A better reading on true north.
Jeep is so popular right now that it can literally invent a vehicle segment. That’s just what the brand has done with the all-new 2017 Compass, which in size and price slips in between the subcompact Renegade and the compact Cherokee in the brand’s lineup. It’s a thinly sliced no man’s land without a direct competitor; the Renegade squares up directly against Honda’s HR-V, while the Cherokee is sized to do battle against the CR-V. Similarly, the new Compass lands in between Mazda’s CX-3 and CX-5, Nissan’s Juke and Rogue, Chevrolet’s Trax and Equinox, and so on.
This happened primarily because of global markets where the Cherokee is simply too large for local roads-Brazil, for example-or where it commands higher taxes, but the Compass doesn’t really need a direct competitor to also be successful in America. Anything wearing the Jeep logo glitters like gold in today’s crossover- and 4×4-obsessed market, a phenomenon proved by the Compass’s rather tragic, cheap-feeling predecessor, which sold in huge numbers despite its mediocre powertrains, lackluster dynamics, and unattractive styling. ( The Patriot that this new Compass also replaces was better-looking but was otherwise similarly unsatisfying.) Excited readers who assuredly will crowd Jeep’s website after browsing this report might notice something strange: that the old Compass is listed as a 2017 model. That’s because both Compasses will be built concurrently through next year. The juxtaposition between the two speaks as much as this article does to the new model’s betterness.
A Not-So-Grand Cherokee
The old Compass design set a low bar that the 2017 Compass hurdles over with ease. Jeep’s designers gave the new model a face like that on the handsome, two-sizes-larger Grand Cherokee SUV and an interesting shoulder line that kicks up toward the back of the semi-floating roof. To us, the aesthetic is attractive, occupying a safe middle ground on the fertile soil between the adorably cartoonish Renegade and the somewhat techno-futuristic Cherokee.
The styling also hides a much improved interior resembling that of, you guessed it, the Grand Cherokee, as well as better interior packaging than can be found in either the Renegade or the Cherokee, the latter of which is somewhat tight inside despite its generous exterior dimensions. The Compass’s 103.8-inch wheelbase is closer to the Renegade’s 101.2-inch measurement than the Cherokee’s 106.3-inch span, yet its 101-cubic-foot passenger volume falls just shy of the Cherokee’s 103 cubes. And while the Compass’s 173.0-inch length sits directly between the Renegade’s 166.6 inches and the Cherokee’s 182.0 inches, there are two more cubic feet of cargo space (27 total) behind the Compass’s second-row seats than in the larger Cherokee. Fold down the Compass’s second row, and its cargo-hauling advantage over the Cherokee stretches to five cubic feet for a total of 60 cubic feet of stuff-hauling capacity.
Jeep plops the Compass’s roomy body atop the same “small wide 4×4 architecture” that underpins the Renegade. Of more note than the other dimensions is the width: The Renegade, strangely, is 1.1 inches wider than the Cherokee, but perhaps stranger still is that the Compass is actually 0.5 inch narrower than the Renegade (but still wider than a front-drive Cherokee; AWD Cherokees are the widest of the set at 74.9 inches). While this doesn’t make much sense here, again, this CUV is all about capturing global sales.
It’s a Jeep, All Right
Indeed, Jeep is building this crossover in four countries and selling it in more than 100 markets. When the Compass goes on sale here in the United States, it will come with a single engine option: a 2.4-liter four-cylinder. This so-called Tigershark engine also powers versions of the Renegade and the Cherokee as well as a host of other Fiat Chrysler products and makes 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive will be standard, a configuration that will offer buyers the choice of a six-speed manual or a six-speed automatic transmission.
Intriguingly, Jeep will allow buyers the choice to pair the stick shift with the lighter-duty of the Compass’s two available all-wheel-drive systems (in addition to the automatic), dubbed Jeep Active Drive. This system behaves like most all-wheel-drive setups on the market, sending torque through the front wheels until traction needs dictate that some grunt be sent to the rear axle. Jeep’s system adds a rear-axle-disconnect feature, which reduces mechanical drag by disconnecting the rear driveshaft when not needed. Opting for the automatic with Active Drive steps you up to a nine-speed transmission.
A different 4×4 system is exclusive to the off-road-oriented Compass Trailhawk model. Dubbed Active Drive Low, it’s a full-time system with a shorter final drive (4.33:1 rather than the standard 3.73:1), enabling a 20.4:1 crawl ratio when first gear is engaged. As with Active Drive, it comes paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission. Every all-wheel-drive Compass comes with Jeep’s Selec-Terrain drive-mode selector with optimized traction control and drivetrain algorithms for tackling snow, sand, and mud as well as an “automatic” setting. The Trailhawk model adds hill-descent-control functionality, as well as the coveted Trail Rated certification.
Pick Your Direction
Like the cardinal points of a compass, there are four versions of the 2017 Compass: Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and the range-topping Limited. Sport customers can choose between front- and all-wheel drive with the manual transmission or front-drive with the six-speed automatic, while Latitude buyers can have front-wheel drive with the six-speed automatic, all-wheel drive with the manual, or all-wheel drive with the nine-speed. Trailhawk and Limited models are nine-speed only.
Standard equipment is generous, even on the base Sport, which comes with cruise control, power-adjustable and heated door mirrors, power windows, steering-wheel audio controls, push-button ignition, a backup camera, and a 5.0-inch Uconnect touchscreen with Bluetooth. The Latitude adds 17-inch aluminum wheels (replacing the Sport’s 16-inch steel wheels), body-color door mirrors and door handles, automatic headlights, black roof rails, ambient interior lighting, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and a passive-entry key. As on other Jeeps, the Trailhawk model adds a plethora of underbody skid plates, a raised suspension, off-road tires, red tow hooks, and special front and rear bumpers, in addition to a matte-black hood graphic, a contrasting black-painted roof, dual-zone automatic climate control, a 7.0-inch digital gauge cluster, and an 8.5-inch Uconnect touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. As you’d expect, the Limited comes packed with kit, adding heat for the front seats and steering wheel, remote engine starting, leather seating surfaces, piano-black interior trim, chrome grille accents, and 18-inch wheels. We don’t know yet how much the Compass will cost, but it’s a pretty safe bet that its MSRP will fall between the $18,990 and $24,590 base prices of the Renegade and the Cherokee.
With significant sales growth in the crossover segment concentrated on the small end of the spectrum, a roughly $20,000 Compass should be a popular item indeed, at least among those who don’t want Apple CarPlay or Android Auto functionality (the 5.0-inch touchscreen in the Sport and Latitude doesn’t support them; you’ll need to pony up for a 7.0-inch Uconnect display that’s optional in the Latitude or jump into a Trailhawk or Limited). Jeep does offer the expected safety tech such as collision warning, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, and automated emergency braking on three of the four trim levels. The new Compass is shaping up to be worlds better than its predecessor, whatever its size and segment.