The world is full of affordable mid-size crossovers, to the point of automotive gluttony. But if you think they're going away anytime soon, you're pretty much all by your lonesome. The segment is booming, but at the same time, manufacturers aren't exactly churning out models that can handle serious off-roading. Most models have been created to satisfy the "non-driver" in the mass market, versions that have good space, a decent set of tech, that much-desired higher ride height, and good looks. But take most of them into the mud, muck and rocks, and they cower like current White House chef candidates. Not so the all-new 2017 Jeep Compass. Just a few days ago, we flew out to San Antonio, TX to experience the new mid-size crossover that looks way more "Jeep" than the blocky mess it replaces.

compass white

But first, we have to address the fact that the first Compass was utterly directionless. It came to market in 2006 as a 2007 model, but it was less than thrilling in just about every way, from driving to styling to interior build quality. Sales were lackluster, and the competition easily outsold the poor Compass, to the point where Fiat Chrysler America planned on killing it after the 2016 model year. We thought to ourselves, "No one will miss it." And then Jeep goes and pulls a fast one by announcing the all-new 2nd-generation Compass, a vehicle that only shares the name with its predecessor, and thankfully so. 

The Family Resemblance is Strong

compass white and red

Take one look at the new Compass, and you can immediately see its improved fit into the Jeep family with strong cues from the Grand Cherokee. The Compass is now based on a stretched Renegade platform instead of the old car's Dodge Caliber underpinnings. The strong 7-hole grille that's flanked by inwardly tapering headlights is handsome and easily recognizable as a rugged Jeep product. The body creases are clean and straight, and the rear also resembles the Grand Cherokee with ellipsoid lights that instead place the reverse indicators on top.

The only real departure from the biggest Jeep is the rear side window uptick, the fin-like C-pillar, and the floating roof that very much mimics the more upscale Land Rover Range Rover Evoque. We're guessing that association isn't happenstance. Overall, the Compass looks like a shrunken version of its much bigger brother, and the result is truly attractive, delivering a rugged and sporty appearance that will surely garner praise from just about everyone. 

On Road Abilities


In the three legs of our on-road driving experience in the top trim Limited 4x4 variant, the Compass was very composed. Steering in the Compass is responsive but not as accurate as we'd like, and the wheel has trouble returning to center but not so much that it makes long drives tough. In fact, the Compass feels solid and planted on the road more than many of its competitors. It feels more substantial than the Hyundai Tucson, and that's an already good CUV. 

Braking is strong, and the pedal is nice and progressive. Our only complaint is the weakness of the 2.4-liter four that's found in the base Cherokee. The 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque might feel better if the accelerator wasn't so mushy, but the end result is the driver's desire for more power. The nine-speed automatic transmission in our 4x4 felt smooth and responsive with no noticeable gear hunting. Too bad the power isn't commensurate. The dearth of power does contribute to good fuel economy numbers, though. All Compasses get over 30 mpg highway, and two-wheel drive models get 26 combined with 4x4s at 25 combined. Pretty solid numbers for something this size. 4x4s also tow up to 2,000 pounds. You won't move a big boat, but you can bring plenty of outdoor toys for the weekend. 

Off-Road Prowess

compass rear

Once we got to our mid-point destination at Flat Rock Ranch, we had the opportunity to take the Trailhawk version of the Compass on a serious off-road course. It has the "Trail Rated" badge on it, which means it can take some serious punishment in its stock outfitting. The 20-minute course involved serious suspension articulation from big undulating hardpack, steep rocky descents and muddy holes that would undo a regular crossover

“ The Compass Trailhawk is fantastic off-road, and other crossovers must bow to it. ”

The Jeep Compass Trailhawk separates itself from the non-Trail rated models with special standard equipment including a one-inch suspension elevation, 8.5-inch ground clearance, a 30-degree approach angle, a 24-degree breakover angle, and a 34-degree departure angle. The Trailhawk also comes with Rock mode in the Selec-Terrain system that allowed us some serious off-road capability on the trail and low-range gearing for the 4x4 transfer case.

Unfortunately, there's no hill-descent control, so you have to modulate the brakes well when going down a steep grade, but slapping the tranny into manumatic mode keeps it in first where you want it when the going is steep, rough and slow. Few drivers will ever do what we did in the Compass, but it's good to know it can dole out the off-road goods better than pretty much every other mid-size crossover. The Compass Trailhawk is fantastically composed off-road, and other crossovers must bow to it. 

The Compass Cabin

compass cabin

Comfortable and supportive seats made the 3-hour trip easy, and interior design is familiar, borrowing similar styling cues to the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee. The Uconnect infotainment system is easily in its best version yet with great graphics, user friendliness, and near-immediate responsiveness to touch. The center stack is easy to use thanks to physical knobs for audio and big buttons for climate controls. The shift knob is a bit misshapen to us with more height than thickness, but it's easy to use, and shifts are clean. The manu-matic mode is odd, though. To upshift, you pull back, and downshifting is forward. Counterintuitive, we think, but at least you move the shifter toward the driver to enter manu-matic mode.

The overuse of piano black trim at the Limited level seems like a cheap move to us, especially since the less expensive Latitude trim uses a matte gray trim that feels nicer and doesn't attract fingerprints. The build quality, at least, is very good. No noticeable rattles or shakes, even when going off-road. The interior feels solid on road, as well, and the absence of NVH makes the Jeep a smart choice for those who want quiet on long drives. 

A Strong Entrant Into the Segment

trailhawk 6

The base Sport model costs $21,990 with a manual transmission and two-wheel (front) drive, cloth seats, steel wheels, and a rather small 5-inch touchscreen. The mid-level Latitude starts at $25,290. Option it with four-wheel drive, upgraded Uconnect and audio, and the price approaches $32K. The upscale Limited trim level costs $29,990 and comes standard with four-wheel drive, heated front row seats, dual zone automatic climate control and big, fancy 18" wheels. Opt for the Trail Rated Trailhawk at $29,690, and you get a vehicle that's ready to take on just about anything. 

We're confident the new Compass will be a hot-seller for Jeep, given the growth of the segment and the Jeep reputation. All this, combined with a handsome package that looks rough and ready, makes for a solid contender in a crowded field. 

trailhawk 1

trailhawk 2

trailhawk 3

trailhawk 4

trailhawk 5