The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

ROAD TEST: Jeep Compass Trailhawk has ability over elegance

STYLE over substance is the mantra for most modern sports utility vehicles. Not the Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

Its beauty is more than skin deep for those with outdoor ambition.

Claytons SUVs dominate sales charts, but the original inspiration for the high-riding machines was to go off-road. Shock horror, they were designed to step off the bitumen and not just to give extra clearance from the mud at soccer training or climb a kerb when you're in a traffic snarl.

Wearing its version of the trademark grille, the stand-out red tow hooks front and back are not for illustration purposes only. Jeep's compact Compass Trailhawk may be small in dimensions, but it's packed with all the off-road goodies.

It also has a big price. Its sticker puts the Trailhawk within a price bracket range of similar sized luxury-focused options from Mercedes-Benz, Mini, Audi and BMW.

The $46,950 drive-away question is: how much do you want to go off-road?

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

VALUE

Little is left in the Compass cupboard with the range-topping variant. There's an awesome array of equipment you'd expect at this price point, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto phone connectivity which links to an 8.4-inch touch-screen, satnav, leather and cloth combination trim, dual zone aircon, nine-speaker BeatsAudio sound system, power adjustable front seats and push button start.

Most notable is the hardcore gear, with the low-range 4x4 lock system, the Selec-Terrain system which includes rock crawling mode, off-road suspension, an extra 25mm of ground clearance over a standard Compass which takes it to 216mm, four underbody skid plates, unique looks front and back along with the black bonnet decal.

There's a five-year transferable warranty, while roadside assist runs for the same period - but maintain servicing with Jeep and the coverage is extended to the life of the vehicle.

Services are required every 20,000km or annually, and capped price is available for five maintenance trips, at an average price of $595.

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

ON THE ROAD

Engaging and nimble, once the 2.0-litre diesel gets working it is responsive and strong. Getting off the mark can feel sluggish, and particularly agricultural when cold.

Its portly 2189kg weight, courtesy of all the off-road ability, doesn't help when sprinting off the line.

Yet when rolling the little Trailhawk corners surprisingly well and during a challenging stint at low speeds on grass, gravel and varying undulations it shone with dexterity.

Featuring the "Trail rated” badge, which is Jeep speak for having true off-road prowess, it can slip into four-wheel drive mode on the fly via a flick of the dial where you can choose from a range of suitable terrains.

Operationally, most dial and buttons are straight forward. The Uconnect system is the best we've sampled in recent Chrysler/Jeep iterations, especially with the speed of connecting devices via Bluetooth and the smartphone mirroring applications.

While there are typical Jeep plastics used in the cabin it's a modern environment which can handle four adults. Three across the rear bench seat is a stretch.

Front seats are flat and could use some more contouring, but there is ample common sense cabin design with dual large cupholders front and back, as well as easy access to USB point, auxiliary port and a 12-volt plug.

The rear seats drop in a 60-40 configuration for improved internal flexibility.

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

SAFETY

Packed with passive and active safety features, it gains a five-star crash rating, with seven airbags.

Among the option packs fitted to our test vehicle was the $2450 Advanced Technology Group, which includes autonomous braking technology that can help stop or slow the Jeep dramatically if an impending frontal impact is detected. It also comes with a power tailgate, radar cruise control, blind spot monitoring and rear cross path detection (super helpful when coming out of tight suburban car parks).

When you'd in the $50k realm that should be standard - as should the sunroof fitted at $1950.

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

HEAD SAYS

It's a fair outlay to gain the off-road technology, and I could get into something that will really impress the neighbours for the same coin. Those options can also be expensive.

HEART SAYS

Everyone else is driving fake off-roaders, I want something which enables me to throw the bike on the roof and actually go somewhere outside the concrete jungle.

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

ALTERNATIVES

SUZUKI JIMNY $22,990

It lacks the internal and external pizzazz, as well as whole raft of safety features and infotainment...it doesn't have much really, but this little Suzi will go anywhere.

MERCEDES-BENZ GLA180 $43,900

Bargain basement Benz which means you go without a fair bit of kit. Most importantly you get the three-pointed star on the front which offers ample enticement for many buyers keen to flash their key at the dinner table.

AUDI Q2 1.4TFSI $41,800

An easy car to live with day-to-day, which is zippy under acceleration, but doesn't have the same off-road ability as the Jeep, nor does it have a rival equipment list.

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

THE VERDICT

Funky looks inside and out, combined with the Trail rated abilities offers something different in the SUV segment. This is really designed for walkers, mountain bikers and outdoorsy types who want to get somewhere out of the ordinary.

It stands out from the crowded SUV market, but it's hard to see many being wooed away from luxury brand kudos at a similar price.

The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.
The range-topping Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

AT A GLANCE

JEEP COMPASS LTD/TRAILHAWK

PRICE $46,950 drive-away (in luxury realm)

WARRANTY AND SERVICING 5 years/ 100,000km, $2975 for 5 years (fine)

ENGINES 2.0-litre 4-cyl turbo diesel 125kW/350Nm, 9-speed auto; AWD (ok, sluggish at low speed)

SAFETY 5 stars, AEB, 7 airbags, tyre pressure monitor (up with best in class)

TRANSMISSION

THIRST 5.7/100km (good, but 7 on test)

CARGO 438L (pretty good)

SPARE Full-size (awesome, a rare thing)

TOWING 1000kg-1500kg (good)