2017 Jeep Compass review

The new 2017 Jeep Compass completes a promise Jeep made in 2009 – to dramatically revise everything in its product portfolio. The Compass though will have to fight it out in the most competitive segment of them all – small SUV.

The redesigned 2017 Jeep Compass signifies the final step of a commitment the brand made back in 2009. It’s the final piece in a significant puzzle that has seen the legendary off-road brand redesign all of its models across its broad portfolio – and the new Compass is a significant departure style wise from the model it replaces – more downsized premium large SUV than in-between compact.

While pricing for Australia hasn’t been finalised for the new Compass, this small SUV sits directly between the funky Renegade and the very different Cherokee in more ways than one. It’s perfectly in between the two in terms of exterior dimensions, which makes sense when you consider it replaces the old Compass and the gone from this world Patriot, but we expect it to sit between the two in terms of pricing as well.

That said, the new Compass doesn’t land locally until the fourth quarter of 2017 and Jeep still hasn’t finalised pricing and specification, but the suggestion above seems the most sensible, and therefore the most likely. You can also expect subtle revisions to the pricing of the existing Cherokee sometime around the Compass launching as well.

As we’ve seen with other models in the portfolio, Jeep is catering to a broad market with the new Compass too, with road-focused models joined by an off-road specific Trailhawk grade that’s been properly toughened up for off-road work. Park a new Compass Trailhawk next to a Compass Limited and you’ll see the differences between the two, which is exactly what the designers were aiming for.

Externally, Jeep has therefore delivered two subtly different – but visible nonetheless – takes on the attractive new Compass design. The high specification model grades get stylish chrome trim (most visible around the grille apertures), larger wheels, lower profile tyres and premium styling that ensures the Compass looks more expensive than we think the pricing will indicate.

The Trailhawk on the other hand, has smaller 17-inch wheels, Falken off-road focused tyres, black detailing instead of chrome, signature red tow hooks, a raft of sill plates and underbody bash plates to protect the vital organs off-road and a revised front lower bar section that delivers a much more practical approach angle.

There’s no doubt then that you can tell the two styling exercises apart when they are parked side by side and it plays into the hand of the urban buyer who might want the more stylish option, while the off-road fan is always going to prefer a tougher, more purpose built look. It’s the same theory that seems to have worked well with the current Cherokee.

Like the exterior styling, the cabins of the various models we tested at launch have a premium, sophisticated feel to them. Once again, from behind the wheel, it looks like you’ve spent more money than the pricing is likely to reflect and every element of the cabin is well executed.

The latest generation U Connect system works well, while the Compass is in fact the first product in the Jeep range to get Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity. Regardless of whether you get the smaller 7.0-inch infotainment screen, or the larger 8.4-inch screen, you get that connectivity across the Compass range. We tested the CarPlay system and it worked seamlessly, as did Bluetooth phone connective and audio streaming. I liked the 3.0-inch driver display screen that is customisable and sits between the two main gauges, and can illustrate a raft of useful information, not the least of which is the digital speedo.

The touch surfaces aren’t harsh anywhere inside the cabin, the seats comfortable, and the switchgear all cleverly placed. That’s the case even for the more affordable models at the entry point of the range. There’s plenty of useful storage including a sleeve on the passenger side of the centre console that can even house small tablets.

Cupholders in the centre console take care of standard coffee cups, while the door mounted bottle holders house larger bottles. We’d like the connections for smartphones and auxiliary devices to be better placed, or perhaps even hidden inside the centre console. US models tested had a 120-volt power point in the second row, and we’d like to see that translate to a 240-volt plug for Australia.

In the States there is also the choice of a 60:40 or 40:20:40 split fold second row, but it’s likely we’ll get just one setup in Australia. There’s plenty of room in the second row too, even with taller occupants up front and with the second row folded down, you get a flat load space that is useful for longer or larger items. The second row seats have a good contour to them as well, which adds to the comfort factor on longer trips.

Australia is apparently a market that has demanded the best in available safety kit and we expect that local Compass vehicles will have a full suite of electronic safety inclusions – optional, if not standard across the range. Highlights include: adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning plus and the lane sense plus lane departure warning system. While we don’t know full specification details yet, we expect these features to be standard across the range in Australia.

First up, we head off for a 120km road drive in the 2.4-litre petrol-powered Trailhawk. Immediately, we’re impressed with how well mannered the off-road focused Trailhawk is negotiating the urban road network. The return journey in a Latitude specification (same engine) illustrates that the only tangible difference is the slightly increased tyre noise from the Trailhawk on coarse chip surfaces thanks largely to its off-road spec tyres. The noise isn’t what we’d call offensive though, and on smooth surfaces, there’s barely any noise at all.

The 2.4-litre engine, which generates 134kW and 237Nm, works smoothly with the exceptional ZF nine-speed automatic gearbox to deliver a relaxed (and quiet) drive at any speed. Traffic is dispatched easily, as is a long 70mph highway run and while the engine needs to sing up to redline if you want to get cranking quickly, it never feels breathless or like it’s running out of power toward redline. Our cruise in the Trailhawk netted an indicated 9.8-litres per 100km, with only a short highway run factored in.

The Latitude grade we tested on the return leg is likewise an effortless cruiser. We did notice a difference in brake pedal feel between the two models, which Jeep engineers suggested shouldn’t be noticeable, and we also felt there was some correction needed through the steering wheel at the straight ahead position. That could just be a vagary of the power steering system.

It’s also worth noting the thick set A pillars, which aren’t as bad as some, can still get in the way of front three-quarter visibility. There’s nothing to complain about regarding the driving experience behind the wheel of the Compass though and the electrically adjustable driver’s seat is easy to set where you like it.

The same relationship between engine and transmission is a highlight and strong point of the Compass Trailhawk off-road. There’s enough power and torque to get to work, and the smooth nature of the pairing means you can traverse typical off-road fare without having to work the Compass too hard.

The off-road course, while purpose built, is definitely challenging and it’s fair to say the Trailhawk makes light work of it. Our Trailhawk test vehicles had no more trouble crawling through the nastier sections than the Wrangler lead vehicle that was showing the way. We used low range mode and turned the drive mode dial around to ‘Rock’ mode as well.

In concert with the clever electronics, you rarely even sense a wheel spinning, which means the system is delivering drive to the wheel or wheels with grip. The excellent nine-speed automatic transmission plays its part here as well, holding low speeds effortlessly. The switch to low range and back out is fast and not even remotely jerky.

There’s plenty of wheel travel and articulation across the axles, which enhances available grip while the throttle pedal has a nice softness to it in low range and rock off-road modes, which means you aren’t worried about modulating it over the bumpier terrain.

Regardless of whether people will ever actually drive their Compass off-road, the heritage of the Jeep brand dictates any Jeep must be capable when the going gets tough, and the Compass Trailhawk very much plays the part. It’s a particularly easy SUV to drive off-road, no matter how nasty the terrain.

According to Jeep, the Trailhawk has best in class 4WD capability due to such features as 216mm ground clearance, the previously mentioned standard skid plates (side and underneath), rated tow hooks, the aforementioned Falken all season tyres, a full-size spare, unique front fascia, and rock mode.

You might question low range in a segment like this but the Trailhawk’s final drive ratio of 4.33 can deliver a 20:1 crawl ratio for proper low speed off-road work. ‘Rock’ mode is exclusive to the Trailhawk grade as is hill descent control. We'd love to see the Trailhawk come to Australia with the diesel engine, but Jeep Australia is still working on final specification and pricing details so we won't be able to confirm the engine line-up and pricing until closer to the local launch.

Comparing the 2017 Jeep Compass to the model it replaces is effectively an exercise in futility such is the dramatic leap forward taken by this new model. It’s entirely unrecognisable in all major areas – cabin, on-road driving dynamics, and off-road performance – to the old Compass.

It enters an incredibly crowded and price competitive small SUV segment, but on what we’ve discovered during our first drive in the United States, it has the weaponry to take the fight right up to the segment leaders – not to mention being without peer off-road in this segment.

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