PowerSteering: 2017 Jeep Compass Review

PowerSteering: 2017 Jeep Compass Review

By Christian Wardlaw, August 29, 2017
  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk front quarter left photo

    Introduction

    Without delving into details, suffice it to say that the original Jeep Compass never lived up to its promise.

    Developed on an obviously tight budget and built upon a vehicle platform that was mediocre from the start, after a decade of sales the previous-generation 2017 Compass ranked dead last in its segment in overall appeal in the J.D. Power 2017 U.S. Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study.SM

    Halfway through the 2017 model year, Jeep replaced the first-generation Compass with an all-new model. However, rather than bring it to market as a 2018 model-year vehicle, the new Compass retained a 2017 designation. That’s not confusing, now is it?

    In any case, it would have been virtually impossible for Jeep not to improve upon the old Compass. Therefore, the question is not whether the new Compass is better. It is, and by a wide margin. Instead, the question is whether the new Compass is competitive with other small SUVs.

    For this review, we evaluated a 2017 Compass Trailhawk with the Cold Weather Group, Popular Equipment Group, Navigation Group, Leather Interior Group, and a power rear liftgate. The price came to $32,965, including the $1,095 destination charge.



  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk side profile photo

    What Owners Say

    Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the redesigned 2017 Jeep Compass, it is helpful to understand who bought the previous version of this SUV and what they liked most and least about it.

    According to J.D. Power research data, Compass buyers are primarily women (59%), which is true of the small SUV segment overall (55%). Compass buyers are also younger (50 years compared with 54 years) and less affluent (median annual household income of $65,714 vs. $80,425). More than half of Compass buyers (51%) are members of Gen X (those born 1965 to 1976) or Gen Y (1977-1994), compared with 44% of buyers in the segment.

    Given their income, it is not surprising to learn that 35% of Compass buyers identify themselves as price buyers. That’s also the most common psychographic category for all small SUV buyers, but at a lower percentage (29%).

    Compass buyers overwhelmingly prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (83% vs. 52%), and more than half of them agree that a vehicle is just a way to get from place to place (52% vs. 45%). They are less willing to pay extra for a vehicle that is environmentally friendly (50% vs. 55%), and they place less emphasis on quality of workmanship when choosing a new vehicle (88% vs. 92%).

    Buyers say their favorite things about the previous Compass were (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, seats, climate control system, and the driving dynamics. Buyers indicate their least favorite things about the previous Compass were (in descending order) the visibility and safety, infotainment system, storage and space, engine/transmission, and the fuel economy.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk rear quarter right photo

    What Our Expert Says

    In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own assessment of how the redesigned 2017 Compass performs in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2017 U.S. APEAL Study.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk front photo

    Exterior

    J.D. Power data shows that styling sells vehicles, and the redesigned Compass looks terrific. Sporting Grand Cherokee Jr. looks, balanced proportions, and expertly rendered detailing, the Compass is attractive regardless of viewing angle.

    The Trailhawk variant is even more rugged looking, in keeping with Jeep’s “trail rated” off-roading mission. Red tow hooks, improved approach and departure angles, a small suspension lift, unique wheels, and a glare-reducing matte black hood graphic distinguish the Trailhawk from other Compass trims.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk interior photo

    Interior

    Inside, the Compass resembles a shrunken-down Cherokee. Similar design themes and controls to the Cherokee, along with soft-touch materials and a thick-rimmed steering wheel, give the Compass a veneer of sophistication.

    Unfortunately, it is all too easy to discover how Jeep hits a lower price point with the Compass. Various bits and pieces feel flimsy, look cut-rate, and sound downright cheap. Worse, these inexpensive executions stand in sharp contrast to quality improvements such as the Trailhawk’s thick rubber mats, sophisticated Uconnect infotainment system, supple leather, and refined switchgear.

    Inexplicably, the Compass also has a 160-mph speedometer.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk front seats photo

    Seats

    A narrow cabin means the Compass is suitable for 4 people rather than 5, and so restricted everyone will be relatively comfortable.

    Up front, the Trailhawk’s driver enjoys a wide range of power adjustments, soft places to rest arms and elbows, and a delightfully thick steering wheel with smooth leather wrapped around its rim. Front passengers don’t have the same range of accommodation, but a manual seat-height adjuster ensures plenty of thigh support and a good view out.

    The rear seat sits up high off of the floor, but the bottom cushion is rather flat to ensure a flat maximum load space. Occupants enjoy unexpectedly good legroom and foot room, as well as air conditioning vents and USB charging ports.

    When entering or exiting the Compass, drivers and passengers must pay heed to the SUV’s tall doorsills, which can easily trip you up.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass infotainment and climate control system photo

    Climate Control System/Infotainment System

    Climate Control System

    Equipped with a dual-zone automatic climate control system, the test Compass quickly cooled down in summer heat. Optional heated front seats with a heated steering wheel make the Compass perfect for people who live where brutal winter weather is common. Jeep also offers an oversized panoramic sunroof for the Compass, bringing the outdoors in.

    If there is room for improvement, it relates to the climate system’s controls. In my experience with automatic systems, temperature is most commonly adjusted, followed by defrosters and selecting between single- and dual-zone control. Jeep provides a large knob to adjust fan speed, flanked by rocker switches for adjusting temperature.

    Infotainment System

    Perhaps the approach with the climate controls is to distinguish them from the radio knobs located directly above. Jeep gives you a large power and volume knob and a matching tuning knob, making it easy to adjust the radio without looking away from the road.

    Additionally, the Compass is the first Fiat Chrysler Automobiles model to get a fourth-generation version of the company’s Uconnect infotainment system. It still has a large 8.4-in. display, but now it is faster than ever to load and respond to input, provides superior graphics, and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto smartphone-projection technology.

    Furthermore, the embedded navigation system’s voice-recognition technology is terrific. In an unfamiliar place and seeking the nearest outlet for your favorite burrito joint? Push the voice button on the steering wheel and ask for directions to it. Done.

    Another new feature is SiriusXM Guardian service, which includes automatic collision notification and SOS emergency calling capability. The Compass does not, however, offer any Safe Teen driving technologies.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass rear cargo area photo

    Storage and Space

    Even for a small SUV, the Compass lacks interior storage space and cargo room.

    Aside from the glove box, which scrapes cheaply when opened and closed, Jeep provides a tiny center console bin beneath an armrest lid that feels like it will snap off before the warranty expires. Small bins in the doors, a netted slot on the side of the center console, and a couple of miniscule trays sum up the storage story.

    Cargo space measures 27.2 cu. ft. behind the rear seat. The space can hold four full-sized suitcases. Fold the 60/40 split rear seat down to maximize volume at 59.8 cu. ft. Neither figure comes close to leaders in the segment.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk rear photo

    Visibility and Safety

    Thick windshield pillars obstruct the forward view, but may be necessary to ensure that the Compass turns in substantially better crash-test ratings than did the original model. Substantial rear pillars certainly do not help with regard to visibility, but the Compass has a reversing camera and large side mirrors, as well as optional rear park-assist sensors, collectively ameliorating the issue.

    As this review was written, the new Compass had not been subjected to crash-test assessments by the federal government’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) or by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). However, Jeep does offer two option packages filled with technologies that are designed to prevent a collision from occurring in the first place.

    Unfortunately, the test vehicle did not have either package. Therefore, commentary regarding the effectiveness of these systems is not possible.

    What are they? The usual suspects: forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking and advanced braking assist, lane-departure warning, blind-spot warning, and rear cross-traffic alert.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass engine photo

    Engine/Transmission

    A 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine is the only choice for the new 2017 Compass. It makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque, which feels insufficient given the test vehicle’s curb weight of 3,633 lbs.

    Jeep offers a 6-speed manual gearbox or a 6-speed automatic transmission in versions of the Compass equipped with front-wheel drive. Get 4-wheel drive (4WD) and you can choose between the manual and a 9-speed automatic. Because the Trailhawk and Limited versions include 4WD as standard equipment, the 9-speed is along for the ride.

    To maximize fuel economy, the automatic upshifts the moment it gets a chance, and it can be reluctant to downshift. Around town, the drivetrain is agreeable enough. When requesting a surge of acceleration you’re likely to be disappointed, whether trying to pass slower traffic or get up to prevailing speeds before merging onto a freeway.

    Jeep’s Active Drive 4WD is designed to operate in front-drive the majority of the time, the driveshaft to the rear axle disconnected to improve fuel economy. When 4WD is necessary, it connects and can deliver up to 100% of the engine’s power to a single wheel if traction conditions necessitate.

    A sophisticated Selec-Terrain system offers the driver four different settings depending on the surface you’re crossing. Additionally, Trailhawk models have a Rock setting, a 20:1 crawl ratio, Selec-Speed Control, and hill-descent control in order to provide off-roading capability that is unrivaled in the segment. With 8.5 ins. of ground clearance and 19 ins. of water fording capability, the Compass is ready to tackle tough assignments.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass instrument panel photo

    Fuel Economy

    If the 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine’s power output is disappointing, so too is its fuel economy. The EPA says to expect 25 mpg in combined driving, and the Compass returned 23 mpg on the testing loop. That means you’re going to be filling up with gas within 300 miles of travel, and that could get old, fast.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass front quarter left photo

    Driving Dynamics

    Tuned for off-roading, the tall, narrow, and stubby Compass Trailhawk supplies a stiff, busy ride quality. Impact harshness is almost continually on display, and this model’s 17-in. all-terrain tires limit grip on pavement.

    Naturally, given its heritage, equipment, and “Trail Rated” badge, the Compass Trailhawk impresses while off-roading. Though the 4WD system automatically powers the rear wheels when necessary, the driver can also choose to lock the system into an even 50:50 power split, and can select a Low mode for difficult terrain. I was able to scramble across ruts, down embankments, and up hillsides that require far more patience and care in a traditional crossover SUV.

    For me, the brake pedal was quite touchy the first few times I drove the Compass. It didn’t take long to acclimate to its sensitivity and immediate response. The steering is heavy in terms of assist and slow in terms of response, which is great for off-roading but can be a source of irritation on pavement.

    If you’re not planning regular off-road excursions, you may want to sample other versions of the Compass, though since I haven’t driven them I can’t state whether they might improve in a meaningful way over the off-road-ready Trailhawk.

  • 2017 Jeep Compass Limited rear quarter left photo

    Final Impressions

    Jeep gets plenty of things right with the redesigned 2017 Compass, which represents a significant improvement over the SUV it replaces.

    At the same time, especially in terms of refinement levels and driving dynamics, the new Compass falls short of segment leaders such as the Honda CR-V. It also doesn’t feel as roomy inside or as useful as many of the SUVs against which it competes.

    If you’re looking for an affordable and attractive SUV that can travel farther off of the pavement and battle bigger blizzards than other crossovers, the Compass is worthy of consideration. Otherwise, there isn’t much steak behind the sizzle.

    Fiat Chrysler Automobiles supplied the vehicle used for this 2017 Jeep Compass review.

    For more information about our test driver and our methodology, please see our reviewer profile.


    Additional Research:


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