Sometimes, there are vehicles or even whole brands you just want to like. Whether its heritage or philosophy or some other intangible quality, they just seem cool, and you want them to be good. It’s that much more disappointing when they’re not. The new Jeep Compass is one of those vehicles.
With its baby Grand Cherokee good looks, Trail Rated badge, and monumental leap forward from the old model, you can’t help but want the new Compass to be good. We know Jeep is serious about off-roading, so immediately we want to get this thing dirty. We want to drive it hard because we know it ought to be tougher than anything else in the segment. We admire Jeep’s commitment to capability and its heritage.
The Compass is good in some ways. With up to 23 mpg (10.2 L/100km) city and 32 mpg (7.3 L/100km) highway, its fuel economy is near the top of the class. It looks great. You can get it with a manual transmission. There’s a massive sunroof, an excellent Uconnect infotainment system, and a powerful Beats audio system. Even the basic all-wheel-drive system does off-roading better than anything in its class. At $22,000 USD to start, it’s a solid value for the money.
For all the things it does well, though, the Compass is let down by some key failings. Chief among them is the powertrain. The Compass, when equipped with all-wheel drive and the nine-speed automatic transmission like our two testers, is intensely slow. Like, can’t-catch-a-Prius slow. Your only engine option is the Tigershark 2.4-liter four-cylinder, and although its 180 hp and 175 lb-ft ought to be competitive, the Compass’ 3,600-plus-pound (1,633-plus-kg) curb weight isn’t. The top-spec Limited 4X4 needed a belabored 10.5 seconds to reach 60 mph from a stop; the Prius needs 9.8. The Trailhawk is slightly quicker, thanks to a more aggressive final drive ratio in the transmission, a byproduct of its exclusive and more capable all-wheel-drive system. With that, it lumbers to 60 mph in 9.4 seconds.
The rest of the test track results are equally unimpressive. The quarter mile takes 17.2 and 17.8 seconds at 76.1 and 77.2 mph (124 km/h) for the Limited and Trailhawk, respectively. The Limited’s more street-friendly tires grip the pavement a bit better to the tune of 0.75 g average on the skidpad and a 28.6-second figure-eight lap at 0.57 g average to the Trailhawk’s 0.73 g average on the skidpad and 29.6-second figure-eight lap at 0.53 g average. Braking is equally poor, though it was exacerbated by intense heat on our test day, which can’t be mathematically corrected like acceleration can. The Limited needed 133 feet to stop from 60 mph and the Trailhawk needed 144 feet. Based on data from similar vehicles in our testing archive, we estimate the Limited could stop in as little as 123 feet on a milder day.
That Prius will drive circles around the Compass, running a 17.2-second quarter mile, pulling 0.81 g average on the skidpad, and laying down a 28.0-second figure-eight lap at 0.59 g average. It stops from 60 mph in 124 feet.
The good news under the hood is that Fiat Chrysler finally seems to have this ZF nine-speed automatic transmission sorted out. This is the finest example yet and completely devoid of all the clunking and gear hunting that characterized earlier models. Finally, it knows what gear it wants to be in and gets into it smoothly. Unfortunately, the gear it wants to be in is always the highest one possible, and it’ll fight you tooth and nail for a downshift into the powerband. There are plenty of off-road modes but no Sport mode, so the best you can do is paddle shift it yourself, which sort of defeats the purpose of having an automatic.
There’s more good news down there, and it’s called Active Drive (Active Drive Low for the Trailhawk). Jeep knows its image is built on its off-road capability and made sure the Compass delivers. The Trailhawk is the Trail Rated one and the obvious choice if you plan to do real off-roading, but the all-wheel-drive system on the lesser models is plenty capable in its own right. Our evaluation included a sand pit, which also approximates deep mud or snow, and the Limited had no trouble with it. “Auto” on the off-road mode dial needed a few seconds to figure out what kind of surface it was on, but it kept the Compass chugging right through the deep stuff. Sand mode worked even better, naturally. We’re not sure even the Trailhawk noticed it was off the pavement.
That said, the Trailhawk did have an issue when we tested the hill-hold feature. On a steep hill, the computer will hold the brakes while you move your foot from the brake pedal to the gas. We waited too long, and the computer released the brakes, allowing the Trailhawk to roll backward in Drive. The engine died, the dashboard lit up, and the vehicle refused to restart for five minutes. Time and turning it off, locking the doors, waiting, and trying again eventually brought it back.
Both Jeeps also struggled on a cobblestone street, which caused major shaking in the vehicle and let loose a chorus of squeaks, creaks, and rattles from the interior. This, and Jeep’s inability to make the body panels line up straight even after 75 years of making automobiles, caused concerns about the build quality.
Back on normal pavement, the Compass did a bit better. Both ride well for the segment, the Trailhawk a bit more so, thanks to its bigger, softer off-road tires. Both had fairly quiet interiors with the exception of some moderate wind noise at freeway speeds. Each has more body roll than we’ve come to expect from modern crossovers, though the roll is controlled well and happens smoothly. It’s seriously exaggerated by the lack of any lateral support from the seats. In terms of actually turning, though, the Compass goes around a corner as smooth and stable as it ought to.
The seats aren’t the only trouble in the familiar but fun interior. With the redundant climate controls and the off-road controller on the center stack, there’s precious little room to stash your stuff up front. There’s just one little cubby ahead of the shifter and the cupholders. For as big as the Compass is, the cargo hold is a bit smaller than you’d expect, mostly due to the steep rake of the tailgate, which makes the cargo space triangular in shape. It’s just deep enough you can push taller items to the back, but it’s not as big as you’d like. The load floor is also fairly high, and there’s not a lot of space underneath it to stash things.
On the other hand, the somewhat small cargo area pays off in two ways. One, with an optional full-size spare tire, and two, with a surprisingly spacious rear seat. Only the tallest editors found headroom and kneeroom to be any kind of issue. The rear doors also open wider than you expect, making it very easy to get in and out. There’s also a USB port, a 12-volt power port, and air-conditioning vents in the rear seat; all those are often omitted at this price. In addition to optioning the real spare tire, we’d also recommend spicing up the black-on-black interior with some of the colorful trim options on offer.
The new Jeep Compass is a decent crossover that you want to be great. It’s a sharp-looking little ute neither as gimmicky as the Renegade nor polarizing as the Cherokee, and its well-earned Trail Rated badge is the envy of lesser crossovers. With a competitive engine and transmission and better attention to detail, it could be a showstopper. Instead, it’s “pretty good, but …” We hope Jeep polishes out the imperfections sooner rather than later, before all the tarnish it scrubbed off the Compass name comes back.
Because the test surface we used for this review is a mere month old (and still curing), our braking and handling results show longer stopping distances and less grip than we typically record and report. With that in mind, this vehicle’s numbers are not necessarily comparable with previous or future test results.
|2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4×4||2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk 4×4|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$36,250||$34,060|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV||Front-engine, 4WD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV|
|ENGINE||2.4L/180-hp/175-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve I-4||2.4L/180-hp/175-lb-ft SOHC 16-valve I-4|
|TRANSMISSION||9-speed automatic||9-speed automatic|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||3,615 lb (58/42%)||3,656 lb (59/41%)|
|WHEELBASE||103.8 in||103.8 in|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||173.0 x 73.8 x 64.6 in||173.0 x 73.8 x 64.6 in|
|0-60 MPH||10.5 sec||9.4 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||17.8 sec @ 76.1 mph||17.2 sec @ 77.2 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||133 ft||144 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.75 g (avg)||0.73 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||28.6 sec @ 0.57 g (avg)||29.6 sec @ 0.53 g (avg)|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||22/30/25 mpg||22/30/25 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles||153/112 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.78 lb/mile||0.78 lb/mile|