With the ever-growing compact crossover market booming and people leaning more and more away from hatchbacks, it makes sense that automakers are taking advantage of this market and developing newer vehicles for it. The Subaru Crosstrek and Jeep Compass are brand new contenders for 2018 and 2017 respectively. Looking at the overall design of the vehicles some might think they are worlds apart, however, the numbers suggest they are more similar than the looks. Allow me to explain.
Let’s look at the numbers, the Crosstrek is 71mm longer in length at 4465mm, 32mm shorter in height at 1615mm and 70mm narrower in width at 1800. Ground clearance is also similar 220 for Crosstrek and 216 for the Compass. Even interior volume is similar with the biggest difference going to the cargo area where the Compass can hold a bit more at 770L vs 588. Pricing is where the two stretches apart, the Compass with $7000 worth of options cost $41,995 and the Crosstrek with everything optioned out is at $35,440. While the Jeep has the off-road heritage, there’s no doubt the newcomer has Rally behind its back, so let’s take a look in depth to see what they bring to the table.
Jeep. Compass Trailhawk
Pros: Handsome exterior and interior, trail-rated for rocky mall parking lots
Cons: Fuel economy, on-road manners, pricy with options.
For 2017 the Jeep Compass is all new, sharing it’s platform with the Jeep Renegade and the Fiat 500x it’s no longer the old Dodge Caliber-based Jeep. The overall vehicle is much more refined now with options found in higher-end luxury vehicles and with that, the Compass is sure to stand out.
The overall look of the Compass is that of a baby Grand Cherokee, with the familiar 7 slot grille it’s easy to distinguish that it’s a Jeep. Being that it’s the Trailhawk model there are a few nice touches that add to the overall vehicle’s ruggedness. Starting with big beefy red tow hooks, underbody cladding, the slight lift and bigger tires, there’s no mistake that it’s a Jeep. Even from the back, the vehicle’s lifted ride height makes it just look bigger and more suitable for the great outdoors.
Stepping inside the Compass reveals the softer side of the vehicle. Unlike the Renegade(which is mostly covered by harder plastics), the Compass fills the interior similar to the Cherokee with soft leather and plastics throughout. Similar to other Jeep products, the cluster has a programmable display that show’s vehicle’s temps and other useful stats. At the centre of the interior houses FCA’s UConnect system, there’s a bit of an upgrade here. Similar to current touchscreen devices the display now features a capacitive touchscreen rather than the old resistive. This might not seem like a big deal but it allows the occupants to easily navigate the menus with less glare and is more responsive than before. It also allows for heating and ventilation controls within the display overriding the some-what flat physical controls found just beneath the screen.
Moving on to interior comfort. The Compass has extra plush soft leather seating surfaces that are heated for the winter months. It’s actually pretty comfortable even though the adjustments does take a bit of time to find the optimum driving position. With a higher ride height, it feels more like an SUV than a hatchback. Back seats occupants are given similar seating surfaces as the front, with a bit less bolstering and flatter cushions it can be easy to slide about. Looking up in either row revels one of Jeep’s best feature, a 2-row panoramic sunroof that stretches across both rows and allows tons of light into the cabin which offsets the smaller windows found around the vehicle.
Driving around the Compass truly shows it’s off-road routes. Even though it’s a car platform, the Compass steering is vague and there are more body movements than anticipated. That being said, it’s no Wrangler, it just shows the vehicle’s other side. Driving down the road, the Compass remains quiet and the little 2.4L Tigershark 4-Cylinder provides just enough power to keep the 1648kg vehicle moving. Paired with a 9-speed automatic, shifts are relatively smooth. Under heavy throttle is when the engine wakes up, with 180hp and 175lb-ft of torque it’s not here to win drag races. With peak torque near 4000rpm, the engine does have to work harder to provide the pull that’s needed for acceleration however when needed the transmission just does not want to shift from time to time. Tuned for the economy in mind the transmission will shift up as early as possible and refuse to downshift unless it’s truly necessary. The handling is hindered by the Trailhawk’s choice of tires, these Fallen Wildpeak tires just do not provide the driver with the confidence needed in tight turns. With a bit of rain, the Compass can easily show signs of understeer on city streets. But city streets is not this Compass primary purpose. With the trail rated badge on the front fenders, this compass does feature a driver-configurable AWD system called Selec-Terrain and there’s even a 4Low mode. Although it just allows the transmission to use the lower ratio of 1st gear as there’s no real transfer case it does allow the Compass to move through dirt, and mud with ease.
Pros: Car-like handling, Amazing AWD system, Fuel economy
Cons: lack of power, smallish trunk volume.
Based on the Impreza, the Crosstrek is now in its 2nd generation. Gone is the old Outback Sport nameplate the Crosstrek show it’s a true contender in the segment. Slightly bigger than the previous generation and riding on the all-new global platform the Crosstrek shares numerous upgrades that it truly deserves.
Starting with how it looks. Yes, it’s obvious that it’s a lifted Impreza but it’s so much more than that. With plastic over fenders and body cladding, it’s just as rugged as the next off-roader. Up front is a new set of “boomerang” style led headlights encasing a smaller, sleeker grille. Running along the side the new wheels has that Shuriken look that looks amazing when the car’s rolling. And In the back, a set of LED taillights updates the overall look. Other than the pumpkin colour, it doesn’t stand out in a parking lot but sometimes its good to be conservative.
Inside the Crosstrek is more of the same, a fully functional interior with less pizzazz while retaining all creature comfort. The dash features a total of three displays, one in the cluster and two stacked on top of each other in the centre console. The upper display shows driver information like fuel consumption, vehicle temps, and status of the EyeSight system. Lower display is Subaru’s updated Starlink infotainment system. Faster and more responsive than the previous system it works and sounds amazing. Below the display is the heating and ventilation controls, the no non-sense continues here with three simple dials to control temps and fan speed it’s easy for anyone to hop in and use without confusion.
Comfort wise, the seats took the firm and supportive side. Seats are height adjustable from hatchback to SUV style suiting drivers of all heights. With dual-stage heating elements, it’s easy to get comfortable in all climates. For back seat passenger, there are large windows allowing for natural light to flood into the light colour interior giving a sense of space. There’s even plenty of legroom and headroom for even 6foot tall passengers.
On the road the Crosstrek feels like a car, it truly shows that lifting the Impreza has minimum compromises. Steering feel is light but precise with no play it’s easy to adjust as needed. The ride is also surprisingly good, the extra travel in the suspension provides a plushier ride. Power comes from a 2.0L boxer 4 Cylinder making an un-remarkable 152hp and 145lb-ft of torque. Power comes at the top of the rev range at 6000rpm and peak torque is at 4000, but thanks to the excellent CVT transmission it’s able to make full use of that power. On the transmission, the CVT is simply amazing. The tuning behind it is awesome, able to keep the revs low in day to day traffic but with a dip of throttle, it acts like a normal automatic. Where it would feel like a downshift and as the revs climb instead of staying at peak revs like some other CVT transmission producing that whine, this will “upshift” varying the revs to reduce noise vibration and harshness. What’s even more surprising is the Crosstrek’s off-road capability. With the introduction of X-mode it’s able to put the power down to all four wheels and using ABS sensors it can independently brake the wheel with less traction and act almost like a locking differential. X-mode also incorporates downhill assist which can come in handy on those steep descends.
All in all the Compass and Crosstrek are great vehicles with tons of features. It just shows some are just better balanced than others and in this comparison, the Crosstrek edges ahead thanks to its nimble body and can do attitude. The Compass is no means a bad car, it’s very capable SUV and with it’s baby Grand Cherokee looks, it’s quite handsome. The let it down is mainly fuel economy, a compact SUV that consumes the same as a mid-size is definitely a big factor as small SUV owners are looking for better economy. Pricing is another factor, with a $6,600 difference it puts it high in its class and well into the mid-size category. The Crosstrek, on the other hand, is well built, with a straightforward interior and surprisingly capable all-wheel-drive system, it can do so much more than just trips to the mall.
Big thanks to FCA Canada and Subaru Canada for the two vehicles for this comparison.