In a commercial for its new Compass, Jeep stresses the theme of recalculating one’s life. A young woman looks up at a skyscraper and ponders the thought of a steady job, then turns around. Instead of staying single until he’s 34, a man decides to propose to his girlfriend during a sunset hike. Another young man in an office building decides to throw his papers in the air as he walks out, his boxed-up belongings in his hands, his mind made up to not tow the company line.
That’s just what Jeep has done with the 2017 Compass: recalculate and go in a different direction. It’s all-new from the ground up.
We drove a Trail Rated first-generation Compass back in 2014 and found it to be an oddly styled rig with a droning CVT gearbox and chintzy interior. This February, Jeep invited us to experience two versions of the 2017 model for a few hours on the roads and trails of San Antonio, Texas. Both of them were as comfortable as they were capable, although we found it impossible to ignore the Compass’ lack of power.
We recently got behind the wheel of a 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk for an entire week. We had our initial impressions of it from the media drive, but over the course of seven days, we let our new experiences factor into our recalculation of the vehicle’s strengths and weaknesses.
As legendary as the Wrangler is in the Jeep lineup, it’s not enough to support an entire brand, especially given Jeep’s ambitious sales goals. Not everyone looking for a Jeep wants or needs a JK. Some people just want the Jeep name on a smaller, more approachable SUV with better fuel economy. That’s where vehicles such as the Renegade and the Compass come in.
For the past few years, the Compass filled the size gap between the pint-sized Renegade and the larger Cherokee. However, the plug in the middle of those two models was only getting older. Now, it’s completely new for the 2017 model year. Prices range from $20,995 for the base Compass Sport, to $24,295 for the Latitude, to $28,595 for the off-road-focused Trailhawk, to $28,995 for the upscale Limited.
Two different four-wheel drive systems are available: Jeep Active Drive and Jeep Active Drive Low. A trio of transmissions – a six-speed manual, six-speed automatic, and nine-speed automatic – get the Compass down the road. Up to 70 available safety and security features protect everyone inside. Jeep may offer the Compass with different powerplants in other parts of the world, but here in North America, it comes with only one four-cylinder engine under its hood.
Like the model it replaces, the 2017 Compass front end is visually influenced by its big brother, the Grand Cherokee. Check out its scaled-down seven-slot grille and the shape of its headlight casings. Those sit above a pair of red tow hooks, a signature of Jeep’s Trailhawk models. The greenhouse area tapers to the Compass’ distinctive “sharkfin” panel. Trapezoidal wheel arches cap off a set of handsome two-tone 17-inch wheels. Another red tow hook is out back, complemented by the red Trailhawk tailgate badge.
Designers shaved the body at key areas to give the Compass Trailhawk a 30.3-degree approach, 24.2-degree breakover, and 33.6-degree departure angle. They also gave the most hardcore Compass 8.5 inches of ground clearance.
Overall, the Compass Trailhawk is handsome enough to be taken seriously as a vehicle that can be taken off of paved roads, but youthful enough to appeal to buyers who don’t need a massive three-row SUV for hauling seven people and a 10,000-pound trailer.
Given that the Compass sits between the Renegade and Cherokee in Jeep’s lineup, it makes sense that it shares certain parts with them. The family resemblance is easy to see in the Compass’ steering wheel, switch gear, and shift lever. Ruby red accent stitching and bezels set the Trailhawk apart from other Compasses.
We weren’t expecting the back row to be short on legroom, but we were pleasantly surprised by how much space it had, particularly for people who stand at around 5’10”.
Our Trailhawk tester was fitted with a variety of options which took it from a base price of nearly $29,000 to an as-tested price of $34,860. One of those was the Safety and Security Group, which included features such as a rear park assistance system, blind spot and cross path monitors, and rain-sensing wipers. The Leather Interior Group added an eight-way power driver seat, heated front seats, and leather seats in both rows.
Thanks to the Navigation Group, we had access to navigation and SiriusXM Travel Link and Travel Plus through the new Uconnect 8.4 NAV setup. The dual-pane sunroof gave us and our passengers an expansive view of the stars at night. Our Compass’ power liftgate made getting groceries out of the back easy, no matter what time it was.
You can configure the Compass in so many ways depending on which trim level and drivetrain layout you pick. However, no matter how you spec it here in North America, you only get one engine option: a 2.4-liter Tigershark I4 with 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. In the Trailhawk, those numbers are routed through a smooth-shifting nine-speed automatic.
When we first drove the 2017 Compass early this year, we knocked its engine for its lackluster performance. After using it to get down roads and up trails for a week, we don’t need to redo our evaluation of it. It’s thoroughly unimpressive and almost comically unmotivated. We had to basically mash the throttle pedal to get anything resembling pep from it – even on perfectly flat roads.
We were really asking for it when we took the Trailhawk up a steep grade in 4WD low at an OHV park. Near the top, we had the throttle nearly floored and could feel the overburdened four-cylinder was about to run out of steam. In its defense, the engine ended up getting the job done and our persistence (desperation to not slide back) paid off.
On-Road Driving Impressions
The package around the disappointing engine was much more satisfying. Outward visibility was plentiful and relatively unobstructed. All controls fell to hand easily and the fourth-generation Uconnect system was user-friendly and fast-acting.
The steering was light and generally numb, but the brakes provided a respectable amount of feel. Although the Trailhawk is the most hardcore version of the Compass, its ride quality was more pleasant than punishing.
Off-Road Driving Impressions
To see what the Compass Trailhawk could do away from the carefully and flatteringly engineered obstacles of a Jeep press launch event, we took it to the Hidden Falls Adventure Park in Marble Falls, Texas. We weren’t alone there. A few of the friendly folks from Austin JeepPeople, a Jeep owners and enthusiasts club, met us there.
We headed out to the trails in a convoy that included a Renegade Trailhawk with a front winch, another Renegade Trailhawk with knobbier tires, and a WK2 Grand Cherokee Overland with a front winch, upgraded rubber, and a skid plate under its rear bumper.
Hidden Falls had five levels of difficulty; we stuck to the first three. Most of the time, we had the Jeep Active Drive Low 4X4 system fully engaged and the Selec-Terrain system in Rock mode. No matter where we went, the Compass Trailhawk’s 215/65R17 Falken WildPeak H/Ts had no problems hooking up with the terrain underneath them.
We covered ground we’d never previously traversed alongside adventurous drivers. We heard jokes. We heard country music. We heard people cheering on a Bronco trying to get out of a deep, muddy hole. One thing we didn’t hear? The various skid plates below us scraping against anything. We were just as pleased with the Compass Trailhawk’s performance as we were with our time at the OHV park with our new friends.
Jeep’s new design, fresh powertrain options, and more modern equipment adds to the 2017 Compass lineup. The automaker’s redo of its small off-roader looks good on paper and works well in the real world.
If only it would change the numbers associated with the Compass’ underwhelming engine. We suggest that Jeep uses the + sign if it ever decides to recalculate that.
Photography assistance provided by Bryan at New Car Spin.