On Autos: Redesigned Jeep crossover finds a niche

The 2017 Jeep Compass is heavier-duty than the typical small crossover. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Upon hearing the Jeep name, the first image frequently summoned is the Wrangler — the heavy-duty rough-and-tumble model that traces its lineage directly back to World War II military vehicles.

But most of Jeep’s latest new models have been crossovers — vehicles styled like SUVs but mechanically derived from ordinary passenger cars in order to provide greater on-road comfort, space efficiency and fuel economy.

Today’s small Jeep crossovers include the Renegade and Cherokee — and, slotted in size between them, the redesigned 2017 Compass. (Don’t confuse it with the decade-old version of the Compass, which is also still on sale as a 2017 model. Meanwhile, one more crossover — the Patriot, a boxier version of the old Compass — also remains on sale. Both the Patriot and the old Compass will soon be discontinued, simplifying the Jeep lineup.)

The new Compass is a particularly appealing addition to the Jeep lineup. It delivers stronger value than the Cherokee, which is bigger and more expensive but not appreciably roomier. And the Compass’ traditionally handsome appearance — inspired by the upscale Grand Cherokee model — sets it apart from the more exuberantly styled Renegade.

The 2017 Jeep Compass has a well-finished and user-friendly dashboard. (Brady Holt/The Current)

Like Jeep’s other crossovers, the redesigned Compass delivers more off-road ability than an everyday Honda CR-V or Ford Escape. That’s particularly true on the tested Trailhawk model, which has additional ground clearance and a more advanced all-wheel-drive system compared to other Compass versions.

In ordinary on-road use, the new Compass is like other Jeep crossovers: decently comfortable, fuel-efficient, roomy and affordable — yet less so than a CR-V and other models that can only handle light duty when taken off pavement.

Although there’s respectable passenger space for four adults, the Compass’ cargo space significantly trails a CR-V, Nissan Rogue or Toyota RAV4. Part of the Compass’ space deficiency stems from the fact that it’s half a size smaller than those models, with dimensions that place it between the subcompact and compact classes. That petite size — and the fact that the larger Cherokee actually has even less cargo space — gives the new Compass some city-friendly appeal.

The 2017 Jeep Compass is smaller and less roomy than most of its competitors. (Brady Holt/The Current)

The Cherokee’s primary advantage over its smaller sibling is an optional V6 engine; the Compass is offered only with the Cherokee’s base engine, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder without particularly smooth or strong power, or impressive gas mileage. The tested Compass is rated for 25 mpg in mixed driving, mediocre for a compact crossover.

Prices for the redesigned Compass start at $22,090, but can rise quickly because most competitors have more standard features. The tested model, which was well-equipped but not fully loaded, had a sticker price of $33,560.

If the Jeep’s off-road personality or distinctive style wins you over, the new Compass promises a respectable ownership experience and deserves strong consideration against the hardy Subaru Forester. But if you’re just looking for a tall family car for mainly on-road use, there are other capable crossovers designed specifically to excel in those conditions — namely, the CR-V, Rogue and Escape, along with promising new redesigns of the Mazda CX-5 and Chevrolet Equinox.