft.

Technology

8.4

 

Uconnect is one of the better systems out there, and its ease of use and clear visuals make it one of the best mostly touchscreen controlled systems out there.

Infotainment System: The 8.4-inch screen isn't small or huge, and it's enough real estate to be very useful. It's also does a good job of resisting fingerprints, which is a huge plus. It responds to inputs well, and menus are pretty easy.

Controls: Most of the Compass's functions are operated via Uconnect on the touchscreen, which can be frustrating when digging into seat heater controls, but they work pretty well overall. The climate control and audio knobs/buttons are big and easy to access, but when they're clustered horizontally and vertically, it can take an extra second or two to find what you need.

Styling

7.7

 

The Trailhawk trim certainly adds attractiveness to the Compass, which doesn't stand out in the crowd in non-Trailhawk guise. Although it is a handsome crossover, it can look a bit nondescript in lower trims. The added bits, badges, and hood contrast of the Trailhawk give it visual punch. The interior, however, still lags behind competitors in terms of materials style, and ergonomics.

Front: Black trim and the off-road bits like red tow hooks look great. The smaller but still iconic vertical Jeep grille is well-executed here.

Rear: The back end could use a refresh. The taillights are starting to look dated, and the added visual height from the black bumper and underbody is noticeable.

Profile: The Trailhawk definitely looks taller from the side, but that's a good thing for a Jeep. The black trim gives it that rugged look, and the lack of chrome is nice. The black fender trim would look better if it extended all the way up to the crease.

Cabin: Everything looks and feels bulky. Although the red trim is a nice Trailhawk touch, the dash, steering wheel, and center stack just seem overly thick.

Comfort

7.2

 

The Compass does a pretty good job of transporting five adults. The seats are properly cushioned, and there's enough room for the Compass to be daily practical. You do have to ignore some of the hard plastic trim bits up front, though.

Front Seats: Seating is comfortable and cushy, but the thick dash makes things feel a little suffocating.

Rear Seats: There's ample legroom for adults, which is nice at this size. Although it has a little bit less than the Honda CR-V and the Ford Escape, it eclipses the new Toyota RAV4.

NVH (noise/vibration/harshness): There was a fair amount of squeaks and creaks over bumps and gaps, more than is acceptable at this price. The engine is also noisy when pushed.

Visibility: The seating position is good and front and front-side sightlines are good. It's the rearward view and rear-side view that are compromised by thick pillars and short glass.

Climate: The heated seats and heated steering wheel get hot fast, and the system as a whole is very good.

Safety

6.6

 

The Compass actually does well in crash test, missing top marks due to some small demerits. The real down side is the amount of money buyers would have to spend to get safety features that are standard in a lot of competitors like the Toyota RAV4. It drives the price up unnecessarily.

IIHS Rating: It misses the Top Safety Pick due to "marginal" and "poor" headlights. It received "good" in all crash tests.

NHTSA Rating: The feds gave the 2020 Compass four stars due to a 20% rollover risk and less-than-perfect frontal crash test results.

Standard Tech: The standard safety set is paltry, at best. The Trailhawk is the most expensive trim for the Compass, and it only comes with a backup camera.

Optional Tech: You have to spend $795 to get the ParkSense Rear Park-Assist System, Blind Spot and Cross-Path Detection and an additional $945 to get Automatic High Beam Control, Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop & Go, Lane Departure Warning Plus, Full Speed Forward Collision Warning Plus, and Advanced Brake Assist. That's almost $2,000 more to spend.

Storage/Cargo

6.7

 

Although the cargo section provides solid space for luggag,e, gear, and groceries, its the main cabin that's shockingly impractical for small item storage.

Storage Space: There's hardly any place to put anything except for small armrest compartment and cupholders. Nothing's really immediately accessible that's not low or behind your arm.

Cargo Room: There's 27.2 cubic feet behind the second row and 59.8 cuibes with the second row folded flat. That's not bad for the segment, but competitors like the RAV4 and the even the Mazda CX-5 are bigger.

Fuel Economy

5.9

 

We drove our tester pretty conservatively, and our fuel economy numbers did not reach the EPA estimates. It's not terribly surprising given the heft of the car and the amount of effort needed to get up to speed. The overly enthusiastic upshifts to save fuel didn't seem to help much, either.

Observed: 22.8 combined.

Distance Driven: 114 miles.

Audio

6.5

 

You'd think the top trim Compass Trailhawk would get a premium audio system standard, but you have to pony up an extra $745 to get the Alpine system upgrade. It's a good system, but we didn't find it especially powerful or great to listen to.



Final Thoughts

We can't find any reason why consumers would get the pricey Trailhawk version of the Compass unless they planned on going off-road on a semi-regular basis. At almost $40K, there are way more comfortable and modern crossovers, but few can hold a candle to the Trailhawk's ruggedness. The new Ford Escape is better to drive, the Mazda CX-5 also wins in the driving dynamics (and has way more power and better materials/styling). On the one hand, most people looking for a crossover should look elsewhere, but if you're a weekend warrior in the great outdoors, not much else will do except, of course, a Jeep Wrangler.
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