The Jeep Compass combines competence and predictable maneuverability with smooth powertrains and an ample selection of standard equipment at affordable prices. Fuel economy is not a strong point, however, and the 2016 Compass is a dated product lacking the latest technology and safety features.
Compass was launched as a 2007 model and updated for 2011. The 2016 Jeep Compass lineup has been trimmed to two levels: Sport and Latitude. Though dated, the current-generation Compass has been refined and considerably improved since its introduction.
All 2016 Compass models come with Uconnect hands-free calling and satellite radio compatibility. The 2016 Compass Sport SE is a new package with heated cloth front seats, 18-inch wheels, and rearview camera. The High Altitude Package remains as an option for four-wheel-drive models with automatic. It offers most of the features from the previous Limited model, plus a sunroof and chrome-clad alloy wheels.
The Compass profile is essentially trapezoidal, subdued by soft detailing. For 2011, Compass adopted styling cues from the big Grand Cherokee.
The interior has been updated with elements used on other Jeep and Dodge vehicles.
Base engine is a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter four-cylinder with a choice of 5-speed manual gearbox or optional 6-speed automatic transmission. Limited models use a 172-horsepower 2.4-liter engine with a 6-speed automatic.
Jeep continues to offer the CVT. In fact, it’s the only choice if you want the highly capable Trail Rated four-wheel-drive system. That combination stands ready to churn through dirt or sand, and engage in moderate rock-crawls, though not with the capability of a Wrangler.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives Compass only three stars for frontal crash, four stars for rollover and overall, and five in side-impact testing.
Compass Sport ($19,495) comes with air conditioning, manual windows and door locks, cruise control, foglamps, illuminated cupholders, and 16-inch wheels. All-wheel drive ($2,000) is available and comes with 17-inch wheels. Compass Sport SE ($21,740) comes with heated cloth mesh front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, 18-inch Mineral Gray wheels, and rearview camera. (All prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Compass Latitude ($23,795) gets power windows and locks, keyless entry, heated cloth front seats, 60/40-split reclining rear seats, 115-volt inverter, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel. Compass High Altitude ($24,790) includes leather-trimmed seating, a sunroof, six-way power driver’s seat, and 17-inch chrome-clad wheels.
Safety features include active front head restraints and electronic stability control.
Essentially obsolete, the Compass has been available for a decade, without a significant redesign. Yet, it doesn’t seem quite as outmoded as its years suggest. That’s because a number of notable changes took place for 2011, sprucing up some of the awkward elements of the original design. 2015 brought some detail changes, led by a new grille.
Overall, Jeep’s smallest crossover looks somewhat like a miniature Grand Cherokee. Boxy-looking wheelwells and an ungraceful rear uptick stem from the early Compass, now in a softer form. A few imperfect angles remain evident, yet the elements fit together better.
Taken as a whole, the cockpit comes across as straightforward and functional. One oddity makes it seem especially dated: Occupants sit well below the beltline, in contrast to the configurations found in most modern crossovers, including the Jeep Renegade.
As a result, the dashboard seems high. The comparatively low seating position makes visibility a challenge when parking or changing lanes. That makes the rearview camera a compelling option for the Compass.
Front-seat comfort is adequate, but no more. Worse, the back bench is one of the hardest and flattest that we’ve ever tested in a vehicle of this type.
Acoustic laminated front windshield glass helps control engine noise, which has been an issue from the start. At least, noise levels have improved lately.
Sensibly laid-out, the interior has such appealing features as outward-facing tailgate speakers. All told, though, the cabin ranks near the rear of its class in detailing and refinement.
Cargo space is in short supply, though rear seatbacks flip forward easily.
The Compass drives nicely, though its main distinction is its off-highway capability.
While a 5-speed manual gearbox is available, the 6-speed automatic is nicely refined and impressively responsive, so it gets our recommendation for most buyers. The automatic has a high top gear that helps highway fuel economy, plus a low-ratio first gear for more spirited launches. Manual shifting is available, too. While drivability with the manual gearbox is decent, a notchy shifter and imprecise clutch action takes much of the joy out of manually shifting.
Partly because it incorporates a Low range, the CVT is required if you want a Trail Rated badge and the best off-road system: Freedom Drive II four-wheel drive. With that setup, a Compass can undertake far more off-road situations than most crossovers of its size.
Ride and handling are fine in most street and highway conditions. With its short wheelbase, the Compass can feel busy over imperfect pavement. The ride leans toward the harsh end of the spectrum, making it feel more like being in a small car than in a compact crossover. Steering is weighted well enough; but here, too, a Compass drives like a tall small car.
Two distinct all-wheel-drive options are offered. Freedom Drive I is more basic, simply providing rear-wheel torque when needed. Freedom Drive II is more effective, teamed with a CVT that includes a low range.
Compared to most newer rivals, the Jeep Compass trails in fuel economy. With manual shift and the 2.0-liter engine, Compass is EPA-rated at 23/30 mpg City/Highway. Automatic and all-wheel drive drop the estimate to 21/27 mpg City/Highway. Pick Freedom Drive II, and mileage sinks to 20/23 mpg.
The 2016 Jeep Compass is a dated product with little to distinguish it other than off-highway capability. Look for deals or wait for the next-generation Compass.
Driving impressions by Bengt Halvorson, The Car Connection. James M. Flammang contributed to this report.