• 2017 Jeep Compass lives up to brand’s ‘heroic’ reputation

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    The all-new 2017 Jeep Compass compact SUV is one part Jeep, one part superhero. Then again, given how most Jeep owners think of their vehicles, that may be redundant.

    The Compass is new from the ground up for 2017. Jeep is still selling a few of the previous-generation SUVs as 2017s, but don’t be fooled: the only thing the two vehicles have in common is the spelling of their name, and the one you want is the all-new Compass that looks like a baby Grand Cherokee and comes from Fiat Chrysler’s assembly plant in Toluca, Mexico. The Compass is based on the same “compact wide” architecture that underpins the smaller Jeep Renegade.

    The new Compass’s superhero origin story has two beginnings: What it does, and what Fiat Chrysler needs it to do. The little SUV has more off-road capability than any of its competitors. It can ford streams, scale hills and dig through mud pits that would leave other small SUVs whimpering for a tow rope. As it should be with Jeep, the Compass is more likely to be the tower than the towed.

    The Compass’s other superhero task is leading Jeep sales around the world. It’s already in production in four plants: Mexico, Brazil, China and India. Fiat Chrysler expects it to propel Jeep to new sales records and be a mainstay of the company product line and balance sheet.

    Prices for the new Compass start at $20,995 for a front-wheel-drive model with a 6-speed manual transmission. All Compasses come with a 180-horsepower 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine

    Four-wheel-drive models start at $24,495 with the manual transmission. A 6-speed automatic transmission adds $1,500. The next major building block in the drivetrain is a smooth and efficient 9-speed automatic transmission that’s a $1,500 option on higher trim levels. Chrysler had drivability issues with this transmission when it debuted in the mid-sized Jeep Cherokee a few years ago, but it works fine now. The top models — both available only with four-wheel drive and the 9-speed — are the $28,595 Trailhawk, which has the most off-road ability, and $28,995 Limited, which has more creature comforts.

    The nicely equipped Compass Limited 4WD has navigation, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto collision alert, lane departure warning, blind spot and cross traffic alerts, Beats audio, power tailgate, Bluetooth compatibility and voice recognition. It stickered at $33,860. All prices exclude destination charges.

    The Compass competes with compact SUVs like the Chevrolet Equinox, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4 and VW Tiguan.

    The Compass’s prices compare well to similarly equipped models. Its off-road ability literally leaves the competition in its tracks.

    Still a popular brand
    The Compass offers a choice of two four-wheel-drive systems: Active Driven and Active Drive Low. The low feature includes a 20:1 crawl ratio for challenging off-road. At 173.9 inches, the Compass is shorter than its competition, a characteristic Jeep owners prize because it makes it easier to navigate between rocks and trees on rugged trails. Passenger and cargo space are a bit smaller than most competitors.

    Jeep’s controls for audio, navigation, smart phones and the like are among the auto industry’s best. They combine dials and buttons, excellent voice recognition, a responsive touch screen, and now Apple Car Play and Android Auto for hands-free access to popular phone apps.

    The Compass’ most noteworthy visual elements are Jeep’s recognizable seven-slot grille, trapezoidal wheel openings, available LED head and taillights and an optional two-tone paint scheme for a contrasting black roof.

    The Compass is quiet on the highway. Its suspension delivers a comfortable ride on road, along with plenty of ground clearance and capability off road.

    Despite its many features, the Compass is a relatively light vehicle, but its fuel economy and drivetrain refinement trail other leading small SUVs.

    The EPA rated my Limited 4×4 at 22 mpg in the city, 30 on the highway and 25 combined. The key combined figure trails comparable models of the Equinox, CR-V, Tucson, CX-5 and Rogue.

    The 2.4-liter engine’s auto stop feature is slower and rougher than leading competition. Fiat Chrysler’s non-luxury brand four-cylinder engines are pretty rudimentary, lacking the turbos and direct injection the automaker gives its Alfa Romeo models. The result is adequate acceleration, but more engine noise and vibration than the leaders, particularly when the nine-speed transmission holds higher gears at low engine rpm to save fuel

    Despite those faults, the Compass’ features, looks, value and unrivaled capability should make it popular with buyers. It’s the hero that Fiat Chrysler needs to win new customers around the world.

    DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS

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