When Jeep rolled out the first-generation Compass compact crossover in 2007, it was based on the former Dodge Caliber front-drive car platform. Styling was created to look like a Jeep, yet the Compass (and its Patriot sibling) was really nothing more than a mainstream compact wagon with optional AWD hardware. Buyers didn’t seem to mind; Jeep has sold over 1 million of these crossovers in the past 10 years.
The second-generation Compass shares only its name with that previous model. Now based on the subcompact Renegade crossover chassis, the newest Compass still comes in value-priced FWD trim ($20,935), yet the engineering allows true offroading capabilities with AWD/4WD systems that include four-wheel-drive low range as well as several selectable drive modes for superior snow and off-road travel. Few crossover rivals have similar hardware.
Power for all models is provided by the FCA corporate 2.4-liter four-cylinder with automatic start-stop programming — which is more annoying than helpful — while three different transmissions are available. A six-speed automatic is the featured gearbox on front-drive Compasses, while a nine-speed automatic comes with 4WD models. An economical six-speed manual gearbox is optional on all but the top Trailhawk trim. EPA estimates for our mid-level Latitude 4WD ($25,390 base, $32,900 as shown) with the nine-speed are listed at 22/30/25 mpg. In our hands, the week averaged out at 27.1 mpg.
The most notable change to the latest Compass is the visual likeness to its larger Grand Cherokee sibling. The graceful lines and solid proportions define the Compass and lend an air of refinement and mass to what is truly a compact offering. In effect a four-fifths scale model of the Grand Cherokee, the Compass offers more passenger space than the tiny Renegade, while affording a larger rear seat and cargo area than the slightly longer Cherokee. After spending another seven days with the Compass (a Trailhawk model appeared here this spring) one important question arises: Why look at either the Renegade or the Cherokee if you don’t need the Grand Cherokee?
Like other FCA products of late, the interior design helps give the Compass an edge in a crowded marketplace. Ingress and egress are very convenient. Sight lines are generally very good, aided by a nice rear camera and park assist system. Controls are a simple combination of knobs, dials and buttons — even with an 8.4-inch U-Connect screen — while push-button start and keyless access are included. The console area could provide more space for traveling articles like cell phones and the like, yet seat comfort and the real rear-seat space provided compensate.
Added hardware seen here included a power rear liftgate ($495), cold weather package with heated seats and steering wheel ($695), the advanced safety group with advanced braking assist and forward collision warning, LaneSense lane departure, Bi-xenon headlamps with auto hi-beam control ($895), plus Safety and Security group with blind spot and cross path detection and rain-sensing wipers ($795). The Navigation group with stereo upgrades, Apple and Android Auto, and Sirius ($995), Power Equipment group with additional power sockets front and rear, power front seats, driver info panel and remote starting ($995), 18-inch wheel package ($895), as well as the nine-speed automatic ($1,500), round out a nicely equipped Latitude trim.
Nits include an electric parking brake that doesn’t like to let you move forward without your seat belt clipped on and a powertrain that is a notch below the best in this class in regards to both performance and power delivery, which is somewhat affected by the Compass’s excessive weight. Think smoother four-cylinder engines and turbocharging Jeep. At almost 3,700 pounds, this small wagon is heavier than many larger compact class crossovers.
These points are easily countered with the wagon’s pleasing styling, easy-driving manners, comfortable and functional cabin, as well as extra traction support afforded by the lockable four-wheel drive and selectable mode options. With more than 8 inches of ground clearance, this small Jeep provides real off-roading bona fides, which will also serve an owner well when the snow hides onroad from offroad. Layered with features and optional components, the Compass can be luxurious — and practical.
Exercise restraint with features choices, and the Compass just may be the best value in the whole Jeep lineup.