2020 Jeep Compass Trailhawk

Rugged off-road version is a comfortable crossover that’s comfortable being a Jeep

The SUV segment is the hottest automotive category in America. And, by far, the hottest subset of that hot segment is the soft-roader crossover.

That puts Jeep between a rock and a soft place.

The rock is the rugged off-road capability expected of Jeep. The soft place is the reality that few crossover buyers care. What these buyers really want is an all-wheel drive wagon that looks like an SUV. And, since Jeep — with the exception of the recently launched Gladiator pickup — sells nothing but SUVs, the brand must compete in the soft-roader crossover segment.

What to do?

One answer is the 2020 Jeep Compass.

Compass is offered in four trims — Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk. The first three respond to the majority of the market, providing a front-wheel drive option and a four-wheel drive version — really all-wheel-drive — that boasts enough bad-weather traction and two-track-gravel grip to satisfy the vast majority of crossover buyers.

Trailhawk, however, is the Compass aimed at Jeep purists, providing as it does genuine in-the-rough capability that’s demanded by few crossover shoppers but every hardcore Jeep fan.

For starters, Trailhawk is the only Compass available with only four-wheel drive. It then builds on that credential with such trail-tough tools as a lifted suspension, beefier tires, a transmission with a lower-geared “crawling” ratio and a five-choice drive-mode selector. Regarding that last feature, other 4WD Compass models offer modes of Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud, but Trailhawk adds a trail-tackling Rock mode, which directs power strictly to wheels that have grip for enhanced outback traction.

Slotted between Cherokee and Renegade, every 2020 Compass is powered by a 180-hp, 2.4-liter I-4. Front-drivers are managed by a six-speed transmission — manual or automatic at the buyer’s discretion — while 4WD models get a nine-speed automatic as standard issue. Our nine-speed Trailhawk delivered to us 23 mpg in just over 100 miles of mixed city/hwy driving, including a brief off-pavement excursion that confirmed Trailhawk’s off-road talent.

Regarding styling, Compass eschews the traditional boxy look found on Wrangler and Renegade. Instead, it embraces a sophisticated “Little Grand Cherokee” appearance. Nonetheless, our “Spitfire Orange” Trailhawk went its own way with prominent tow hooks front and rear and a blacked-out roof, grille and hood panel.

Inside, the pleasantly roomy (by segment standards) cabin showed more black accents, including black leather seats with contrasting stitching and a “Trailhawk” logo stitched on the front-seat backs in orange. Also striking was the orange framing around the gauges, door speaker grills and the floor shifter.

Our 8.4-inch infotainment touch screen, courtesy of a $1,245 Uconnect navigation package, proved marvelously easy to use with its big knob and large buttons for climate control and big knobs for the radio, which, of course, is Apple CarPlay and Android Auto friendly.

On the road, Trailhawk is a pleasant companion on smooth pavement, with just enough engine pep to get the job done and a nine-speed transmission that goes about its duties with no-drama confidence. Save a bit of tire-induced road noise at interstate speeds, the cabin ambience is peaceful. The only exception is over ragged pavement, which disconcerts this guy’s strut/coil-spring suspension, making for a briefly raucous experience.

Still, Compass is handsome, roomy by segment standards, up-to-the-minute in its infotainment tech and, in our Trailhawk, well equipped to handle any unpleasantness the weather man or the forest urchins may dish out.

In other words, Compass Trailhawk is a comfortable crossover that’s comfortable being a Jeep.

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