An unfamiliar vehicle pulled into the drive the other day. Clearly it was one of the new-style Jeeps, but the size seemed off—a bit small. It turned out to be a Compass, completely redone for 2017. Now there’s a strong family resemblance to its larger siblings, the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. Jeep also rejiggered the powertrains and added all the modern safety and infotainment toys—at a price, naturally.As a compact SUV, it competes with things like the Honda HR-V, Kia Soul and Mini Countryman, but it stands taller and looks a lot bigger. Unlike its competitors, it’s also rated to tow 2000 pounds.
The new Compass can be had with front-wheel drive or 4-wheel drive, in four trim levels, with either 6- or 9-speed automatic transmissions or a 6-speed manual gearbox. But every Compass comes with the same 180-horsepower inline-four engine. Our sample Compass was a top-end $30,000 Trailhawk model with another $5,000 worth of options added on top.
The ride is quite good. The steering is excellent. The brakes are right there when you need them, and nicely modulated. My only dynamic beef is the drivetrain. The 2.4-liter engine is overworked in such a relatively heavy vehicle, and the 9-speed automatic doesn’t always shift smooth or quick. We can catch it flat-footed, and then there’s a good deal of whining and hemming and hawing till it gets squared away. If you’re so inclined, you might prefer the 6-speed manual gearbox. (BTW, kudos to Jeep for even offering such a transmission these days.)
Mechanically, the highlight of our Trailhawk 4X4 is the Selec-Terrain system, which adjusts the drivetrain for best performance in snow, sand, mud or rocks. It also offers a low-speed crawl mode, and it can send 100 percent of the engine’s power to any one wheel, to apply traction where it’s needed. The system seems to work fine, but I just leave it in Automatic and let the computer decide what to do based on input from an army of sensors.
The old Jeep Compass was a sorry piece of work that only the rental agencies loved. This new Compass is an entirely different animal. It’s not perfect, but it’s light-years better than before. And you can judge for yourself, too—until they run out of them, Jeep dealers are still selling the old model alongside this new one. Ours was a 2017 edition, but because it’s so new, any changes coming up for 2018 will be minor.