Adventure, familiar technology and off-road prowess are just a few ways to describe the 2013 Jeep Compass, an affordable small SUV that lets you take the path less traveled. This capable utility offers a true 4x4 setup that you won't find with the competition, which includes the Nissan Rogue, Kia Sportage or widely popular Honda CR-V.

Interior and Exterior

From the front, the Compass, with Jeep's signature 7-slot grille, bears a striking resemblance to its uprated Grand Cherokee sibling, and offers styling you would never think could go for under $20,000. But it does.

Within, you can expect features such as remote keyless entry, cruise control and illuminated cup holders, which make the humble 5-passenger Compass feel like a small luxury car. Take things up a notch with options including leather seating, a 368-watt 9-speaker sound system by Boston Acoustics and the Uconnect voice command system with Bluetooth.

Decent Power

The Compass's ride is smooth despite the road noise, and handling is quite good. But we wish the steering were a little more direct. Furthermore, the engine sounds rough and loud, especially with the continuously variable transmission (CVT) holding the throttle open way too long. That goes for both inline 4-cylinder engine offerings, the 158-horsepower 2.0-liter and the 172-hp 2.4-liter. But you can opt for a 5-speed manual on Sport models, which delivers a quieter and more engaging experience.

In 4-wheel-drive models, the basic 4x4 system kicks in when the front wheels begin to slip. But if you're planning any serious off-roading, we recommend the optional Freedom Drive II system that mates the 4x4 to a specially adapted CVT with a low-range gear set and crawl ratio.

Despite its downfalls, the Compass still gets respectable fuel economy. It ranges from 23 miles per gallon city/28 mpg hwy with the 2.0-liter, manual gearbox and front-wheel drive, down to 20 mpg city/23 mpg hwy with the 2.4-liter, CVT and 4-wheel drive. The base front-wheel-drive Compass Sport begins at $19,395. Move up to the 4-wheel-drive Limited and you'll spend $26,395 for starters.

If the call of the 2013 Jeep Compass is too wild to resist, consider the 2.4-liter Latitude (middle trim level) with the Freedom II off-road package your best bet. And then you can feel confident traveling well off the small SUV-beaten path.

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Jessica Shea Choksey is an automotive journalist and former writer/reporter for the PBS/Discovery Channel television series "MotorWeek." She began her career in journalism as an editor for numerous magazines and publications mainly outside of the automotive field. Jessica currently resides with her family, in Southern California.

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