Mountain Wheels: Jeep’s Compass and Renegade offer affordable versatility
April 21, 2018
Jeep's popularity among mountain lifestyle folks — or wannabes, around the globe — makes the rugged range of off-roaders a consistent seller.
There are now five different Jeep models, plus the high-power variants of the Grand Cherokee. For rudimentary Jeeping that still offers all-terrain flexibility, let's revisit two of the more inexpensive models and their more rugged variants, the Trailhawk editions of both the Compass and the Renegade.
Compass is the more accomplished of the two, an all-new product launched last year to replace its less capable and not-entirely Jeepy predecessor. The 2017 Compass Trailhawk I drove, now available as a 2018 model, retailed at $28,595 and came to $34,060 with options.
As I found during a show-off loop of mud, hills and rock features at a Texas ranch a year ago, Compass will indeed handle the rough stuff you might better associate with a Wrangler. I wouldn't recommend extended boulder-field work up on a summertime pass, but for gnarlier-than-average weekend off-roading, the Trailhawk's upgrades certainly make it a comfortable contender.
Trailhawk gets an additional inch of ride height (8.5 inches) and big-boy add-ons including skid plates and red tow hooks in front and back, useful for self-rescue or helping others when things get hairy.
It is indeed capable of steep and deep stuff, with the ability to ford water up to 19 inches deep, good approach, departure and breakover angles, as well as a low gearing and hill-descent control to help crawl over rough stuff. A set of 17-inch off-road tires also adds to Compass's versatility.
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Like other Compass models — a 4×2 version is now available for people in the flatlands — Compass is powered by a 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder, with highway mileage for my 4×4 Trailhawk still in the 30-MPG range (considerably better than what you'll get in a Wrangler).
Compass's size (a 103.8-inch wheelbase, 173 inches overall, nearly 60 cubic inches of cargo space with the rear seats folded), built on an expanded Renegade platform, also makes the vehicle a slightly more pleasant overall experience than the smaller Renegade.
Looks are a fantastic improvement from the old version, with a rear profile that looks awfully rounded and Range Roverish, in a good way. Up front, low-profile (but not Cherokee slit-like) headlamps and a very Grand Cherokee-styled seven-bar grille contribute to a well-rounded, pleasant and enticing package.
The Renegade Trailhawk, priced at $26,845, is Jeep's smallest entry, though it's also become a popular choice — we saw dozens of Renegades as rental vehicles in Hawaii, with their distinctive exed-out tail lamps and their boxier shape.
Renegade's still a bit of a weirdo, an Italian-made product that occasionally feels a lot more like its Fiat cousins than its American Jeep relatives. But if you want small and distinctive, Renegade is all that.
Though shorter and smaller, the Renegade Trailhawk's capabilities are nearly identical to those of the Compass, with that low crawling speed gearing, 8.7 inches of clearance and 19 inches of water-fording capability, plus skid plates.
For 2018, the fourth-generation UConnect system with a 7-inch display and built-in Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is standard on Trailhawk and three higher models, and you can also upgrade to an 8.4-inch screen with navigation.
A rear backup camera is standard on every model, and a series of upgrades to the interior mean more storage capacity, with a dual-pane power sunroof available on the Trailhawk model.
Trailhawk's standard engine choice is the same 2.4-liter four-cylinder as the Compass; other Renegades can also be fitted with the 1.4-liter turbo that is a little lower on horsepower but might provide the added kick you'd appreciate on the passes or just rolling around at high altitude. A nine-speed automatic transmission is also Trailhawk's standard choice, while a six-speed manual is an option on Sport and Latitude models.
Passenger and cargo space is relatively plentiful, with 50.8 cubic feet of storage if you drop the rear seats, and so much headroom you could wear a cowboy hat while driving. The panoramic sunroof is also a nice touch; other models have an accordion-folding roof system as an option, as well.
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