Muscular Compass is reborn with real Jeep DNA

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There were a lot of reasons not to like the previous Compass, and my main gripe always was that it never really felt quite like a Jeep. The new Compass is completely redone from top to bottom, and it thankfully includes plenty of Jeep DNA. Sharing its core underpinnings with the Renegade, the Compass takes great strides in redefining its attitude and its altitude. 2017 is a better year for Compass.

The first thing you notice is a 2.6-inch-longer wheelbase. That’s not a lot, but in this segment, it’s plenty to talk about — it makes the Compass feel twice as big. The exterior fender flares and bulges are a great look, and many have started to call the Compass the Mini Grand Cherokee.

The style cue most worthy of note is the fin on the D-pillar (that’s the fourth vertical post from the windshield back). It looks great but has a down side, too, as the fin cuts into the tiny windows and starves the interior of natural light. For me, I’ll take the interior snag for the way-upside exterior “cool.”

Inside the cabin, you get very familiar Jeep design. The new Compass’ dash resembles the Cherokee’s, due in part to the distinct curve and the location of the audio and air vents. I really like the clean-cut design: two clear gauges stare down the driver. Depending on the trim level you go with, you can get a digital cluster that is available in either 3.5-inch or 7.0-inch sizes.

That minimal style doesn’t stop with the dash, and Jeep does low-key as well as anybody. The centerpiece Uconnect system is available with 7.0- and 8.4-inch center screens. This is still a great system, very intuitive and easy to use.

Compass has all the fun stuff, including Apple CarPlay and Android Auto compatibility, while holding to its Jeep roots with retro-looking round dials for radio volume and tuning and simple switches for climate-control settings in the center stack. One solution for the low-light feeling or closing-in walls in back is opting for the panoramic sunroof.

The Compass features a 2.4-liter I-4 engine delivering 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. My top-end tester had the wonderfully prepped nine-speed automatic transmission that 4×4 models get as standard. Sure, it’s more cash, but boy, can you tell the difference in moving about town and pushing the Compass into small highway slots on demand. The 4×4 package also ups the towing capacity from 1,000 to 2,000 pounds.

A six-speed manual is standard on Sport and Latitude models with either two- or four-wheel drive. A six-speed auto is optional on front-drive Compass models.

For the off-road enthusiast or would-be explorer, Compass Trailhawk models come factory-equipped with a bunch of off-road goodies, including a one-inch suspension lift and redesigned fascias to allow for 8.5 inches of ground clearance, a 30-degree approach angle, a 24-degree breakover angle and a 34-degree departure angle. Low-range 20:1 gearing and a Rock mode for the Selec-Terrain traction control system mean the Compass Trailhawk goes everywhere.

Base price starts at $21,990 with a manual transmission and front-wheel drive; the mid-grade Latitude starts at $25,900. The top-end Latitude 4×4 with an automatic transmission, the largest Uconnect system and top-end Beats Audio lands at $32,000.

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