I was headed down Market Street in San Francisco in the 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk when it happened. To my right a string of parked cars lined the curb. To my left, a 60-foot long tandem Muni bus stretched fore and aft of my little SUV. In front of me was what looked to be the shortest lane merge in the city.
Not wanting to follow the bus and what was sure to be its many stops, I gunned the 2.4-liter engine. The nine-speed transmission jumped down a few gears and I accelerated. Barely. My lane was quickly coming to an end as I willed the Compass forward, feeling the rpms climb ever so slowly to overtake the bus. Just as my lane ran out, I cleared the behemoth and scooted ahead, a few droplets of sweat now gracing my brow.
We were happy to get our first look at the all-new 2017 Compass at last year'sas the last generation was looking rather long in the tooth. This new version takes the place not only of the old Compass but also the Patriot as well. It slots in well just above the little and looks like a baby with its sleeker front end. Fortunately it doesn't wander into polarizing design language like the Jeep Cherokee.
The available tech features in the Compass are just kind of meh, but that is offset by the excellent functionality of the Uconnect infotainment system. The Compass doesn't come standard with any kind of safety package. Instead the Safety and Security Group adds $795 to the bottom line and only includes rear park assist, blind spot monitoring and rain sensing wipers. Adaptive cruise control is not available on the Compass.
My tester didn't have the Advanced Safety and Lighting Group, which adds desired features like forward collision warning and lane keeping assist. Automakers like Toyota and Honda are making many of these features, including adaptive cruise control, standard these days, and Jeep would do well to keep up.
Fortunately the Uconnect system in the cabin is great, made even better with refreshed graphics and Apple CarPlay and Android Auto functionality. My tester came with the $895 Navigation package with an 8.5-inch screen and Garmin-based GPS navigation. Inputs are quick, graphics are crisp and the home screen can be customized with your most-used features. Jeep crams a lot of information on each page, but every page is well thought out and easy to read. The system is super-simple to use and other manufacturers, I'm looking at you, Toyota, would benefit from taking a cue from Jeep.
My only gripe with the system is that I can't cycle forward and backward through my radio presets from the steering wheel buttons. I can only go forward, through all 12 presets. I suppose I could set my favorite four stations in three sets within those 12 presets, but I would love to be able to go from XM's Classic Rewind to First Wave and back again.
So close to pointing due North
The Compass is available in two or four-wheel drive and with the option of a nine-speed or six-speed automatic or a six-speed manual. Regardless of drivetrain, there is no choice of engine, just the 2.4-liter four cylinder, good for 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque.
My tester in Trailhawk trim was made for the rough stuff and I had plans to get dirty... until the poor passenger window had an unfortunate run-in with a bad guy and a crowbar. But Roadshow editor Wayne Cunningham was lucky enough to get the new Compass off-road at Hollister Hills in Northern California, and he was pretty pleased, saying, "...this small SUV handles extremely well, even with a novice behind the wheel. I'm impressed how it minimizes lateral slip, forging its way up and down rocky, uneven surfaces while letting me maintain my intended line."
While I was bummed to not get the Compass all dusty, I mostly enjoyed my time in Jeep's little SUV, close-encounter with the long, long bus notwithstanding. The suspension is tuned for off-road, so it's a bit bouncier than normal and it can feel ponderous around sharper turns, but that's nothing new for Jeep and it's a ride quality I don't mind. The brakes, however, are particularly grabby and it took me a while to get used them. Until I did, I threw myself against the seat belt a few times with some unnecessarily heavy braking.
The Compass just has a problem with power delivery. The acceleration is a bit sluggish and while passing on the highway can be planned, emergency situations, like an unexpected merge or a vehicle straying into your lane, cannot. The Compass Trailhawk weighs 3,633 pounds, about 300 pounds less than ato be sure, but it would be nice to see that model's 3.2-liter V6 engine offered as an option here. Those who want more power would be well-served cycling up to the Cherokee or looking at the 2.0-liter Ecoboost in the , serving up 245 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque.
Regardless, a Compass in four-wheel drive trim has enough chutzpah to tow 2,000 pounds. That's not enough to tow a side-by-side but certainly enough to haul a quad and a motorcycle or two.
Inside you'll find quality materials, and while the Compass lags behind the competition in cargo space, it's quite a bit smaller than the competition as well. The Ford Escape,and are all about 7 inches longer and all have at least 38 cubic feet of space behind the second row seats, compared to just 27 in the Compass. The and are more in line size-wise, but with only 22 or so cubic feet of space behind the second row both get spanked buy the Compass' more roomy interior.
How I'd spec it
For my money, I'd go with what I tested, the Trailhawk trim line. Even though I didn't get it off-road, the extra approach, breakover and departure angles make it ready for the rough. The more robust 4x4 system includes Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud plus the Trailhawk-exclusive Rock. I would add the Cold Weather Group because I'm mad for heated seats and the Advanced Safety and Lighting Group if only for the forward collision warning and braking. I'd nix Navigation, as I can use the maps in Apple CarPlay to get where I'm going, as well as the Trailer, Safety and Security, and Popular Equipment Groups. None offer adaptive cruise control and that's really the only driver's aid that I'm interested in.
The 2017 Jeep Compass starts at $20,995 for a base front-wheel drive trim, but my Trailhawk trim starts at $28,595. Add to that no fewer than five option packages ranging in price from $395 to $895 plus destination and you're looking at $33,065 for an as-tested price.
My advice? If you can keep from dipping into the many option packages, the new Compass is an affordable way to start living the Jeep life.