Pros: Reasonable price; good fuel economy; off-road capable; robust options list
Cons: Crude engine; slow acceleration; loud interior; awkward CVT transmission; average resale value
What's New: The 2013 Jeep Compass now earns an EPA-estimated 30 mpg on the highway when equipped with the 2.0-liter engine and 5-speed manual transmission.
The Jeep Compass may not be as well regarded as its big bothers, but it still has the heart and soul of a Jeep, albeit in a small, more fuel efficient package. When it comes to overall refinement, Jeep's compact SUV still lags behind industry favorites like the Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V. But the Compass model's recent infusion of upgraded exterior styling and interior design helps smooth over some of its more glaring shortcomings.
Bearing a striking resemblance to the popular Grand Cherokee (at least when viewed from the front), the Compass exudes an upscale look far exceeding its $20,000 starting price. And unlike many so-called 4-wheel-drive SUVs, this one actually has a Trail Rated system complete with a low-range gear set ideal for when the path ahead gets a bit hairy.
Although not as roomy as the Honda CR-V, the Jeep Compass can accommodate four adults and still have room for most of their gear. We like what Jeep has done with the Compass model's interior, especially on the more expensive models that offer such cool features as a rechargeable removable flashlight, flip-down tailgate speaker bar and a 9-speaker Boston Acoustic's sound system.
Along with its three trim levels (Sport, Latitude and Limited), the Compass offers a choice between two fuel efficient 4-cylinder engines, manual or CVT automatic transmission and front- or 4-wheel drive.
Comfort & Utility
Roughly the same size as the Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester, the Compass is a tidy package. It can seat five or accommodate up to 61 cu ft of cargo when the rear seat and the flat-folding front passenger's seat are folded down. Storage areas abound inside the Compass, with a large bin above the oversize glove box and a deep center console storage spot that's perfect for hiding cell phones and tablets, water bottles and assorted odds and ends. The carpeted cargo floor panel is reversible, providing an easy cleaning plastic surface for wet or muddy items.
As for comfort, the 2013 Jeep Compass can be equipped with all manner of unique options, including a flip-down speaker bar attached to the rear tailgate. With the gate open, the speakers can be aimed outward so everyone can enjoy their favorite tunes. There's also a removable rear cargo light that doubles as a rechargeable flashlight, as well as an available 115-volt, 2-prong outlet.
Cloth seats are standard. The Latitude and Limited get heated front seats. The Limited includes leather seating surfaces, automatic climate control and 18-inch bright aluminum wheels.
The Compass may be one of Jeep's most affordable models, but you can equip it like a mid-grade Grand Cherokee. The UConnect suite of electronic goodies includes Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity and voice commands to operate the audio and iPod controls. Opt for the Limited trim's navigation radio and you'll get maps by Garmin as well as the SiriusXM Travel Link, which provides gas prices, traffic, weather, sports and even movie schedules.
Standard equipment for the Compass includes fog lamps, heated power side mirrors, a tilt steering wheel and cruise control. The Limited trim adds a 6-way power driver's seat and a vehicle information center. Available on Latitude and Limited models is the 368-watt Boston Acoustics 9-speaker sound system complete with liftgate articulating speakers and a 90-watt subwoofer.
Performance & Fuel Economy
The Jeep Compass offers a choice of two fuel efficient 4-cylinder engines. The Sport and Latitude 4x2 models have a 2.0-liter engine producing 158 horsepower and 141 lb-ft of torque; the Sport can be equipped with a 5-speed manual transmission, while the Latitude has Jeep's CVT2 automatic variable-ratio transmission.
Standard on all 4x4 and Limited models, and available on 4x2 Latitude and Sport, is a more powerful 2.4-liter engine good for 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque. This engine can be teamed with a manual transmission, but only on the Sport. Fuel economy for the 2.0-liter engine is rated at 23-mpg city/30-mpg highway for the manual and 22/28 mpg with the CVT. The 2.4-liter is rated at 23/28 mpg with the manual transmission and 21/27 mpg with the CVT. The 4x4s lose about 1 mpg from each figure.
The Compass offers two 4x4 systems. One is pretty much a part-time setup that comes online only when the front wheels begin to slip. This is pretty much the same setup used by most of the Compass model's competition, with the exception of Subaru. The second system, called Freedom Drive II, uses a specially adapted CVT automatic transmission that includes a low-range gear set and a 19:1 crawl ratio for slow crawling over rocks or down steep grades.
Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock disc brakes, electronic traction and stability control, front and rear side curtain airbags and front-seat active head restraints. Available on all trims are front-seat-mounted side-impact airbags.
The Compass may look great on paper, but it quickly loses its luster once you experience the way it works in the real world. Neither engine choice offers much in the way of quick acceleration or smooth operation. The engines idle rough, have a coarse sound and generally feel crude. The CVT transmission, which holds the throttle wide open for prolonged periods and fills the cabin with raucous engine noise, doesn't help matters.
In ride and handling , things are a bit better. The Compass delivers a fairly stable and smooth ride, but its steering is vague, with lots of play in the wheel and a slow response time. At highway speed, there is a lot of road noise in the cabin, mostly from the tires.
Other Cars to Consider
Kia Sportage - The Sportage presents a sleeker package with a more modern interior, better handling and fuel economy and a lower price. But the Sportage's ride can be harsh, and it doesn't offer an off-road 4x4 system like the Compass's Freedom Drive II.
Ford Escape - The Escape offers better and more fuel efficient engine choices, a more modern design and more advanced electronic features, such as SYNC and Active Park Assist (automatically parallel parks the vehicle). But the Escape also costs much more than the Compass.
Nissan Rogue - The Rogue offers better road manners, a more powerful engine and better fuel economy than the Compass, but its styling is somewhat bland, and it cannot be taken off-road.
If you have your heart set on a Compass, your best bet is the Latitude with the 2.4-liter engine and the Freedom Drive II drivetrain. This model is nicely equipped and has access to the most desirable options, such as the articulating sound bar and Boston Acoustics audio. With the ability to rock crawl and venture off-road, the Compass has a leg up over vehicles like the Honda CR-V and Nissan Rogue, and the Latitude's price won't pinch your wallet too badly--a good fact to keep in mind, considering how the Compass model's value should diminish over time.