2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk Review – In a World Gone Mad for Crossover Cars, a Crossover That Wants to Be an SUV

2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk

2.4-liter inline-four, SOHC (180 horsepower @ 6,400 rpm; 175 lb-ft @ 3,900 rpm)

Nine-speed automatic, all-wheel drive

22 city / 30 highway / 25 combined (EPA Rating, MPG)

10.8 city / 7.8 highway / 9.5 combined (NRCan Rating, L/100km)

21.8 mpg [10.8 L/100 km] (Observed)

Base Price: $22,090 (U.S) / $26,795 (Canada)

As Tested: $35,200 (U.S.) / $41,500 (Canada)

Prices include $1,095 destination charge in the United States and $1,895 for freight, PDI, and A/C tax in Canada and, because of cross-border equipment differences, can’t be directly compared.

This is the new, second-generation 2017 Jeep Compass, tested here in $35,200 Trailhawk guise, including $5,510 in options.

It’s two inches shorter than the old Compass but two inches wider. The new Compass offers 20-percent more cargo capacity than the old Compass and, according to the specs, marginally less space for passengers. The Trailhawk’s 8.5-inches of ground clearance is up by four-tenths of an inch.

Forget the specs, though. And for a moment, forget the price. This new Jeep Compass is better than the old Jeep Compass.

It would be difficult not to be.

But comparisons with the an old Jeep Compass that went on sale in 2006, while making for easy reading and easy writing, won’t take us very far. Rather, our goal is to determine whether the new 2017 Jeep Compass is a worthy compact utility vehicle today.

Because improving upon a vehicle that, in 2006, TTAC called “ an ugly, gangly, underpowered, mud-aversive half-breed,” a vehicle that “stomps all over Jeep’s reputation as America’s purveyor of authentic off-road vehicles,” wouldn’t be surprising, sufficient, or significant.

Forgetting the old Compass and its departing Patriot sibling, the 2017 Jeep Compass squeezes into a narrow niche in Jeep’s lineup between the smaller Renegade and larger Cherokee. The result is the right-sized member of the trio. Though larger, the Cherokee doesn’t feel roomier inside than the new Compass. Meanwhile, the Compass’s half-foot of extra length compared with the Renegade pays major dividends inside. Adults can sit happily in back, and there are 27 cubic feet of cargo capacity behind the rear seats, 47 percent more than the Renegade offers.

Yet while the Cherokee offers a 3.2-liter V6 that imbues the larger of Jeep’s three small crossovers with moderate quickness, the 2017 Compass does no better than the Renegade’s 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder. Underwhelming in the Renegade, the 2.4-liter — hooked up to a painfully eco-minded nine-speed automatic that hates downshifting more than I hate downpours — is downright anemic in the Compass, particularly in our Trailhawk tester with the added weight of all-wheel drive bits and optional extras.It’s not just the lackluster takeoff from rest. Apply heavy throttle at 60 miles per hour and you still won’t encounter much in the way of additional forward progress. In 2017, 180 horsepower and a 3,633-pound curb weight don’t mix. Mind you, a basic front-wheel-drive Compass tips the scales with roughly 450 fewer pounds, enough to hasten the Jeep’s hurry.

Yet if a lack of accelerative ability is the Jeep’s foremost fault, it’s one of only a few major gripes. First, despite many past positive interactions with Uconnect, the week spent with the 2017 Compass Trailhawk was full of freezes during which even audio couldn’t be turned off. Then the Trailhawk’s somewhat rugged Falken Wildpeak tires interrupted some of the Compass’s impressive air of maturity by wandering about at highway speeds, far removed from the straight-line stability of virtually every direct competitor. This does no favors to the Compass’s already hyperactive lane departure warning system that simply must be turned off because of its sensitivity. Moreover, given how much of a downward glance is required to adjust the low-mounted climate controls, another meaningful objection, more straight-line stability is sorely needed.Fortunately the new Jeep Compass is a delight in many other areas. Free from any sporting pretense, the Compass Trailhawk instead emphasizes supply ride quality, absorbing the worst pavement with ease and in silence.

Even with a comfort-oriented approach, the 2017 Compass is nevertheless small enough to be nimble; sorted well enough to be relatively agile. Sure, the steering is predictably lifeless, the brakes announce more stopping power by way of a firm pedal than they actually possess, and the transmission (while never flubbing shifts as it has in past applications) is an unwilling partner. But it’s easy to see how the Compass chassis is capable of handling more power and more sporting bias without ruining the refined nature of its on-road experience.

Quiet and smooth operation is particularly notable in the new Compass in large part because the model isn’t as confined to pavement as many compact crossovers, at least not in this Trailhawk format.The Trailhawk’s Active Drive Low 4×4 all-wheel-drive system makes use of a Selec-Terrain selector with a Rock mode, one you’re unlikely to ever require. There are also minor styling alterations that provide the Trailhawk with improved 30.3/24.4/33.6-degree approach, breakover, and departure angles. Then there’s a low-range-aping crawl ratio of 20:1, skid plates, and a ride height increase of nearly an inch. We spent much of our time with the Compass off pavement, and while we didn’t ford 19 inches of water (Jeep says the Compass Trailhawk can) there’s an obvious sense of competence once you’ve strayed from the beaten path that you never perceive in a Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, or virtually any direct Compass alternative.

Do you buy a 2017 Jeep Compass Trailhawk because you’re an avid off-roader? It would probably be a mistake to do so. But if you find yourself in a rural setting and want to grab some photos from the top of usually inaccessible hill, the second-gen Compass performs tricks other small crossovers can’t.

Building the Compass that does all of this quite obviously costs a pretty penny. Compass pricing starts at $22,090. All-wheel-drive Compass pricing requires another $1,500. But the Trailhawk starts at $29,690. Throw in luxury features via the $895 Advanced Safety & Lighting Group and the $745 Cold Weather Package, plus $895 navigation, a $495 power tailgate, and a $1,295 panoramic roof, and the Compass is competing in a price category where its basic interior materials and weak 2.4-liter engine simply don’t belong.

Given the savings over a comparable Jeep Cherokee, however, the 2017 Compass Trailhawk begins to stand out from the pack of seven-slat grille crossovers thanks to its impressive ride quality and quiet cabin and nimble chassis.

Forget the old Compass. The more costly Cherokee is the Jeep with which the new Jeep Compass must be compared.

[Images: © Timothy Cain/The Truth About Cars]

Timothy Cain is a contributing analyst at The Truth About Cars and Autofocus.ca and the founder and former editor of GoodCarBadCar.net. Follow on Twitter @timcaincars.

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