The only thing the 2017 Jeep Compass has in common with the model it replaces is its nameplate. And, considering that the old Compass was never competitive in the hotly contested compact crossover segment, that’s a very good thing. Even better, after spending a solid day driving the reborn Compass over the rivers, through the woods, and everywhere in between, we’re more than happy to forget the ill-conceived first-gen Compass entirely. Put simply, to say that the new Compass is better than the old one is an understatement of Rubicon-size proportions.
Whereas the old Compass was saddled with Chrysler’s old MK platform (a crossover-spec version of the unloved Dodge Caliber chassis), the 2017 Compass shares its basic underpinnings with the smaller Jeep Renegade, with the main difference being a 2.6-inch wheelbase stretch. That doesn’t sound like a lot, but in person the Compass feels much larger than the Renegade, partly because its bodywork bulges out in a more muscular way than its more playfully styled, smaller sibling. “Mini Grand Cherokee” is a phrase that’s been bandied about quite a bit, but only because it’s true.
The most notable styling flourish of the Compass is the D-pillar that’s shaped sort of like a shark’s dorsal fin. We think it’s pretty cool from the outside, but it results in a huge expanse of plastic interior molding with tiny little windows barely able to let in any light. If we were buying a Compass, we’d definitely want the big panoramic sunroof to keep the cabin feeling open and airy. An optional gloss-black-painted roof makes those rear pillars stand out even more.
There’s an unexpectedly meaty steering wheel for the driver to grab hold of. The steering system has a good, quick ratio, but also only has a vague desire to return to center, which means it takes a bit more effort and concentration than typical to drive smoothly at speed. The brakes have a powerful initial bite and feel up to the task of hauling the compact crossover down from highway speeds in a hurry. The ride is comfortable and well controlled, likely due in part to the class-exclusive frequency damping struts that normally stay firm but have extra valves that allow them to yield when the car hits continued uneven road surfaces.
All 2017 Jeep Compass models return over 30 miles per gallon on the highway according to EPA estimates. The most efficient Compass – six-speed manual and front-drive – gets a combined city/highway rating of 26, while the least – nine-speed auto and four-wheel drive – is only one mpg lower at 25. In the real world, Trailhawk models will probably drop an mpg or two versus other Compasses, but they get the same official rating. Four-wheel-drive Compasses with the nine-speed are rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds, which ought to cover dirtbikes, quads, snowmobiles, and Jet Skis.
Jeep Compass Trailhawk models come factory-equipped with a bunch of off-road goodies, including a one-inch suspension lift and redesigned fascias to allow for 8.5 inches of ground clearance, a 30-degree approach angle, a 24-degree breakover angle, and a 34-degree departure angle. Low-range 20:1 gearing for the 4×4 transfer case and a Rock mode for the Selec-Terrain traction control system mean the Compass Trailhawk can go places lesser versions can’t. Check out the series of Short Cut videos below to see the Compass Trailhawk tackle some substantial off-road obstacles.
The first-gen Compass was too soft, too cheap, and too ugly. None of those things are true of the 2017 Compass. It has a Trail Rated variant with more off-road capability than anything else in its class. It looks like – and, more importantly, it finally feels like – a real Jeep. Please, join us in welcoming Jeep back to the compact SUV class that it invented way back in ’84.