2017 Jeep Compass Limited Review – Jeepness Distilled for Suburbia

Chris Tonn
by Chris Tonn
Fast Facts

2017 Jeep Compass Limited 4x4

2.4-liter inline-four, DOHC (180 hp @ 6000 rpm, 175 lb-ft @ 3900 rpm)
Nine-speed automatic transmission, all-wheel drive
22 city / 30 highway / 25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)
23.2 (observed mileage, MPG)
Base Price: $30,090 (USD)
As Tested: $34,955 (USD)
Prices include $1095 freight charge.

I’m certainly an outcast among automotive journalists. So many in this line of work absolutely fetishize the Jeep brand. Mottos like “It’s A Jeep Thing, You Wouldn’t Understand” and “If You Can Read This, Roll Me Over” flow through reviews and tweets like a lifted CJ on thirty fives. I’ve never really seen the appeal. I’m a suburbanite to the bone and, as such, I’ve never had the need or desire to take a vehicle off-road.

My first experiences with Jeeps came as a service writer, where I’d drive a vehicle to try and better relay handling problems to the tech. Every Jeep I drove was a loose-steering, ill-handling pig. Of course, in that job I was always driving vehicles that needed work, but the pride of Toledo always seemed particularly nasty on the tarmac.

Jeep was listening, it seems, as it has begun offering a variety of car-based crossovers that are pavement rated. Take this 2017 Jeep Compass Limited — the big 19 inch alloys with low-profile tires make the intended path quite clear. Has the essence of Jeepness become eroded, or can this Compass point the way forward?

Let’s get the big stuff out of the way — it’s not built in Toledo. Indeed, the Compass is built on a platform shared with the Fiat 500X and Jeep Renegade in Toluca, Mexico. I’m not here to debate NAFTA or anything like that — though I’m sure it will pop up in the comments — but the Buckeye in me weeps a bit when an iconic Ohio nameplate is built elsewhere.

As an avowed lover of all that is old-school, I’m thrilled that two-tone paint schemes are slowly making their way back into vogue. Sure, the Compass here has the black finish restrained to the pillars and roof rails, but it’s a compelling look. Forget the “floating roof” trend with a flash of black on a crossover’s D-pillar — from the profile view, the roof simply hides, and the bright upper window trim is most prominent.

Really, there are only a few ways to make a blocky crossover look different from every other blocky crossover out there, and Jeep nailed it. I might prefer the seven-slot grille trim be body colored (rather than roof colored) and that the sensors for the forward collision warning system be more centrally located, rather than offset to the passenger side of the lower grille, but overall this is an inoffensively styled commuter that will age much better than the first-generation Compass.

The interior works similarly well, with a single reservation. Since the driver sits relatively high and upright in the Compass, the HVAC controls are placed rather low on the console, which requires the eyes to stray too far from the windscreen to adjust. The 8.5-inch UConnect screen takes up so much real estate in the relatively narrow Compass cabin that the climate controls end up as an afterthought. I found that I was most comfortable setting the controls to automatic, usually setting the passenger temp seven degrees higher for my frigid wife, and leaving all else alone.

HVAC controls are available through the touchscreen, as well, but I’d rather not tap through menus to control the fan speed. A properly located knob is important.

That big UConnect screen controls one of the best infotainment systems I’ve ever encountered. Seven (certainly keyed to the iconic seven-slot grille!) quick links to preferred applications populate the bottom of the screen, and can easily be changed to the drivers’ most commonly used functions. All of the controls are thoughtfully laid out and simple to use.

The plastics used throughout are rather hard, giving a sense of cheapness that betrays the near-$35k sticker price for this upmarket trim. The leather seating surfaces, similarly, don’t match the asking price, though the contrasting copper-colored stitching is at least attractive. The seats themselves were surprisingly comfortable, with adjustable lumbar support relieving me after a long drive.

The beauty of the upright seating position is the legroom revealed in the second row. My growing kids had plenty of room in the rear, without errant knees pressing into my back. Thank also the relatively long 103.8-inch wheelbase within the short 173-inch overall length, which prioritizes both passenger space and short overhangs for off-road clearances.

I didn’t attempt driving this Compass Limited off the paved trails beyond this relatively flat grassy area near the river for my photos. I’ve no doubt it will perform well on maintained paths or nasty snow, but the combination of a low-hanging front air dam and the 19-inch wheels (with 235/45-19 tires!) means this road-focused trim will not be happy where the “proper” Jeeps (or even the Compass Trailhawk) go to play. On-road, I was pleased with how quietly and competently this Compass handled commuting. It’s soft and compliant, with few road imperfections making their way into the cabin with anything more than a muted thump.

It’s easy to avoid those potholes when not driving quickly, though, since the Compass isn’t exactly a speed demon. The 2.4-liter four-cylinder ekes out 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque, which means acceleration is leisurely at best for this roughly 3,600-pound crossover. The nine-speed automatic doesn’t help, as it’s occasionally reluctant to kick down to a lower ratio when called upon for acceleration. At highway speeds, the transmission was fine — I never noticed any hunting between the four overdrive ratios when cruising — but getting up to speed isn’t as effortless as some competitors.

I’m finally warming to the idea of a Jeep as a daily driver. I still can’t see myself climbing into a Wrangler every day, especially as my knees and my rapidly greying beard remind me of my advancing years, but this Compass is a lovely compromise between everyday use and all-weather capability. For once, this is a Jeep thing I understand.

[Images: © 2018 Chris Tonn]

Chris Tonn
Chris Tonn

Some enthusiasts say they were born with gasoline in their veins. Chris Tonn, on the other hand, had rust flakes in his eyes nearly since birth. Living in salty Ohio and being hopelessly addicted to vintage British and Japanese steel will do that to you. His work has appeared in eBay Motors, Hagerty, The Truth About Cars, Reader's Digest, AutoGuide, Family Handyman, and Jalopnik. He is a member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, and he's currently looking for the safety glasses he just set down somewhere.

More by Chris Tonn

Join the conversation
7 of 62 comments
  • Vagvoba Vagvoba on Apr 10, 2018

    I just rented this exact same model and trim level last weekend. Here's a short review and a comparison to my 2014 Prius. Technology has gone a long way in the past 4-5 years. The Compass is full of electronic goodies that I wish my Prius had, including a brilliant large screen, Apple CarPlay, good sound system, blind spot detection, good quality backup camera, better navigation system, etc. However the lane keep assist seemed to be non operational. I tested it multiple times on the highway under good visibility conditions and it never seemed to be doing anything, even after setting it more to max sensitivity in the settings. It was also very frustrating that the seat heating and the steering wheel heating turned on automatically every time I started the car and it takes digging into the menus to turn them off. I tried to turn of this automatic feature, but I couldn't find the setting for it. The Compass drives pretty well, it's reasonably quiet, but I got a lot of wind noise coming in from next to my left ear, even when the window was all the way up. The engine is lethargic and the transmission makes it appear even worse. In comparison, my 2014 Prius with the CVT feels much more spirited, pedal response is more direct and smoother. I know it sounds crazy, and that will just about tell the story of how bad the Compass' drive train is. Although it may not matter to most people, the fuel consumption of the Compass seemed to be about twice of what I would get in the Prius on the highway. The digital gauge showed about 25-26 MPG at 75 MPH, while my Prius gets 50 MPG at the same speed. In the city the Prius is likely much better than even that. Another big disappointment is the trunk space. This is an SUV and people think that automatically means larger storage space. Think again. I drove my Prius to the airport, heading to my destination, and my suitcase fit easily longways into the trunk. In fact, I could have laid 2 of them side by side in the trunk. After arriving to my destination, I attempted to put the same suitcase the same way into the trunk of the rental Compass and it didn't fit longways. It was close, but the door would just not close. The Prius' trunk was about 1 inch longer than the Compass'. I had to turn the luggage 90 degrees, sideways, to fit. In the Compass I wouldn't have been able to lay 2 of them side by side in any configuration. All in all, the Compass was better than what I expected, mostly because of the tech and the comfort of the seats, but if I wanted a larger car, I'd go for a larger SUV, maybe a Grand Cherokee.

    • See 1 previous
    • Vulpine Vulpine on Apr 10, 2018

      How 'bout we go out for a drag race; your rented Compass and my two-year-old Renegade with the same engine/tranny option? Let's see just how "lethargic" it really is.

  • I'd be curious to know why Fiasler didn't bother to center the rear wheel within its fender well? I tend to notice oddball things like that, but once it's seen...

    • See 2 previous
    • @Vulpine I'll bet you're exactly right, Vulpine. Still looks weird.

  • 3-On-The-Tree Lou_BCsame here I grew up on 2-stroke dirt bikes had a 1985 Yamaha IT200 2-strokes then a 1977 Suzuki GT750 2-stroke 750 streetike fast forward to 2002 as a young flight school Lieutenant I bought a 2002 suzuki Hayabusa 1300 up in Huntsville Alabama. Still have that bike.
  • Milton Rented one for about a month. Very solid EV. Not as fun as my Polestar, but for a go to family car, solid. Practical EV ownership is only made possible with a home charger.
  • J Love mine, but the steering wheel blocks dashboard a bit, can't see turn signals nor headlights icons. They could use the upper corners of the screen for the turn signals. Mileage is much lower than shown too, disappointing
  • Aja8888 NO!
  • OrpheusSail I once did. My first four cars were American made, and through an odd set of circumstances surrounding a divorce, I wound up with a '95 Nissan Maxima which was fourteen years old and had about 150,000 miles on it.It was drove better, had an amazing engine, and was more reliable than any of my American cars. This included a new '95 GMC pickup that went through five alternators in under two years while the dealership insisted that there was no underlying electrical problem while they tried to run the clock on the warranty.That was the end of 'buy American'. I've bought from Honda and VW since, and I'll consider just about anything except American now.