WORTH IT?: Trailhawk . . . read the fine print.

By CHRIS RILEY, Marque Motoring

THE Compass is the baby of the Jeep family and looks like a downsized-version of Grand Cherokee.

Introduced in 2007, Compass and Patriot, a reskinned, rebadged version of the car, were the first of Jeep’s softer crossover offerings.

Compass was rounder, cuddlier and generally more citified twin, while the Patriot which was dropped in 2016 was a bit squarer and more macho.

Survivor Compass continues to fly the flag for the iconic American brand, targeted at first time buyers and those whose driving is confined mainly to paved roads.

For the first four years the Compass range didn’t include a Trail-Rated version, which in Jeep speak is a guarantee of off-road prowess.

The latest Compass is a modern beast, with enhanced tech, redesigned dashboard, a refined cabin and impressive list of driver assistance systems.

Trailhawk is distinguished by a unique radiator grille, body-coloured fog light surrounds, a prominent bash plate and 17-inch alloy wheels.

The horizontal lines of the front are repeated at the rear, with tail lights that provide a more modern and commanding look.

Bumpers, foglights and camera radar have been relocated higher and out of the way to avoid damage off road.

LED daytime, high beam, low beam and fog lights boost brightness by 100 per cent.

Prices start from $39,950 for Night Eagle, followed by Limited at $45,350, S-Limited at $48,350 and finally Trailhawk at $52,650, with Premium paint at another $645.

A Premium Package adds a twin-pane sunroof, heated and cooled front seats, heated steering wheel and premium Alpine nine-speaker audio all for $3950.

The interior has been redesigned with functionality and better use of space in mind Standard kit includes leather with red stitching, two-zone climate air, push-button start, power adjust heated and cooled front seats, a heated steering wheel, rubber mats and reversible cargo area liner.

It has LED head and tail lights, automatic low/high beam, parallel and perpendicular park assist, front and rear parking sensors, auto lights and wipers, auto dimming rear-view mirror and an electric parking brake.

Compass comes with a 5-year/100,000km warranty and lifetime roadside assistance for vehicles serviced by Jeep.

Capped-price servicing for Trailhawk means you’ll pay $399 per visit for the first five services, with intervals set at 12 months or 20,000km.

It has the latest Uconnect 5 system, with a 10.1-inch touchscreen and six-speaker audio as standard, featuring voice control, Bluetooth, TomTom navigation, DAB+ digital radio, fully customisable homepage and new ‘touch and swipe’ mode with the option to create widgets.

You can create multiple user profiles that store customised music preferences, apps, seat position, mirror angles and aircon levels, plus frequent destinations and ‘Valet’ mode.

There’s also wireless charging and wireless integration via Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, with first row USB Type A/C and second row USB Type A/C, 230V and 12V outlets.

The optional Alpine system boasts a 12-channel, 506-watt amplifier, with nine strategically placed speakers including a dual voice coil and 20cm subwoofer.

Trailhawk is powered by a 2.0-litre turbo-diesel that delivers 125kW of power and 350Nm of torque, the latter from 1750 revs.

It is paired with a nine-speed sequential auto.

It can be changed manually with the transmission shift.

Safety includes, front, side and curtain airbags, forward collision warning, electronic stability control with electronic roll mitigation, blind spot monitoring, rear cross path detection, lane departure warning plus and rear back-up camera.

Added to these are traffic sign recognition, intelligent speed assist, drowsy driver alert and automatic emergency braking with pedestrian and cyclist recognition.

A new 360-degree camera is standard in Jeep Trailhawk.

The 4×4 system is the same ‘Jeep Active Drive Low’ system that can be found in Limited and S-Limited models and is a part-time system that sends torque to the rear wheels as required.

What this means is that most of the time it operates in front-wheel drive.

The dash from zero to 100km/h takes 9.7 seconds and fuel consumption is a claimed 6.9L/100km.

First up Trailhawk’s on-road performance where it will spend most of its time.

It’s generally slow to respond to the throttle, with two seconds of turbo lag and feels like you’re driving with the handbrake on most of the time.

The steering is heavy at low speeds but becomes lighter the faster you go – ideally it should be the other way around.

Driving, it feels like you’re fighting against the lane keeping assistance the whole of the time.

We deactivated this feature and it transformed the way the car drives.

The steering immediately became lighter and more manageable around town, but the prospect of having to switch it off each time is unappealing.

Inside Trailhawk is well kitted out, a snug but comfy fit, with limited rear legroom and a smallish boot.

The driver faces a new, ultra-high definition, 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster which can be configured differently with the push of a button.

Other minor annoyances include the handbrake which does not engage automatically when you put the transmission in park and the surround/rear view camera which just isn’t that good.

The big cruise control button on the right of the steering wheel does not activate adaptive cruise, just the garden variety that doesn’t do the braking for you.

To activate adaptive cruise, you need to use the button to the left of the big one.

It’s a trap waiting to catch the unwary and wonder how this one got through to the keeper.

A lot of reviewers of Trailhawk bang on about how this is the only compact SUV you can get with real off-road ability.

After all, it’s got low-range, 225mm of ground clearance and wading depth of 480mm, with approach and departure angles of 30.3 and 33.6 degrees.

It also has a 180A alternator, 4.334 rear axle ratio, four underbody bash plates and two recovery hooks.

And, it rides on smaller, more practical 17-inch alloys with chunkier 225/60 series Falken All-Season rubber plus a full-size steel spare.

The big drawcard, however, is that Trailhawk is ‘Trail-Rated’ which once upon a time meant that it had been tested on the famed Rubicon Trail, west of Lake Tahoe in California.

But, digging a little deeper, it turns out that Trailhawk doesn’t in fact have low range.

Although it has a button called 4WD LOW, it does not have a two-speed transfer case and therefore couldn’t possibly have a low range gear set.

All this button does is keep the transmission in first gear, which is possible with most automatics.

Another button promises 4WD LOCK.

What this does is transmit torque equally to both the front and rear wheels.

In most SUVs, the front wheels do all the work and torque is only diverted to the rear if there is a loss of traction.

Most SUVs come with this feature too.

There are other buttons for Rock, Sand-Mud, Snow and Auto modes.

What does ‘Trail-Rated’ actually mean?

According to Jeep: “It’s earned. Every Trail Rated 4×4 Jeep Brand vehicle has succeeded against a series of gruelling tests in five categories: Traction, Water Fording, Manoeuvrability, Articulation and Ground Clearance”

The rating is actually part of an ‘independent’ certification process, conducted by the Nevada Automotive Test Centre (NATC), which does not reveal scores.

Trailhawk is expensive for a small SUV.

Like most Jeeps, it looks pretty good, is well equipped and there’s that promise of adventure.

But if you’re looking for a serious off-roader, then we’d suggest taking a closer look at the fine print and reading all the footnotes, basically it’s too much money for something that’s not going to do the job.