2017 Jeep Compass

The 2017 Jeep Compass Limited parked at Milwaukee's former Northridge parking lot before the thaw. 

Photo: Cliff Leppke

Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles’ crown jewel is the Jeep brand. Now recognizable worldwide, the Jeep family comprises the bitty Renegade, iconic Wrangler and range-topping Grand Cherokee. Then there’s Jeep’s venerable Compass/Patriot compact crossover, which seems the forgotten stepchild. The 2017 remedy? A new “global” Compass built on Fiat’s “small-wide 4x4 architecture.”

Compared with the outgoing model, the new Compass is a prince — available in four trims including an off-road-oriented Trailhawk. Jeep asks a precious coin for the tested, decked-out Limited. 

But without comparison, does this Jeep shine on its own?

Let’s start with the exterior, which looks like a baby Grand Cherokee squirted with smooth, glossy two-tone paint. Black roof pillars make the roof appear lower, however uneven bright trim mars the effect. Jeep’s signature seven-slot grille is eye candy — it’s fake. Another CUV trope is its black-plastic body cladding. The dark rocker-panels covers protrude, meaning it takes a track-and-field vault when exiting to avoid dirty sills that could easily soil your clothes.

compass rear

On the inside, soft dashboard and door panels — with firm, stitched armrest covers — lend an upscale atmosphere. A hemmed cloth headliner enhances the up-market theme. But the adjustable steering column, its stalks and door levers operate as if yanked from a Kentucky Fried Chicken bucket. Those with limited hand mobility will struggle to reach the pushed-forward for automatic high beams directional-signal stalk.

Jeep groups its switchgear in forms evoking a guitar pick or Fiat’s shield logo. Main gauges are clear. They’re augmented by a reflection-prone color TFT trip-computer display. You can upsize the cruise control’s tiny pictograph.

The leather-trimmed power driver’s seat, with lumbar, escaped from the Little Shop of Horrors. The lower back bulge is too aggressive and there’s not much shoulder support. Headrests, however, tilt forward to reduce whiplash. Two adults fit in the 60/40 split-back aft slab with a middle-position shoulder belt and child-seat provisions. Additional perks: rear-facing vents and a 120-Vac outlet.

While driving in the Wisconsin winter, the 8.4-inch squarish infotainment touch screen with talk-to-text spit out urgent weather warnings. This blocked access to items such as the seat-heat levels. Octagonal virtual buttons are intuitive with prompt response.

Compass interior

Radio operators: large rubber-clad tuning and volume knobs invite twisting. You can nail the desired channel without much twiddling.

At night, cockpit controls are well illuminated. Switches are easy to spot, with the exception of the recessed start button. Shift mode is well marked. Drivers operate a center dash-stack and infotainment screen that aren’t canted toward them. Climate controls are low on that stack.


Vibrations and mediocre mpg

The engine maintains dignified progress at steady speeds — about 1,500 rpm at 60 mph. That’s quiet. But climbing overpasses or out of Milwaukee’s Miller Valley generates a raucous roar. At idle, the engine vibrates your feet. The nine-speed automatic is easily befuddled; it’s slow to downshift and hunts between gears. One must push the go pedal quite far in order to wake up the under-hood gerbils. On secondary roads pockmarked with potholes, this Jeep tosses occupants with concomitant mechanical clunking. 

Jeep utilizes several drivetrain fuel-economy tricks. Nevertheless, the 180-hp CUV produced a mediocre 21 mpg overall. The EPA estimates: 22 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined.

You’ll want to turn off this Jeep’s lane-keep assist. And you can. It jerks the steering wheel toward lane center, which is quite disconcerting. Jeep calls this tug-of-war “haptic” feedback. It could scare a nearby Harley rider to whom you’ve given road room. 

Keep your hands on the wheel. Winter goodies include a heated steering wheel and toasted seats. Underneath the two-tier cargo hold’s floor resides an optional spare tire and tool kit. There’s a motorized rear lid. Folding the second-row seat produces a mesa-flat carpeted loading zone.

Driving through Milwaukee’s first major snow of the season was anxiety free. There’s a 4WD lock setting that sends power to each wheel. Dry-road handling, however, is less certain. The Compass feels tippy when you move the direction finder. Brake pedal effort is light, but halts more quickly than expected. ABS action is gentle. 

If you wish to chart a course, this Jeep with navigation, driver-assistance gear, power liftgate and destination charges lists for $34,660. It’s not a gem, but you can motor with lizard molded into the front cowl.

Who can top that? 



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