Small SUVs are a dime a dozen but try and find one that can really get after it when the pavement ends and your choices dwindle to only a few. And it’s no surprise that Jeep offers one of the most capable with the Compass.
All-new for the 2017 model year, this Compass shares its front-wheel drive-based chassis with the Fiat 500X, looks a little like a baby Grand Cherokee, and is offered in a Trailhawk model that is indeed Trail Rated.
Not much has changed with the Compass since my initial test-drive but because 3 model years have passed I figured it was a good idea to check back in with one of Jeeps’ little guys.
Even though the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler steal the sales headlines, the Compass sells in acceptable numbers here in the States; about the same as the Subaru Crosstrek and more than the VW Tiguan – while it and it’s even smaller brother the Renegade are Jeep’s sales stars in Europe.
A plug-in hybrid version may also arrive on our shores this year.
Looking back over my notes, much of what I opined then is still true today but I’ve got to disagree with my 2017 self about one important aspect – the Tigershark engine. I said then that its 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque simply wasn’t enough.
Perhaps I had just come off of a sports car loan last time around – I don’t know – but it seems to me now that this 2.4-liter motor suitably paces the Compass so it’s not really an issue for me.
However, I still concur with my initial take that the 9-speed automatic’s aggressive first gear produces lurchy, pseudo-quick take-offs – a turbo-like abruptness that’s also felt when reversing. It remains the Compass’s biggest bugaboo.
But the truth is, I like this Compass better than I did even 2 ½ years ago. Despite its rather plebian Falken tires, its off-road chops remain very impressive and the slightly disconnected nature of its on-road drive falls within the acceptable range for an off-roader.
The KONI shock absorbers do a nice job of controlling large body motions yet remain soft and forgiving on rough roads. So my advice: go for one of the 6 other trim levels if driving out here is not in your repertoire. But remember – this Trailhawk is the only Compass that’s Jeep Wave equipped…if you like that sort of thing. Fortified with a standard, low-range 4-wheel drive system, an extra inch of ride height raising it 8 ½” off the ground, skid plates, tow hooks, unique fascias, hill decent control, and 17” SUV tires, the Trailhawk with Selec-Terrain allows you to dial-in whichever ground you’re traversing for expert tuning of the Compass’s various drive systems and it works extremely well. So take it down that rutted road, ford up to 19” of water, and crawl over those rocks – this is the Compass at its best, feeling capable and secure like a Jeep should. You’re not getting this level of go-anywhere performance from the competition.
This Trailhawk provides the driver enough tools to tackle some pretty rough terrain in an easy to use package. Just dial in the setting you need and the Compass takes care of the rest. And these preprogrammed modes are a great idea because they quell the powertrain’s somewhat jumpy nature – something you don’t want off road. The tradeoff here in the Trailhawk is that you lose some on-road drivability where this Compass lacks finesse.
That $40,000 MSRP comes when you totally load it up…base price is in the low $30ks. Rated at 25mpg in combined driving, the naturally aspirated Compass offers better gas mileage than it predominantly turbocharged competition.
This Compass packs in a lot of goodies including one of the industry’s best infotainment systems, high end driver information display, panoramic roof and new Alpine premium speakers. Other than the short seat bottoms and lack of a power lift gate, it’s a well-equipped and comfortable cabin.
And it’s the combination of Jeep’s clever, easy-to-use, modern technology and high level of capability that I really do appreciate.
Remote start and dual setting heated seats and heated steering wheel are a winter escape, there are driver’s seat memory settings, a bassy, powerful stereo system and elevated rear seats with USB connection. The mud mats and full size spare are pluses. Adaptive cruise control with stop & go and auto high beams highlight the driver assistance features.
The Compass grew on me this week. It’s not perfect but it possesses a unique skillset that I like with a healthy dose of creature comforts – a fun alternative in the small SUV segment.