The all-new 2017 Jeep Compass is a very stylish, very well-executed little crossover. Gone are the cheap interior and boxy styling of the previous Compass and in comes a design based on the flagship Grand Cherokee model. We recently took several versions of the compact crossover for a spin both on and off the pavement. Here's our first drive impressions.

Traveling to San Antonio, Texas, we were greeted with an array of new Jeep Compass models. Production on these crossovers began in China not too long ago and will begin for North America very soon. Shipments to dealerships in North America will come sometime in the second quarter and be in full swing by the third. As a global vehicle, it will be manufactured for regional markets in plants located in China, Brazil, Mexico, and India.

The Compass is designed to fit in between the little Renegade model and the larger Cherokee model. A five-seat compact crossover, the Compass replaces both the outgoing Compass and the now-defunct Patriot models. It's priced starting at around US$22,000 with delivery, which like the size, is somewhere in between the Renegade and the Cherokee.

Jeep has a lot riding on the 2017 Compass. The previous-generation of the crossover (along with the Patriot) accounted for a full 25 percent of the North American compact crossover market. Jeep hopes to keep that stronghold and continue gaining share in what has become the most competitive, fastest-growing market in not just the United States, but around the globe. Like the Renegade, the Compass is expected to sell more outside of the US than it does in it. Based on our first impressions, we think it could well do all of that for the brand.

These first impressions start with the rounded, well-defined, and robust front fascia bordered by thin headlamps, which speak of technology and speed rather than muscularity. Strong fenders that flow into a trapezoid are another mark of refinement. Yet the Jeep branding is still there with the slotted grille design and high stance. A bit of extra tire clearance inside the wheel wells is accented by black edges that visually give even more space and promise offroad capability.

Inside, the new Compass takes its cue from the Cherokee models, with quality materials, soft-touch plastics and a more user-friendly, ergonomic experience overall. It rides quietly on the open highway and has an uncluttered, well-mannered appearance to its dashboard. Seating is comfortable and made for the long haul, even in the base Sport trim, and is versatile enough to accommodate plenty of cargo. Cargo space is rated at 27.2 cubic feet (770 liters) with the rear seats up and 59.8 ci (1,693 liters) with those seats folded.

The 2017 Compass comes in both front-wheel and four-wheel drive models. Four trim levels are also offered: Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited. In North America, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder "Tigershark" engine powers all Compass models, outputting 180 horsepower (134 kW) and 175 lb-ft (237 Nm) of torque. This is just about enough to make the Compass just a bit more than driveable without becoming overbearing.

In the Sport trim, a six-speed manual transmission is standard and a six-speed automatic is offered as an upgrade. We didn't get to drive the manual, but the automatic is well behaved and has good shift points that balance fuel economy with power delivery. In the Latitude model, the six-speed automatic is standard and the manual transmission is an option. Both the Trailhawk and the Limited have a nine-speed automatic transmission as standard with no other option available. We liked that transmission as well, though it has a tendency to get overzealous in shifting at moderate speeds of around 25-35 mph.

Engine stop-start is standard in all 2017 Compass models and fuel economy ratings vary depending on drivetrain type. The 4x2 with the manual is rated at 23 mpg in the city and 32 mpg (7.35 l/100 km) on the highway. Going to 4x4 with that transmission drops EPA estimates to 22/31 city/highway (10.7 and 7.6 l/100km). The automatic transmissions achieve 22/31 mpg city/highway in 4x2 (6-speed) and 22/30 mpg (10.7 and 7.8 l/100km) in 4x4 (9-speed). We did not have time enough with the Compass to thoroughly test these estimates in the real world.

There are two different four-wheel drive options. Active Drive with a one-speed power transfer unit is offered in most 4x4 models, while a new Jeep Active Drive Low is offered in the Trailhawk model. The latter offers a 20:1 crawl ratio and five-mode Selec-Terrain system for maximizing power delivery in different offroad scenarios. We thoroughly tested this in an offroad course set up by Jeep for the purpose and found it to be at least as competent as the excellent Jeep Renegade Trailhawk. Like the Renegade, all 4WD models of the Compass can disconnect the rear axle completely to enter 4x2 driving during daily driving situations.

The Compass also has a lot of tech going on. It benefits from the best-in-class (in our opinion) UConnect system that is in most Chrysler products. The standard screen is a 5-inch touchscreen that has the very basic requirements of today's vehicles (Bluetooth, radio, phone). Upgrades in packaging or models move to a 7-inch and then an 8.4-inch screen respectively, each with more and more tech packed in. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are available on the larger screen, along with a host of other apps and services. These are all easy to use and very crisp and clear on-screen. We especially like the speech-to-text capability found here and in other Chrysler products.

The many advanced safety options include blind-spot monitoring and a rear backup camera as standard, with lane departure warning and forward collision emergency braking are available. Yet we also note that in the few crash tests made so far, the Jeep Compass is not scoring terribly well.

After a day in the 2017 Jeep Compass, we were impressed overall. It's sized about right for small families, offers capability ranging from everyday clear weather driving to offroad "get to the good camp spot" excellence. Jeep is determined to remain competitive in the compact crossover market and we're glad to see that it's not holding back with this latest offering. For those who find a Renegade to be a bit too small and oddball and the Cherokee to be a bit too wedgy and large, the Compass offers Jeep credibility in a Goldilocks-sized package.

Product Page: 2017 Jeep Compass

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