Better than before, and that’s no backhanded compliment.
For some, saying goodbye is easier said than done. Just ask Jeep. Despite the arrival of this all-new, second-generation 2017 Jeep Compass crossover SUV, the brand will keep selling the first-generation Compass also as a 2017 model before sending that decade-old ute to the great scrap heap in the sky. Consumers may be confused. We, however, are happy to bid adieu to the lackluster first-generation Compass, as well as its boxier twin, the Jeep Patriot.
Like its predecessor and short-term stablemate, the new Compass fits into the 15.4-inch overall-length gap between Jeep’s wee Renegade and its midrange Cherokee crossovers. (If this hair-splitting strategy seems a bit odd, know that the Compass also is intended to serve as a volume seller in many global markets for which the Cherokee is simply too large.) Unlike the sad-sack first-generation Compass, though, the redesigned crossover looks and feels like it belongs on the same showroom floor with those rigs. Built on the “small-wide 4×4 architecture” that underpins the bug-eyed Renegade, the new Compass doubles down on the mini–Grand Cherokee looks that the original Compass tried to adopt in its 2011-model-year refresh. The new one is more handsome and better proportioned, with its slab sides complemented by an attractive shoulder-line kick and a pseudo floating roof. The latter is painted a contrasting black on the Trailhawk; the black-roof treatment also is available on the Latitude and Limited trim levels but not on the base Compass Sport. As with most modern Jeeps, the Compass is liberally endowed with Easter eggs, including a molded-plastic gecko at the base of the windshield and an imprint of the Loch Ness Monster at the bottom of the rear window.
Inside, the new Compass supplants the old one’s low-rent interior with modern wares that recall the interiors of the costlier Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee in both design and material quality. Brittle-feeling control stalks and door-panel switchgear, though, are shared with the cheaper Renegade. Replacing the old Compass’s dated multimedia systems are a trio of Uconnect touchscreen units that measure 5.0, 7.0, and 8.4 inches, the largest also available with navigation. As with the Uconnect systems found in other Fiat Chrysler products, the 8.4-inch unit we played with was quick to respond to touch inputs and easy to use. A handful of hard buttons located near the HVAC controls ensures that even the least tech-savvy operators can complete basic multimedia commands.
The enlarged footprint also bestows the crossover with a more refined ride quality that doesn’t embarrass the little Jeep dynamically when you give it the whip. Over pockmarked and twisting back roads near Hollister, California, the Compass felt secure and composed thanks to its relatively limited body roll and appropriately weighted, if aloof, steering. Brake dive was minimal, although the brake pedal proved touchy.
All Compasses use FCA’s 2.4-liter inline-four producing 135Kws and 240nm of torque, an engine that’s also available in the Renegade. A six-speed manual gearbox is standard on the Sport and the all-wheel-drive Latitude. Two automatic transmissions are offered: a six-speed for front-wheel-drive models and a nine-speed with all-wheel drive. Both the off-road-ready Trailhawk and top-of-the-line Limited trim levels have the all-wheel-drive/nine-speed-automatic drivetrain as standard, and that’s the combination we sampled. Although the engine’s weak top end and the transmission’s hesitancy to downshift meant the Compass labored to pass traffic at highway speeds, the powertrain was a fine companion at slower paces. Relatively short lower gears in the nine-speed help the Compass feel eager off the line. Still, don’t bank on it being particularly speedy; consider that the quickest Jeep Renegade we’ve tested with this engine yielded a zero-to-100-km/h time of 8.8 seconds while a heavier, off-road-oriented Renegade Trailhawk needed 9.2.
Rock with Me
With 8.5 inches of ground clearance (0.3 inch more than other all-wheel-drive Compass models), the Trailhawk has an impressive 30.3-degree approach angle, 24.4-degree breakover angle, and a 33.6-degree departure angle, improvements over the standard configuration by 13.5, 1.5, and 1.9 degrees. Further distinguishing the Trailhawk from other Compass variants are its knobby Falken Wildpeak H/T tires, underbody skid plates, and Jeep’s Active Drive Low all-wheel-drive system with a 4.33:1 final-drive ratio that features an overall—and low-range-like—first-gear ratio of 20.4:1.
While other all-wheel-drive Compass models provide standard Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud driving modes, the Trailhawk adds a Rock mode. Among other things, Rock mode increases the sensitivity of the all-wheel-drive system’s brake-based torque vectoring. At Hollister Hills State Vehicular Recreation Area, the Trailhawk proved its mettle clambering over jagged rocks and slogging through muddy pits with relative ease. Although Rock mode never felt necessary for the obstacles we encountered, engaging it did noticeably reduce wheelslip.
If the Jeep Renegade is just a hair too small and the Cherokee a smidge too big, then the new Compass is sized just right. No longer a penalty box, the second-generation Compass combines mature looks, nimble handling, and comfortable accommodations, making it a worthy addition to Jeep’s small-crossover litter.