Buying Used: 2017-2021 Jeep Compass
There’s no shortage of good, practical compact crossover SUVs on the market these days. Unfortunately, the Jeep Compass isn’t one of them, especially as a used buy
By Mark Toljagic Wheels.ca
Tue., April 26, 2022timer6 min. read
updateArticle was updated 21 hrs ago
If there’s one thing Jeep can bank on, it’s its exemplary legacy in the military.
Jeep earned its stripes after the Willys-Overland’s 4X4 prototype climbed the steps of Washington, D.C.’s Capitol building to demonstrate its go-anywhere capability to the War Department in 1941.
After the war, nine companies lined up to buy the storied brand in succession. Willys produced the first civilian Jeep right after the Second World War, before being purchased 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.
Keen to further monetize the iconic nameplate, DaimlerChrysler expanded the Jeep lineup from four to seven models in 2007. For the first time in its long history, Jeep birthed a pair of crossovers — the Patriot and the Compass — that shared their mechanicals with the front-drive Dodge Caliber.
Despite the trademark seven-slot grille, the first-generation Compass couldn’t shake its econobox roots with its plasticky interior, noisy four-cylinder engine and creaky assembly quality. New owner Fiat, led by Italian-Canadian Sergio Marchionne, had a better idea.
The second-gen Compass utilized Fiat Chrysler’s Small-Wide 4x4 platform — which underpins the Fiat 500X crossover hatchback and closely related Jeep Renegade — with stronger structural rigidity to anchor the four-wheel independent suspension. Introduced for 2017, the all-new Compass was sold alongside the old model until inventory of the previous Compass ran out.
The reconstituted Compass is longer than the subcompact Renegade by 16 centimetres, and the additional seven cm between the axles rewards the Compass with more rear legroom. Even with the driver’s seat all the way back, there’s 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-gen Compass brings comfy accommodations in a tidy package. The crossover drops the old no-frills cabin for soft-touch materials borrowed from the Cherokee and upscale Grand Cherokee. Unfortunately, it shares brittle-feeling control stalks 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 knobs. The top system, Uconnect 4C, comes with a large 8.4-inch screen with crisp, 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 rear view camera to show when switching into reverse,” complained one owner in a post. In terms of crash safety, the Compass earned a four-star rating (out of five stars) from the U.S. 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-litre four-cylinder engine that puts out 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, since Jeep expended the effort to make its crossover off-road-ready. 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 to those who veer off the beaten path. Other features include knobby Falken tires, underbody 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 utilize a part-time all-wheel-drive system similar to those found in other crossovers.
For 2019, the Compass saw some minor shuffling 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 a lack of interest. There’s also a Jeep 80th Anniversary special-edition trim package available. The Compass earned 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, partly due to the crossover’s hefty curb weight. Zero to 97 km/h takes 9.1 seconds, which doesn’t compare well with competitors such as the Honda CR-V and Volkswagen Tiguan. The engine doesn’t make pleasant sounds under acceleration, either. Front-wheel-drive models are slightly quicker without the heavy AWD hardware.
The sluggish engine disappoints further by failing to deliver good fuel economy. Some owners have reported poor city mileage — especially in the weighty Trailhawk model — as low as 19 m.p.g. (15 litres/100 km), which is less than stellar for a compact crossover with a four-cylinder powertrain. If gas mileage is a concern, seek out a front-drive Compass model.
The rigid platform yields a surprisingly stiff ride and the suspension is decently composed on curvier roads. The steering is taut with a decent amount of weight at the wheel, although there isn’t much feedback with virtually no on-centre feel — but it’s not a deal-breaker in this segment. The Compass is reasonably quiet on highway trips, though there may be more tire noise than some might be accustomed to. Buyers can always choose quieter tires when it comes time to change worn rubber.
OWNER TALK RELIABILITY
Compass drivers praise their vehicles for the roomy interior, legendary Jeep capability (largely attributed to the Trailhawk model), good value for the money, and appealing design inside and out. “It’s an attractive car, essentially a miniature Grand Cherokee,” wrote one owner online. Deficits include the lethargic engine and similarly sluggish nine-speed automatic transmission, seating that some found uncomfortable, and unreasonable fuel use in city driving.
Where the Compass really falls down is in everyday reliability. Again, it comes back to the 2.4-litre Fiat engine — the only choice in this crossover. Owners of 2017 to 2019 models noted that the Tigershark engine can consume motor oil at a voracious rate, sometimes leaving the dipstick dry and shutting down the engine without warning.
“Motor burned two-thirds of its oil in the first 5,000 kilometres. Vehicle shut off while my wife was trying to cross an 8-lane highway. Jeep has decided that this is ‘normal’ consumption as long as it’s less that one litre per 1,000 miles,” read one online post. Fortunately, most dealers are sympathetic and will investigate the cause. But outcomes may vary.
“They said it didn’t consume enough to put a new motor in even though it was burning two litres a week. Got corporate involved and finally after three months they scoped the motor and all the cylinder walls were scored. It was a candidate for a new motor but they were on back order,” reported another Compass owner online.
Beyond 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 that shuts down the engine at every red traffic light (a roundly despised feature). Batteries reportedly fail and have required early replacement, though there may be other electrical issues deep in the circuitry that’s soured the driving experience for some.
The ZF nine-speed automatic transmission has been the target of criticism for its clunky and slow gear changes at times; there have been a few outright transmission failures, too. Careful buyers may wish to find a front-drive model, which uses the more reliable Aisin six-speed automatic.
The frustrations continue inside the car, where electronic components related to the Uconnect interface can malfunction with increasing frequency. Drivers report issues with unresponsive touch screens, dropped phone calls, inoperative key fobs locking the driver out and other electrical faults that have become the 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 isn’t one of them, especially as a used buy. As a parting thought, we leave you with this owner’s remark as to why.
“First heavy rain the car shorted out and stalled on the thruway. Had it in the shop for a month. The mechanic said they have had several issues and would never buy this for his kids.”
2017-2021 Jeep Compass
BODY STYLE: Five-passenger compact crossover SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel-drive; six-speed manual transmission; six- or nine-speed automatic transmission
ENGINE: 2.4-litre four cylinder (180 hp, 175 lb-ft)
FUEL ECONOMY: (Regular) 10.8/7.8/9.5 L/100 km city/highway/combined
CARGO VOLUME: 801 litres (27 cu-ft)
TOW RATING: 907 kg (2,000 lbs.)
PRICE: $25,500 (2017); $38,000 (2021)