cars

Compass takes Jeep in the right direction

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

Updated: Friday, November 17, 2017, 3:01 AM

Forget the Compass points of the past; the 2017 Jeep Compass gets a whole new look – and a lot more impressive features.

2017 Jeep Compass Latitude 4×4: A new direction from Jeep?

Price: $32,505 as tested. (The base price for the Latitude was $24,295. A Panoramic sunroof added $1,295, and more options aplenty are broken down throughout.)

Marketer’s pitch: “Explore every possibility.”

Conventional wisdom: Car and Driver likes the “handsome looks, composed ride, available manual transmission, roomy rear seat, hushed interior” but not the “touchy brake pedal, nine-speed automatic hates to downshift, sluggish at speed.”

Reality: The unpopular model may have righted itself.

What’s new: The Jeep Compass arrived all-new for the 2017 model year, and Jeep billed it as the first global compact SUV. Basically, the company is trying to put a Jeep stamp on the popular small crossover segment.

FiatChrysler seems to finally have gotten some momentum after years in the ditch. The Chrysler Pacifica has changed the minivan world, and the new Alfa Romeo Giulia brings new fun to the sports sedan.

The Lovely Mrs. Passenger Seat and I are fans of the Renegade but had been put off by its reliability reports.

Up to speed: Power delivery from the 2.4-liter MultiAir engine is not as anemic as you might expect, creating 184 horsepower. But don’t pull out onto busy highways. Motor Trend and Car and Driver estimate its 0-60 to be in the mid nine-second range, so, yes, it’s slow.

The real drawback was the automatic engine shutoff. It takes a half-second to bring the vehicle back to life, and then the pullout itself could be fairly random — one time the Compass would be spinning the wheels, the next time there’s a hesitation.

The gas pedal also has a whole lot of movement, more than most.

Shifty: The 9-speed automatic transmission ($1,500) mostly minds its own business, like a good transmission should. Occasionally, passing could be a bit of an effort, as if it were having trouble deciding which gear would be best. (Hey, nine is a lot of choices.)

The shiftability could be controlled via the gearshift, and it was a pretty hard pull, worthy of the tough Jeep driver.

A six-speed manual transmission is offered, and I think I might have liked that better.

On the road: The tall vehicle holds the road fairly well. Bouncing through the rough roads of the Pinelands in South Jersey could leave some of your fillings loose.

On winding roads, the Compass is fairly Jeepy — not too fun but not too bulky.

The Jeep Compass interior is handsome and rather Fiat-y. The speedometer could be inscrutable while the infotainment touchscreen is a delight.

Driver’s Seat: Like many Fiat products, the seat and I could never really come to terms (despite the $995 Popular Equipment Group, which made those seats eight-way power adjusting and added other fun stuff, while the Cold Weather Group heated them and the steering wheel, added wiper de-icer and more for $695). The lumbar support was a bit stronger than I’d have liked, but overall comfort was OK.

Information, please: The speedometer sported pretty but hard-to-read graphics, peeking out from behind the top of the steering wheel. But I set the center information screen to speedometer for most trips and kept myself apprised on how fast I was going.

Friends and stuff: This is another bright spot of the Compass. Many small SUVs feel pretty squeezed in the rear, but here, rear legroom is pretty good. Headroom, legroom, and foot room are all admirable, and the center passenger in the rear shouldn’t feel too depressed either.

The seats are pretty comfortable and the rear hatch has plenty of space — just shy of 60 cubic feet behind the front row puts the Compass in Kia Soul territory.

Keeping warm and cool: Simple dials control operations — yay, Jeep!

Play some tunes: Fiat’s stereo systems offer some of the easiest functionality in the industry and nice touchscreens (8.4 inches, part of the $995 Navigation Group, which also added CarPlay and other cool stereo features). Sound was good, but the backup camera could be wonky in the dark and in bright sunlight.

Night shift: The lights do a fine job of illuminating the road.

Fuel economy: I averaged about 26 mpg in a highway-heavy couple of days around Philadelphia and New Jersey, a little flatter than my usual stomping grounds. It dropped to 24 back in my hilly homelands.

Where it’s built: Toluca, Mexico,

How it’s built: Consumer Reports predicts its reliability to be 2 out of 5.

In the end: The Jeep Compass has much to recommend it, and hopefully improved reliability will become another factor.

Scott Sturgis, Auto Columnist

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