Buying Used: 2017-2021 Jeep Compass

If there’s one thing Jeep can bank on, it’s its exemplary military heritage.

Jeep earned its stripes after the Willys-Overland 4X4 prototype climbed the steps of Washington, DC’s Capitol building to demonstrate its go-anywhere capability for the War Department in 1941.

After the war, nine companies lined up to buy the big brand in succession. Willys produced the first civilian Jeep right after World War II, before being bought by Kaiser Motors in 1953, then American Motors in 1970, Renault in 1979, Chrysler in 1987, Daimler-Benz in 1998, private equity firm Cerberus in 2007, then Fiat and more recently Peugeot, which merged with Fiat Chrysler to form Stellantis.

To further cash in on the iconic nameplate, DaimlerChrysler expanded the Jeep lineup from four to seven models in 2007. For the first time in its long history, Jeep spawned a pair of crossovers—the Patriot and Compass—that shared their front-end mechanics. -drive Dodge Caliber.

Despite the trademark seven-slot grill, the first-generation Compass couldn’t shake its econobox roots with its plasticky interior, noisy four-cylinder engine and creaking build quality. New owner Fiat, led by Italian-Canadian Sergio Marchionne, had a better idea.

The second-generation Compass used Fiat Chrysler’s Small-Wide 4×4 platform – which underpins the Fiat 500X crossover hatchback and closely related Jeep Renegade – with stronger structural rigidity to anchor the four-wheel independent suspension. The all-new compass, introduced for 2017, was sold alongside the old model until stocks of the previous compass ran out.

The reconstituted Compass is longer than the subcompact Renegade by 16 centimeters, and the extra seven centimeters between the shoulders rewards the Compass with more rear legroom. Even with the driver’s seat all the way back, there is decent room for shorter passengers. More impressive is the 27 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the 60/40 split-folding rear bench.

No longer a penalty box, the second-generation Compass provides comfortable accommodation in a stylish package. The crossover ditches the old no-frills cabin for soft materials borrowed from the Cherokee and exclusive Grand Cherokee. Unfortunately, it shares brittle control rods and door panel switchgear with the cheaper Renegade.

The Jeep’s updated Uconnect infotainment system is reasonably easy to use with its redundant and helpful physical dials. The top system, the Uconnect 4C, comes with a large 8.4-inch screen with sharp, clear navigation graphics. But the system can be sluggish.

“Generally slow or stubborn to respond to touch input. It takes more than 30 seconds for the rearview camera to show up when switching to reverse,” one owner complained in one post. For crash safety, the Compass earned a four-star rating (out of five stars). from the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a 2017 Top Safety Pick rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).

All new-generation Compasses are powered by Fiat’s 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that produces 180 horsepower and 175 lb-ft of torque. Front-wheel drive is standard and all-wheel drive is optional on all models except the Trailhawk, which comes standard with full-time AWD. A six-speed manual transmission was standard, with a six-speed automatic (supplied by Japan’s Aisin) optional on front-drive models and a nine-speed automatic, built by ZF, on AWD models.

The Trailhawk variant deserves special mention, as Jeep went to great lengths to make its crossover off-road capable. Along with 8.5 inches of ground clearance, the Trailhawk has a 30.3-degree approach angle and a 33.6-degree departure angle — important numbers for those who turn off-trail. Other features include knobby Falken tires, undercarriage skid plates, and Jeep’s Active Drive Low all-wheel-drive system with a low-range-like first gear ratio of 20.4:1. Note that non-Trailhawk Compasses use a part-time all-wheel drive system similar to those found in other crossovers.

For 2019, the Compass saw a smaller mix of feature availability, while Apple CarPlay and Android Auto were made standard across the board. More advanced driver safety aids were added to the Limited and Trailhawk trims for 2021, and the manual transmission was dropped due to lack of interest. There is also a Jeep 80th Anniversary special edition trim package available. The Compass received a styling refresh for 2022.

Driving the Compass quickly reveals the limitations of Fiat’s “Tigershark” four-cylinder: it’s painfully slow in this application, due in part to the crossover’s hefty curb weight. Zero to 97 km/h takes 9.1 seconds, which cannot be compared with competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Volkswagen Tiguan. The engine also does not make any pleasant noises during acceleration. Front-wheel drive models are slightly faster without the heavy AWD hardware.

The sluggish engine further disappoints by not delivering good fuel economy. Some owners have reported poor city driving—especially in the heavy-duty Trailhawk model—as low as 19 mpg (15 liters/100 km), which is less than stellar for a compact crossover with a four-cylinder powertrain. If gas mileage is a concern, look for a front-drive Compass model.

The rigid platform provides a surprisingly stiff ride and the suspension is decently composed on twistier roads. The steering is taut with a decent amount of weight at the wheel, although there isn’t much feedback with virtually no on-center feel – but that’s not a deal-breaker in this segment. The Compass is fairly quiet on highway trips, although there may be more tire noise than some are used to. Buyers can always choose quieter tires when it’s time to replace worn rubber.

OWNERS SPEAKS RELIABILITY

Compass drivers praise their vehicles for the spacious interior, legendary Jeep capability (largely attributed to the Trailhawk model), good value for money, and appealing design inside and out. “It’s an attractive car, essentially a miniature Grand Cherokee,” one owner wrote online. Shortcomings include the sluggish engine and similarly sluggish nine-speed automatic transmission, seats that some found uncomfortable and unreasonable fuel consumption in city driving.

Where the Compass really falls down is in everyday reliability. Again, it comes back to the 2.4-liter Fiat engine – the only choice in this crossover. Owners of the 2017 through 2019 models noted that the Tigershark engine can consume engine oil at a voracious rate, sometimes leaving the dipstick dry and shutting down the engine without warning.

“Engine burned two-thirds of its oil in the first 5,000 kilometers. The vehicle shut off while my wife was trying to cross an 8-lane highway. Jeep has determined that this is ‘normal’ consumption as long as it is less than one liter per 1,000 miles,” read one online post. Fortunately, most dealers are sympathetic and will investigate the cause. But results may vary.

“They said it didn’t use enough to put in a new engine even though it was burning two liters a week. Got involved with the company and after three months they scanned the engine and all the cylinder walls scored. It was a candidate for a new engine but they were on backorder,” another Compass owner reported online.

In addition to the oil issues, the engine is prone to stalling or not starting in the first place. The culprit may be the Compass’s fuel-saving stop/start system, which shuts off the engine at every red traffic light (a much-despised feature). Batteries are said to have failed and have required early replacement, although there may be other electrical issues deep in the circuit that have marred the driving experience for some.

The ZF nine-speed automatic transmission has been subject to criticism for its clumsy and slow shifts at times; there have also been some direct transmission errors. Cautious buyers may want to find a front-drive model that uses the more reliable Aisin six-speed automatic transmission.

The frustrations continue inside the car, where electronic components related to the Uconnect interface can malfunction with increasing frequency. Drivers are reporting issues with unresponsive touchscreens, dropped phone calls, inoperative key fobs that lock the driver out, and other electrical malfunctions that have become hallmarks of owning a Fiat Chrysler.

There’s no shortage of good, practical compact crossover SUVs on the market these days. Unfortunately, the Jeep Compass is not one of them, especially as a used purchase. As a parting thought, we leave you with this owner’s comment as to why.

“First heavy rain shorted the car and stalled in the driveway. Had it in the shop for a month. The mechanic said they have had several problems and would never buy this for their kids.

2017-2021 Jeep Compass

BODY STYLE: Compact crossover SUV for five passengers

DRIVING METHOD: Front engine, front or four-wheel drive; six-speed manual transmission; six- or nine-speed automatic transmission

ENGINE: 2.4-liter four-cylinder (180 hp, 175 lb-ft)

FUEL ECONOMY: (Typical) 10.8/7.8/9.5 L/100 km city/highway/combined

CARGO VOLUME: 801 liters (27 cu-ft)

TOW MEANING: 907 kg (2,000 lbs.)

AWARD: $25,500 (2017); $38,000 (2021)

WEBSITE: www.jeep.ca

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