A Victory & Reseda review of the 2017 Jeep Compass
There was once a time when Willys-Overland actually made small Jeeps. That was back in the 1940s and were converted from military to civilian duty. Then, they got bigger, taller – some owners made them even taller.
For decades, the Wrangler and its ancestors were the smallest Jeeps for sale. That was until 2006.
That year, Chrysler thought it was a great idea to introduce not one, but two small SUV/crossovers under the Jeep brand. They were called Compass and Patriot.
The Compass became the first purpose-built crossover in Jeep's history. It would be more car-like than the Patriot built alongside it on the same platform. Chrysler took a lot of heat for developing the original Compass from Jeep enthusiasts and longtime owners. How dare they make a crossover that was not "Trail Rated" or was designed to get away from a paved surface!
Over the years, both vehicles survived the end of the "merger of equals," a private equity takeover and the arrival of Sergio Marchionne and Fiat to become Fiat Chrysler Automobiles. Meanwhile, Marchionne made it clear that the Jeep brand had global equity and will emerge alongside Fiat as the global face of the new company.
Part of the plan was to address the aging Compass and Patriot. To do so, they had to make one such SUV replacing both products. The tough choice was to decide what to call it.
The result is the 2017 Jeep Compass. It slots between the subcompact Renegade and the larger Cherokee with an eye on a global customer base. Which makes me wonder whether it is truly the right Jeep for us.
Before I can answer that question, there is a matter of taking out the tape measure.
The one thing I wondered was where does the new Compass fit in comparison to other SUV/Crossovers. While it should compete in the most competitive segment of SUV/Crossover – the compact kind, the Compass' dimensions seem to lean towards the smaller subcompact models. Jeep already has an entry in that segment – the highly capable and fun Renegade. The Compass offers much more cargo space, though it is about just six inches longer in length with a slightly longer wheelbase.
Though the Renegade has a more upright look – a mini Wrangler, if you will – the Compass offers a more rakish look with more angles and a more modern style overall. One could call it a mini-Grand Cherokee, but the back quarter roof panels would tell us otherwise. The object is to meld current Jeep design qualities with some unique features, such as a "floating roof" and an updated taillight design.
Our Latitude tester shows us the middle of the road for the Compass, with handsome 17-inch alloy wheels and a mix of chrome and black paint for accenting. For those who want an aggressive, off-road ready look, there's the Trailhawk version available.
Inside the Latitude is an all-black interior with white and orange stitching inside. The instrument panel is a mix of Renegade and Cherokee, though with smaller main dials and a sizable center TFT information screen. The switchgear should be familiar if you have been in a Jeep lately. The starter button is on the steering column and everything else is typical on an FCA vehicle – good to operate to the touch.
The Latitude's upholstery is a mix of vinyl and cloth surfaces. The seat is both supportive and firm. They were OK for long stints behind the wheel. I will admit sitting taller than the dashboard, making some access to some controls a bit of a challenge. Luckily, the shifter, wheel, and the instrument cluster were just within my sight lines. Rear seat room is pretty good with plenty of leg and headroom for a person of my size. Cargo space is quite expansive, starting from 27.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat, expanding to 59.8 cubic feet with the split seatbacks down.
The 8.4-inch UConnect screen provides great connectivity, entertainment, and information – as expected with every FCA vehicle I touch. There are twelve BeatsAudio (by Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine…and, now, Apple) speakers powered by a 12-channel amplifier providing fine sound throughout the cabin. Apple CarPlay plays through the UConnect screen, along with HD Radio, SiriusXM and so forth.
There is only one engine available on the new Compass. It is the Tigershark Multiair II 2.4 liter four-cylinder engine with 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. On my Latitude tester with four-wheel drive, there is the ZF-designed nine-speed automatic that connects to the Tigershark engine. You can get a manual in the Sport model, with an optional Aisin six-speed automatic. The latter is standard with the front-drive Latitude model.
Did I mention that this tester had four-wheel drive? It is the Select-Terrain system which you can choose a setting depending on what surface you will be driving on. Quite intuitive, I must say!
Performance-wise, the 2.4 liter Tigershark held its own for the most part. It is when it is asked to change lanes or enter a freeway where you see some lag from the transmission. It is a very long low gear that goes up to the red line at 6,000 RPM before it changes gear. The only way to work this through is to slip the shifter to the left and toggle through the ratios. I found some improvement in gear change response that way.
In terms of fuel economy, I averaged 24.9 MPG.
The ride quality is pretty soft, becoming of an off-roader. However, the Latitude model offers a supple, smooth ride that makes good work of all roads. Rougher roads enable the shocks to travel long, despite providing additional sound from below. Handling is indeed soft but controlled.
The steering is quite good, with a good turning radius and solid feel on the road. On-center feel is quite good. Brakes are also solid with good stops in both normal and panic situations.
A Compass Sport with just front-wheel drive and a manual transmission starts off with a base price of $20,995. Our popular Latitude with four-wheel drive and loaded up with a few packages came with a sticker price of $31,210. However, I would recommend the Trailhawk version for those who intend to use their Compass to "recalculate" off road. The base price for a Compass Trailhawk is $28,595.
Compared to the previous model (and its Patriot "twin"), the new Compass is a vast improvement. It fits within the model lineup both here and abroad. It will compare with its rivals – though which set of rivals is the confusing part. Though close in size to the new Nissan Rogue Sport (i.e. Qashqai), the Compass offers plenty of advantages in terms of power and off-road capability. It is clearly roomier and offers more practicality and capacity over the Honda HR-V and Mazda CX-3. But, it wants to play in the same sandbox as its larger rivals, such as the Toyota RAV4, Hyundai Tucson, and Ford Escape. Some would argue that either class is better served by the Jeep Renegade and Cherokee respectively.
The Jeep Compass wants to be that small SUV that people would want. Yes, but it needs to define itself by ensuring that the tape measure is used properly to ensure that the right customers select the right Jeep for their purpose and use. If the tape measure is correct, it could be "just right."
DISCLAIMER: Vehicle provided by Fiat Chrysler Automobiles