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The off-roading outlier

 

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Starting Price: $22,090 | Price yours

Above Average: Off-road ability

Below Average: Resale value, fuel economy, merging/passing power

Consensus: A specialist among some very impressive generalists

One of these things is not like the others, and that thing is the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass. The newest Jeep isn’t just the smallest entry in this test, it also has the lowest starting price. In those two respects the Compass has more in common with subcompact SUVs like the Honda HR-V and Chevrolet Trax. However, while those vehicles top out in the mid-to-high $20,000 range, our 2017 Jeep Compass Limited tipped the scales at more than $35,000, making it the second priciest of the six SUVs we tested. Jeep vehicles have a history of straddling segments, and the Compass is no exception. 

But a $35,000 Jeep Compass is a tough sell from a purely practical perspective. For example, the 2017 Honda CR-V Touring in our test was roomier, more powerful, more efficient and more feature-laden than our Compass Limited, while also boasting a more proven track record and higher predicted resale values that promise to return thousands more dollars to owners’ pockets when it comes time to sell. The Honda’s sticker price was also about about $1,000 less than the Jeep’s.

The Jeep Wrangler is similarly disadvantaged, however, and it’s a legend. And even if the Compass is no Wrangler from an off-road perspective, it’s still a Jeep. The Jeep brand is among the strongest and most storied marques on the road, and badges carry a lot of weight with car buyers. While we didn’t incorporate an off-road component in this test, the Compass has proven worthy of Jeep’s 7-slot grille in separate evaluations before and after our comparison test.

If you’re all about getting the most for your money, you’re probably going to pass on the Compass. But if you appreciate a sense of adventure and the ability to deliver, a Jeep can be hard to resist.

All-New 2017 Jeep Compass

New 2017 Jeep Compass Ratings

 

Highway Driving

Not surprisingly, the 2017 Jeep Compass is at its relative best while driving over dirt, rocks, mud and/or snow. And while it’s surprisingly smooth and comfortable in steady-state highway cruising, the Compass is hampered by a shortage of power and a 9-speed transmission that’s slow to respond to a driver’s demands for more. Technology is playing an increasingly large role in highway driving, and the Jeep’s unrefined lane keep assist system and lack of available adaptive cruise control also were shortcomings in this comparison. 

City Driving

We found the Compass to be rather pleasant around town, where modest power is usually plenty. The powertrain worked well to move the Compass smoothly away from a stop, and got it up to speed without the strain or effort we experienced during more urgent, higher-speed acceleration. The brakes in our Compass were very touchy for the first couple stops of every day -- an unusual quirk -- but once they warmed up braking performance was strong and linear. The wide rear pillar took a toll on rearward visibility, but not to an unmanageable degree.

Interior Appeal

With a strong mix of tasteful design, high-quality materials and a big, pretty touchscreen front and center, the visual appeal of our Compass Limited’s interior was among its strengths. Noted shortcomings included a dearth of personal storage space up front, a narrow armrest that gets crowded with a co-pilot, and awkwardly placed climate controls (attached to an A/C system that struggled to counter triple-digit temps during our run across the Southern California desert). Most agreed the front seats were a bit small and a bit firm, but otherwise supportive and comfortable.

Infotainment

Chrysler and company’s Uconnect infotainment system has long been a staff favorite for its easy and intuitive operation, and the latest version is the best yet. With updated graphics and the addition of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, the range-topping 8.4-inch version in our test car was rated the best infotainment system in the bunch. 

Rear Seat

Given the Compass runs about a half size smaller than the other SUVs in the comparison, most of the testers were surprised to find the rear accommodations adequately roomy. There’s enough headroom and legroom for six footers, although few would be happy riding in the middle position for very long. The Compass had the only non-reclining rear seatbacks in the test, a disadvantage magnified by the fact that the seating position feels just a little unnaturally upright. Rear air vents plus power and USB ports are a plus for buyers who’ll put the rear seat to use on a regular basis.

Cargo Area

Other than the power liftgate, perhaps, the Jeep’s cargo area is relatively small and simple. There’s no underfloor storage, no cargo-area seat releases, just a smallish cargo hold that wasn’t wide enough to swallow a collapsed beach umbrella side to side. The Compass was the only entry with the liftgate close button positioned not on the liftgate itself, but on the side of the cargo area. Shorter humans will appreciate the lower placement, but it’s a less efficient setup for most. 

Fuel Economy

The smallest, least powerful SUV in our test somehow managed to deliver the lowest fuel economy, too. We can’t say we were terribly surprised, as our Compass was powered by the same 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that proved rather inefficient in the smaller Jeep Renegade during our most recent subcompact SUV comparison test. But even at our observed numbers, the Compass would only drink about $12 more in gas each month than the top performer in our mpg derby, the Honda CR-V. 

Resale Value

Predicted resale value is a weak spot for the 2017 Jeep Compass, with our ~$35,000 Compass expected to return about $3,000 less than our ~$35,000 Honda CR-V when it comes time to sell or trade in a few years. Even if you spread that difference over a five-year ownership period, the Compass could cost an extra $50 per month in depreciation alone. Negotiating a generous discount from sticker price can help offset that resale value softness.

 

Inside and Out Photo Gallery: All-New 2017 Jeep Compass

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Also in this Test

2018 Chevrolet Equinox

Starting Price: $24,475

Resized, redesigned and now competitive with the perennial class leaders. Read more

2017 Honda CR-V

Starting Price: $24,985

One of the perennial class leaders. Read more

2017 Kia Sportage

Starting Price: $24,095

Our Compact SUV Best Buy of 2017. Read more

2017 Mazda CX-5

Starting Price: $24,985

The driver's choice gets even better looking this year. Read more

2017 Toyota RAV4

Starting Price: $25,370

Still one of the smartest buys in the segment. Read more

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