The 2014 Jeep Compass may not be as well-regarded as its big brothers, but it still claims to have the heart and soul of a Jeep, albeit in a smaller, more fuel-efficient package. When it comes to overall refinement, however, Jeep's compact crossover still lags behind almost every crossover on the market. To be fair, the Compass's recently upgraded exterior and interior design helps smooth over some of its more glaring shortcomings, while the new-for-2014 6-speed automatic transmission is an improvement over the whiny old continuously variable automatic (CVT).
Resembling the popular Grand Cherokee SUV, the Compass does look tougher than your average compact crossover. And like every Jeep model, this one offers Trail-Rated status, meaning it has the potential to be a capable off-road performer -- a rarity in this class.
What's New for 2014?
The Compass gets standard front-side airbags, an available rearview camera, and a new 6-speed automatic transmission that replaces the CVT on most models.
What We Like
Reasonable base price; respectably off-road capable with Freedom Drive II
What We Don't
Unrefined engines; poor crash-test scores; old-fashioned drum brakes on lower trims; questionable resale value
$19,490 to $28,490
The base Compass engine is a 2.0-liter 4-cylinder rated at 158 horsepower. Front-wheel drive is the only layout offered. It's available with either a 5-speed manual transmission or a new 6-speed automatic transmission for 2014. With the manual, it returns 23 miles per gallon city/30 mpg hwy, while the automatic yields 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy -- about the same as last year's CVT.
Also offered is a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder that makes 172 hp. Front-wheel drive is standard, but two different all-wheel-drive-systems can be specified, including the off-road-ready Freedom Drive II, which retains the old CVT and features simulated low-range gearing. All other 2.4-liter Compass models get either the 5-speed manual or the 6-speed automatic. Fuel economy starts at 23 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with the manual (oddly, it's rated the same for both front- and all-wheel drive), dropping to 21 mpg city/28 mpg hwy with the 6-speed automatic (21 mpg city/27 mpg hwy with all-wheel drive) and 20 mpg city/23 mpg hwy with Freedom Drive II and its CVT.
Standard Features & Options
The 2013 Jeep Compass is available in base Sport, mid-grade Latitude or top-of-the-line Limited trim.
The Sport ($19,490) starts with 16-inch wheels, fog lights, cruise control, air conditioning, a tilt-adjustable steering wheel and a 4-speaker audio system with an auxiliary audio input.
The Latitude ($23,190) classes things up with a leather-wrapped steering wheel with auxiliary controls, heated seats (including driver height adjustment), reclining rear seatbacks and a 115-volt power outlet.
The Limited ($26,490) tacks on the 2.4-liter engine (optional on other trims), 18-in chrome wheels, an auto-dimming rearview mirror with a universal garage-door opener, leather seats (with driver power adjustments), a trip computer, automatic climate control and an upgraded sound system with satellite radio.
Specifying the Freedom Drive I all-wheel-drive system bumps prices up by $2,000 for 2014, accounting for the high end of the price range cited above. Freedom Drive II, which adds simulated low-range gearing, skid plates, an oil cooler and other off-road-oriented driving aids, is available at additional cost, as are a sunroof, a touchscreen infotainment interface with digital music storage, a navigation system (Limited only), a USB port, Bluetooth, a rearview camera and premium Boston Acoustics audio (with flip-down tailgate speakers).
Standard safety equipment includes anti-lock brakes with 4-wheel discs on all-wheel-drive models but inferior rear drums on front-wheel-drive models (except Limited FWD), stability control and six airbags (front, front-side and full-length side curtain).
Last year's Compass received a disappointing three stars overall in government crash tests, including three stars for frontal impacts and four for side impacts. However, the tested models lacked the then-optional front-side airbags, which are standard for 2014 -- and the government has yet to test a 2014 Compass. Nonetheless, the 2014 Compass was tested for frontal impacts and received the same 3-star frontal rating as last year, so it will remain a subpar safety performer regardless.
Behind the Wheel
The Compass may look cool on paper and in pictures, but it quickly loses its luster once you experience it in the real world. Neither engine accelerates well, and both are rather crude and loud. The new 6-speed automatic is more satisfying than the CVT, but a heavy foot still yields more noise than forward progress.
While the Compass delivers a fairly smooth ride, its steering is vague, with lots of play in the wheel and slow response time. Around the cabin, the interior appointments are unimpressive as well. The Compass has some neat features, but it's not exactly a car that makes you want to take the long way home -- unless you have Freedom Drive II, we suppose, though that means you're stuck with the CVT.
Other Cars to Consider
Kia Sportage -- The Sportage presents a sleeker package with a more modern interior, better handling and fuel economy.
Ford Escape -- The Escape handles like a Focus on stilts, which is essentially what it is, and its technology offerings are top-notch.
Mazda CX-5 -- The CX-5 is the most rewarding compact crossover to drive on pavement, and its fuel economy puts the Compass to shame.
Jeep Wrangler -- None of the three crossovers mentioned above have any off-roading pedigree, but if that's what you're after, why not just get the real thing? The iconic Wrangler continues to be a best-seller because there's no substitute for its go-anywhere, fun-in-the-sun skill set.
Despite the lackluster CVT, we'd suggest taking a look at the Freedom Drive II off-road package, as there's little else to recommend this Jeep given the strength of its competition.