Compass is built like a car and drives like one. Yet, it possesses much of the versatility and capability associated with a small SUV.
Though not as rugged as a Wrangler or even a Patriot, Jeep Compass stacks up well against Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Subaru Forester, Toyota RAV4, and other entry-level SUVs.
Jeep Compass gets new options for the 2015 model year. A new High Altitude Package is available for 2015 Compass 4×4 models with the 6-speed automatic transmission; the High Altitude Package includes leather seating, a power sunroof, power six-way driver’s seat, and 17-inch aluminum painted wheels. Navigation is now an option for the 2015 Compass Latitude model. All 2015 Jeep Compass models come with a new dome light that replaces the previous rechargeable flashlight. Compass was substantially upgraded for 2014 after being freshened for 2011 and 2009 and launched as a 2007 model.
Two engines and four transmissions are available, along with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. Buyers may choose from two levels of the active 4×4 system. A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard on Compass Limited, optional for Compass Sport and Compass Latitude. Two versions of a continuously variable transmission (CVT) are available for specific applications.
Front-wheel drive is standard, but buyers can choose Jeep’s Freedom Drive I or Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package for improved traction. Freedom Drive I is full-time all-wheel drive, delivering almost all of the torque to the front wheels until more traction is needed at the rear (with up to 60 percent available there). A lock mode may be engaged for snow, sand and mud. Freedom Drive I is a good system for wintry conditions.
Freedom Drive II is Jeep Trail Rated, meaning it’s highly capable on rugged terrain. Freedom Drive II uses a continuously variable transaxle (CVT2L) with a low range that engages when Off-Road mode is activated. Included are 17-inch all-terrain tires and aluminum wheels, raised ride height, a full-size spare tire, skid plates, tow hooks, fog lamps, and manual seat height adjuster. On the down side, Freedom Drive II is likely to give up two or three miles per gallon in fuel economy.
A 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine comes standard, making 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. The 2.0-liter engine is available with a 5-speed manual, a 5-speed automatic, or a continuously variable transmission. With the 5-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive, the 2.0-liter engine delivers an EPA-estimated 23/30 mpg City/Highway.
A larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine is available that produces 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. Best fuel economy is with the 5-speed manual with an EPA-rated 23/28 mpg City/Highway. Also available with the 2.4-liter engine are a 6-speed automatic and the CVT2L.
Imagine the Jeep Grand Cherokee, then downsize it a bit in your mind, and you’ll have the Compass. We think it looks even nicer than the Grand Cherokee because it’s a tidier size.
The Compass hood flaunts a power bulge, above quad reflector headlamps and a chrome-trimmed seven-slot grille. Cladding protects the sheetmetal during off-roading, which the Compass is capable of undertaking. Roof rails and a spoiler are standard, along with 17-inch aluminum wheels on most models (18-inch on the Limited).
All of the pieces fit aesthetically, to create a Jeep that’s smooth, rugged and unmistakable.
Up front, the Compass Sport has a body-color grille with chrome inserts. Other models get a bright mesh grille insert. Lower bodyside cladding is standard on all Compass models, which also feature bright side roof rails.
Grilles on Latitude and Limited models feature plated upper grille trim and mold-in silver-color texture. Halogen headlamps on Sport and Latitude models have black inner bezels. Limited models have projector halogen headlamps, along with chrome foglamp bezels. Taillamps have a smoked-look inner bezel.
We love the simplicity, efficiency, and clean style of the Compass interior and its lack of gimmickry.
Front-seat occupants get plenty of room. Fabric seats are pleasing. The perforated leather upholstery in the Limited is beautiful and expensive feeling, and the bucket seats are comfortable.
Back-seat riders endure somewhat hard seatbacks, but should be satisfied otherwise with decent headroom and legroom. The center rear position would be satisfactory, except for a cupholder console on the floor that restricts foot space.
Cargo space beneath the cargo cover is modest, less than 23 cubic feet. The rear seats are split 60/40 and fold flat easily, to provide 54 cubic feet of cargo space. Reclining rear seats are available, along with a front passenger seat that folds flat, creating either a table or an eight-foot-long space for storage. A space-saver spare tire is neatly stored under the floor.
The one-piece rear liftgate is light, easy to raise and lower. It has panels for structural integrity, and the rear bumper has a non-skid rubber surface for grip when someone needs to step on it to get to the roof.
Overall there’s less cargo space than one might expect, although 54 cubic feet with the rear seats folded isn’t bad. Maybe that expectation is because overall, the Compass feels bigger than it is.
Visibility for the driver is restricted.
When it first entered the market as a 2007 model, the Compass was considered to be a modern Jeep, intended to attract customers who hadn’t been lured by the traditional-type Jeep products. Likely buyers weren’t off-road aficionados, and were presumed to prefer a comfortable ride over intensive off-pavement capabilities. Yes, they liked to know that their Jeep could handle the occasional rural byway, or a lumpy, rock-strewn gravel road. But on the whole, the Compass was designed to appeal to a more urban customer.
Now, the Compass comes across as a trifle old-fashioned, weighed against some contemporary rivals. Some folks like it that way. Still, a Compass is harder to recommend to prospective buyers who would otherwise be looking at typical crossover-type, carlike SUVs. A Compass might be a little too basic, reminiscent of the past rather than wholly indicative of today and tomorrow.
That said, the Compass has a lot going for it, starting with relatively spirited performance from a relatively small engine. Fuel economy isn’t bad, either. Our Limited 4×4, with the 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, averaged almost 25 mpg in mostly urban/suburban driving.
Jeep’s 6-speed automatic transmission is well-behaved. The 5-speed manual gearbox works well, too, and gets the most out of the four-cylinder engine.
A 2.4-liter Limited can pass semi-trucks on two-lane highways and uphill 70-mph freeways, and it cruises along just fine. Passing need not be a worry (although careful timing and full throttle are necessary), and the Compass can maintain 70 mph without feeling overworked.
The Jeep Compass is relatively quiet, perhaps more quiet at higher speeds than around town, thanks to the sound-absorption material in the rear wheelwells, quarter panels and C-pillars. At slower speeds, the proven 2.4-liter engine has never been known to be silky, compared to some rivals. The Jeep 2.4 is known more for its reliability and reasonably good mileage than its smoothness.
The 2.0-liter engine might be lacking in power for many buyers, with just 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. Especially if it’s mated with the CVT, although the Auto Stick with six steps helps a lot to work the power more effectively. But with the 5-speed manual transmission in a 2WD Compass, the 2.0-liter’s fuel-mileage estimate of 23/30 mpg looks inviting.
Handling qualities fall around mid-pack when compared against some modern rivals. Ride comfort earns a similar ranking. It’s not harsh by any means, but hardly cushiony, either, in the contemporary sense. Overall, we like the ride and handling of the Compass. It’s nimble and corners well, thanks to somewhat stiff shocks and springs and a hefty anti-roll bar. Even though the ride isn’t soft, it’s comfortable.
Along winding wooded roads, a Compass revealed itself to be steady and silent, with the suspension isolating the cabin from bumps and tosses. We aimed for potholes and weren’t jarred when we hit them. There was none of the old Jeep head-toss, or side-to-side jouncing, and no trace of wallow over ripples. The turn-in for corners was secure, with no play in the wheel or wandering.
In deeply rutted and muddy terrain, we found the Compass superior to most other compact SUVs, thanks to abundant ground clearance and plenty of traction.
With the Freedom Drive I all-wheel drive system, virtually all of the power goes to the front wheels. As traction is needed elsewhere, up to 60 percent can shift to the rear wheels. The coupling is through a two-stage clutch system that’s magnetic and electronically controlled, rather than viscous. The system also has a locking center differential.
With the Freedom Drive II system, it’s hard to imagine getting stuck in snow or mud. The locking differential can offer the best possible traction from a standing start, and the Brake Traction Control dabs the brakes (at lightning speed) at individual wheels to keep them from spinning. The locked differential keeps the torque evenly distributed at 50/50, up to 10 miles per hour. At that point the torque begins transferring again, as calculated by the electronic control module based on vehicle speed, turning radius, and wheel slip.
On loose, wet gravel roads that climbed, descended and twisted in every direction, a Compass didn’t skate on the slick round stones even with standard touring tires. When slamming the brakes at 40 mph, the ABS with rough-road detection worked hard but successfully.
Jeep Compass has a clean and well-thought-out interior and controls, with sporty fabric or classy leather. Ride and handling are solid. Compass offers useful cargo space with rear seats that are easy to fold down. The Freedom II off-road package enables the Compass to take on just about any terrain.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Pacific Northwest, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.