By Keith Buglewicz
The Jeep Compass first went on sale 10 years ago, and with each passing year it feels more outdated. Several competitors have debuted since then, others have gone through full redesigns, and while the Compass got a refresh a few years ago, it wasn't enough. The best way to consider this Jeep -- despite the storied brand and available Trail Rated version -- is as a front-wheel-drive, moderately aggressive, around-town hatchback. In that role, it's better, but still lags competition like the Mazda CX-5, Subaru Forester, Ford Escape, the segment-leading Honda CR-V, and even a little internal competition from the Jeep Cherokee. All these offer more refinement, features, technology, better on-road manners and daily driving pleasure. At least the Jeep Compass doesn't cost much.
If you must drive a Jeep, must buy a brand-new vehicle, and must keep the price in the low-$20,000 range, then the 2017 Jeep Compass is the only way to go. As long as you keep your expectations low, it's an acceptable 5-passenger compact SUV.
If you test drive anything else, you'll probably prefer it to this little Jeep. Even compared to smaller subcompact SUVs like the Honda HR-V, or head-to-head with the CR-V, Mazda CX-5, or virtually anything else, competitors justify their higher prices by handily bettering the Compass at every turn.
The 2017 Jeep Compass offers no changes for the model year.
Standard on the 2017 Jeep Compass is a 2.0-liter inline-4 with 158 horsepower connected to either a 5-speed manual or continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT). But skip it, and spend...
... a little more for the 2.4-liter with 172 horsepower. The 2.4-liter is also available with a 5-speed stick; it's also available with a 6-speed automatic, or one of two different CVT automatics, one of which is exclusively for the off-road-oriented Freedom Drive II package. The 2.4-liter 4-cylinder doesn't even extract a big fuel-economy penalty, with the exception of the Freedom Drive II package, which cuts EPA highway fuel economy down to a pretty terrible 23 mpg. The Compass is car-based, and it drives, steers and rides as you might expect a compact car to do, but with no enthusiasm. The Compass drives like it was built to a price, because it was.
FREEDOM DRIVE II OFF-ROAD GROUP
The Jeep Compass isn't intended for serious off-road duty, but the Freedom Drive II package upgrades its capabilities with a 4-wheel-drive off-road mode, brake-lock differential, engine oil cooler, fuel-tank skidplate shield, full-size spare tire, Hill-descent Control, Hill-start Assist, P215/65R17 all-terrain tires, tow hooks, trail-tow wiring and other appropriate features.
SUN AND SOUND GROUP
The trick with the Sun and Sound Group is the rearward-facing speakers built into the liftgate. They're meant to add some fun to your next tailgate party, allowing everyone to enjoy the Boston Acoustics premium sound system. The sunroof? That's for you alone.
The front seats in the 2017 Compass are comfortable enough, but the Sport model lacks a driver's-height adjustment, and telescoping steering isn't available in any Compass model. The rear seats are better for two passengers, although three will fit in a pinch -- emphasis on pinch -- for short trips. They also fold 60/40 to expand the cargo space for longer objects. The simple instrument panel is logically arranged and easy to operate. The leather is pretty nice, with attractive stitching on the seats and door panels.
Despite a facelift a few years ago that made the Compass look more like a Grand Cherokee, this is still not a particularly attractive little SUV. The curves and rounded shapes suggest on-road comfort instead of off-road prowess, and that's true in this case. The thick pillars reduce visibility, and that goes double for the big pyramid-shaped pillars at the rear, which seriously limit several areas of important outward vision; no car this small should inspire this much nervousness when it comes to lane changes, and there's no blind-spot assist available.
The very base front-wheel-drive (FWD) Compass Sport comes with air conditioning, cruise control, power heated outside mirrors, power windows and door locks, a 4-speaker AM/FM/CD stereo with auxiliary jack and 16-inch aluminum wheels. It also comes with the standard 2.0-liter 4-cylinder and a 5-speed manual transmission. The slightly higher-level Latitude -- this is where you should really start shopping -- also uses the 2.0-liter but adds an automatic transmission. It also gets heated front seats, better Uconnect infotainment system, 115-volt power outlet, leather-wrapped steering wheel with built-in audio buttons, and several trim and convenience items.
Skip over the Sport and head to the Latitude model to get a better set of features. There are also various option packages. There's the All-weather Capability Group, the off-road-ready Freedom Drive II, a High Altitude Package that adds leather seating, power sunroof and 18-inch chrome-clad wheels, and a Power Value Group adding several power assists. One we definitely recommend is the Security and Cargo Convenience Group, which includes an alarm, cargo cover, universal garage-door opener, and an info display. The 2.4-liter engine and both Freedom Drive I 4WD (4-wheel drive) and Freedom Drive II 4WD are available on both trim levels.
The base engine for the 2017 Jeep Compass is an uninspiring 2.0-liter 4-cylinder with 158 horsepower and a 5-speed manual transmission. It's also available with a CVT, and it only powers the front wheels. The 2.4-liter offers 172 horsepower for better acceleration, and it's the only way to get 4-wheel drive in the Compass. Three automatic transmissions are available: a 6-speed with Auto Stick and two continuously variable transmissions (CVTs), depending on the model and drivetrain chosen. The Compass can tow a small, 2,000-pound trailer, and fuel economy ranges from 30 mpg highway for the 2.0-liter with 5-speed manual to 20 mpg city for the 2.4-liter with Freedom Drive II 4WD. Some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel economy numbers, due to changes in EPA testing.
158 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm
141 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/30 mpg (FWD, manual), 22/26 mpg (FWD, CVT)
172 horsepower @ 6,000 rpm
165 lb-ft of torque @ 4,400 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 23/28 mpg (FWD, manual), 21/27 mpg (FWD, automatic), 22/27 mpg (4WD, manual), 20/25 mpg (Freedom Drive I, 4WD, automatic), 20/23 mpg (Freedom Drive II w/Off-Road package, 4WD, CVT)
Note: Due to changes in EPA testing to more effectively reflect real-world conditions, some 2017 models show slightly lower fuel-economy scores than their 2016 versions.
A 2017 Jeep Compass Sport, with front-wheel drive and a manual transmission, has a Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of about $20,800, including the $995 destination charge. That makes it one of the least expensive cars in its class. But once you start adding options, it gets more expensive and harder to justify against fresher competition. A front-wheel-drive Latitude, still with the base engine, is already $25,200. That puts it against the Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, and many others, all of which are nicer to drive and generally better on gas, too. A loaded Compass can top $30,000, enough to step into a well-equipped, larger and much more modern Jeep Cherokee. But, if you really must get a Compass, be sure to check KBB.com’s Fair Purchase Price to see what consumers are paying in your area. Note that at resale time, the Compass depreciates faster than its competitors.