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Jeep brings an off-road contender to the compact SUV segment.

These days there's no shortage of compact crossovers, but most of those offerings are so-called soft-roaders that aren't capable of covering terrain much more treacherous than the Whole Foods parking lot. But what about the people that actually need an off-road capable utility vehicle in an easy-to-manage size? Enter the 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk.

What is it?

The 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk is a high-riding, off-road version of the all-new Compass that has been on sale since earlier this year. In order to make the Compass Trailhawk 'Trail Rated,' Jeep added about an inch of ride height, unique front- and rear-fascias for better approach/departure angles, skid plates, tow-hooks, 17-inch wheels and an off-road ready 4x4 system.

What's it up against?

In standard form, the Jeep Compass goes up against vehicles like the Honda CR-V, Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson and Ford Escape. However, the Compass Trailhawk occupies white space in the market segment as there really isn't anything off-road oriented in its class. You'll have to make the jump to the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque if you want something small and off-road capable.

How does it look?

Unlike other cute 'utes, the Compass Trailhawk looks like a purpose-built off-roader.

That starts with a higher ride-height that gives the Compass Trailhawk a lifted look. The front of the Compass Trailhawk is highlighted by a matte hood graphic and a unique bumper that greatly increases the Compass' approach angle. Whereas the standard Compass 4x4 has a 16.8 degree approach angle, the Trailhawk boasts a 30.3 degree approach angle. A pair of red tow hooks not only look cool, but can be used in case you venture a little too far off the beaten path.

In profile the Compass is mostly slab-sided, but there are a few creases and character lines to breakup its surfaces. Wheels are stylish 17-inchers, but the Compass Trailhawk's Falken tires are decidedly more on-road oriented than its Trail Rated badge would lead you to believe.

Like the front, the rear of the Compass Trailhawk features a unique fascia to increase its off-road ability. However, the departure angle difference at the back isn't quite as vast — whereas the standard Compass 4x4 has a 31.7 degree departure angle, the Trailhawk has a slightly better 33.6 degree departure angle. A single red tow hook protrudes from the Tailhawk's driver's side bumper.

Overall, the Compass is a handsome-looking small crossover, with the Trailhawk package adding a few tough-looking elements. The Compass Trailahwk has clear design ties to the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee, but it's not simply a miniaturized version of that vehicle. We like the Compass' stylized C-pillar and unique rear taillights.

And on the inside?

The interior of the Jeep Compass Trailhawk is a clean and modern design that disappoints when it comes to ergonomics. But let's start with the positives.

Our test car was fitted with an 8.4-inch touchscreen running the latest version of Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment system. Not only is the resolution of the new display very good, but the response time of the touchscreen was nothing short of snappy. Best of all, this version of Uconnect runs both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.

Red accents do a good job of breaking of the Compass' black interior and also give the SUV a more modern feel. We also liked the look of the leather and cloth seats, complete with Trailhawk logos. The Compass Trailhawk's steering wheel is thick-rimmed and covered in high-quality-feeling leather.

Unfortunately, the Compass Trailhawk's hill decent control system can't prevent things from sliding downhill from there. HVAC controls are located low in the Compass' center stack, requiring a quick glance down to make sure you're pressing the right button. And like most modern FCA products, controls for the Compass' heated seats and steering wheel are buried within the virtual Uconnect world; we'd much prefer physical buttons for those functions.

Perhaps the biggest oversight in the Compass Trailhawk is storage, or rather lack thereof. Presumably the Compass Trailhawk will be purchased by the kind of people that pack up and head into the wilderness for the weekend, but those buyers better pack light as there is shockingly little room for storing stuff in the Compass' cabin. Outside of a tiny center armrest cubby and a netted area in the passenger footwell, there's no storage space to speak of. That becomes an even bigger problem when you use Android Auto or CarPlay as your phone has to be plugged in and there isn't a good spot to stow it.

And though it's minor, the Compass Trailhawk has an extremely cheap-feeling engine start button. That may sound like a small thing, but it's something you use every time you drive the car. And every time you do, you'll be reminded that you didn't spend more money to get something a little nicer. A little extra attention here would go a long way.

Seats are also a disappointment in the Compass Trailhawk. In the front, the buckets feel hard and overstuffed. If you're forced to sit in the rear, you'd better hope that you're short. Even those around 5'10" will find headroom tight in the Compass' second row.

But does it go?

The Compass Trailhawk is powered by a 2.4L MultiAir engine that produces 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. Power is sent to a full-time 4x4 system via a 9-speed automatic transmission.

Despite having 3,633 pounds to haul around, the 2.4L engine actually doesn't feel overtaxed in normal city driving. Acceleration is even reasonable at higher speeds. However, the engine isn't the weak part in the Compass Trailhawk's drivetrain.

That distinction belongs to the crossover's nine-speed automatic transmission. Chrysler's nine-speed has been much maligned since it debuted, and the Compass Trailhawk doesn't do much to change that narrative.

At lower speeds, the transmission refuses to kick down when you call for more power, despite there being nine different gears to choose from. If you really stab the gas, the transmission finally kicks down, but it usually cycles through a few gears before finding the right one. Although it's not the transmission's fault, we also noticed quite a bit of vibration being sent through the cabin at idle.

Brakes on our test car were grabby, but it's possible that could be down to a specific issue with our example.

Steering is light and artificial-feeling, but very direct with good response. Despite its macho looks, the Compass Trailhawk is actually quite maneuverable with a good turning radius. And that's good because the Compass has some major blind spots, so you'll probably have to swerve around an unseen object at some point.

Of course the Compass Traihawk's party trick is a beefed-up 4x4 system with simulated low-range function, but we didn't get a chance to put that system to the test during our week of normal commuting.

Our test car had a few options, which brought the out the door price to $33,665. That's approaching the upper-end of the compact SUV market, but the Compass Trailhawk isn't equipped like a top-end vehicle. For example, our test car lacked safety systems like lane departure warning and adaptive cruise control. Meanwhile, the entry-level $25,405 Toyota RAV4 comes with all that stuff as standard. Our test car didn't even have automatic windshield wipers for its $8,000 premium over the Toyota.

Leftlane's bottom line

The 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk is a very specific vehicle that fills a particular niche in the small SUV segment. If you want something that is reasonably off-road capable in this class, the Compass Trailhawk is about the only show in town.

But, if you spend most of your time on paved roads, the Compass Traihawk is probably a compromise too far. There isn't a lot of interior storage space, features are lacking and the Compass' drivetrain is a disappointment. Still, the Compass Trailhawk is a serious upgrade over the prevision-generation SUV and proof that Jeep is capable of improvement, so hopefully we don't have to wait long for them to smooth out the rough edges of this Compass.

2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4x4 base price, $28,595. As tested, $33,665.

Cold weather group, $645; Navigation group, $895; Popular equipment group, $645; CommandView panoramic sunroof, $1,295; Power liftgate, $495; Destination, $1,095.

Photos by Drew Johnson.