– Cleveland, Ohio
Jeep sells nothing but SUVs, and for the most part, they’re excellent SUVs. The exceptions have been the Jeep Compass and Patriot, two crossovers that shared their mechanical bits with the Dodge Caliber. Jeep has continued selling them since the Caliber went kaput in 2012 because, well, Americans are crazy for crossovers, even not-so-good ones. Still, the Compass and Patriot barely deserved to be called Jeeps. They’re almost gone, though the Patriot is still actually on sale as a 2017 model, replaced by this new Compass that shares only those seven letters with its predecessor.
The 2017 Compass is everything the old one wasn’t: handsome, capable, fun, and functional. Now firmly seated in Jeep’s lineup between the smaller Renegade and larger Cherokee and Grand Cherokee, the Compass completes an all-SUV lineup that’s excellent with no exceptions.
Rugged good looks. The Compass is a handsome compact SUV. More so than the odd-looking Cherokee or boxy Renegade, it captures the same tough-but-sophisticated persona as the brand’s best-selling Grand Cherokee. And it looks good in every trim, from the base Sport to the go-anywhere Trailhawk to the top Limited trim shown here.
Actual off-road chops. The selling point of any Jeep, from the Wrangler on down, is getting more off-road acumen than your typical SUV or crossover. The Compass, for instance, has a standard ground clearance of 8.2 inches, which is higher than other crossovers its size and more on par with larger models like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue. The more comparably sized Nissan Rogue Sport, for instance, has just 7.4 inches. Plus, when ordered with all-wheel drive, the Compass comes with the Selec-Terrain Traction Control system with four modes: Auto, Snow, Sport, and Sand/Mud (Trailhawk models get an extra mode called Rock). Tailored terrain settings are uncommon in this price range, but it’s not surprising to find them in a Jeep.
Truly fun steer. Despite the brand’s proclivity towards unpaved adventures, Jeep has engineered the Compass with surprisingly good on-road manners. There’s a nice balance between compliance and control in the suspension, and the steering is light but accurate. With its relatively small dimensions, the Compass also handles without the bulk that can often overwhelm larger SUVs in corners, leaving a few extra degrees of fun to be had before physics reins you in.
Big for the money. The new Compass costs a few thousand dollars less than the Jeep Cherokee, give or take, depending on the trim level. Despite its lower cost and smaller outward dimensions, the Compass nevertheless beats the Cherokee in some key interior measurements. For one, it has more cargo space with the rear seats both up and down: 27.2 and 59.8 cubic feet, respectively, versus 24.6 and 54.9 cubic feet. There’s also more front head and legroom in the Compass than in the Cherokee.
Rough engine. The Compass’ glaring weak spot is its engine, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder that traces its family lineage back to the 2013 Dodge Dart. It’s neither polished in operation nor silent in sound, but at least it gets the job done with a robust 184 horsepower and 175 foot-pounds of torque, and fuel economy of 25 miles per gallon combined that’s decent for a vehicle this size with all-wheel drive.
Mismatched transmission. Once again, Fiat-Chrysler’s nine-speed automatic transmission makes the Cons list. While vastly improved from the first examples that were released into the market a few years ago, this high-ratio auto just doesn’t feel comfortable paired with smaller engines like the Compass’ 2.4-liter four-cylinder. With power at a premium when RPMs are low and the transmission’s programming geared (pardon the pun) towards upshifting quickly for maximum fuel efficiency, the Compass feels lethargic off the line until/unless you bury your foot.
Difficult rear seat exit. While the Compass is actually bigger inside than the Cherokee in some ways, rear seat accommodations aren’t among them. It’s not surprising there’s two inches of legroom fewer for rear passengers (38.3 inches versus 40.3), but extricating yourself is harder as well because the seat back sits behind the C-pillar. It gives you a sunk-in feeling while sitting back there, and getting out requires going forward with your body before sliding out.
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Photos: John Neff / Motor1.com
Gallery: 2017 Jeep Compass: Review
2017 JEEP COMPASS LIMITED AWD