Jeep Compass, a front-wheel or all-wheel-drive compact crossover, is all new for 2018. Based on the sub-compact Renegade, the all-new 2018 Compass looks more like the midsize Cherokee, although it’s narrower (and slower).
Compass is powered by an aging and underwhelming 2.4-liter engine making 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque, mated to a 6-speed manual transmission, 6-speed automatic, or 9-speed automatic that isn’t as smooth as the new GM 9-speed.
But it handles well, and has a steady and comfortable ride on the standard 16-inch wheels and tires.
Compass is EPA rated at 26 Combined miles per gallon with front-wheel drive, 1 less mpg with all-wheel drive.
We most like the offroad Compass Trailhawk, which feels more like an authentic Jeep. It’s not serious about off-roading like the Wrangler or Cherokee, but the Compass Trailhawk beats other crossovers on the trails. It has higher bumpers for clearing rocks and climbing and descending ridges, along with one inch added ground clearance and more rugged all-terrain tires. Its 9-speed transmission locks into first gear with a 20:1 simulated crawl ratio, so you can go very, very slow, an important feature in rugged terrain.
Competitors include the Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mazda CX-5, Nissan Rogue, Chevrolet Equinox and GMC Terrain. Compact crossover is a tough game. That’s why the Trailhawk stands out.
Compass Sport ($20,995) is well equipped, with rugged fabric seats, rearview camera, full power equipment, air conditioning, two USB ports, keyless ignition, 16-inch wheels, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and a 5.0-inch touchscreen audio system. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
Compass Latitude ($24,295) adds 17-inch wheels, cloth/vinyl seats, roof rails, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and more available equipment packages. Among them are a sunroof, Beats audio, navigation, blind-spot monitors, power tailgate, 7.0-inch touchscreen, tow package, and a safety bundle including forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.
Compass Limited ($28,340) includes an 8.4-inch touchscreen, leather seats heated in front, 18-inch wheels, and an LCD screen in the instrument cluster.
All-wheel drive is available in these three models ($1500).
Compass Trailhawk ($28,695) comes standard with all-wheel drive and offroad rigging, including a 115-volt power outlet that’s useful for camping. But it also comes with leather, and upgraded infotainment.
The all-new Compass is quite attractive, faithfully copying the form and profile of the Cherokee only in about 7/8 scale. From the front, it looks more like the Grand Cherokee, having its seven-slot grille, with a black air intake below the body-colored bumper. There’s a lot of silver trim, but fortunately not the Cherokee’s thin grille and strange split headlamps.
The body looks sleeker with the optional black roof. Without the optional roof rack and alloy wheels, it looks very plain. The 17-inch wheels are big enough, 19-inch wheels overkill.
The Trailhawk brings some Jeep back into the Compass, with its higher ground clearance and all-terrain tires. But the nose and tail are less clean, with a front bumper that rises over a larger air intake; and horizontal silver trim on the liftgate that appears to have gotten lost on its way to the Limited.
The cabin speaks Jeep’s current design language, with a lot of pleasant curves and organic shapes. It’s well finished. Climate controls are neatly positioned on the center console below the infotainment screen, and over a big dial that sets the modes for the all-wheel drive.
The quality of materials is generally high, although it might be brightened with savvy trim packages. The dash panel is soft-touch plastic, and the substantial fabric seats in the Sport feel durable. The Latitude blends fabric and synthetic leather, while the Limited gets inexpensive leather.
But overall, the Compass doesn’t match its rivals. Headroom and legroom are good enough for four adults, but because it’s narrow like the sub-compact Renegade it’s based on, you can forget about five, at least in comfort. Even in the front, the occupants’ shoulders are close. And the seats need better padding in front and rear. Also, the headrests are angled too far forward, something manufacturers do to get better crash-test scores.
However the front seat is height adjustable (manual on the Sport, power on the Limited), which is useful for its versatility.
Despite its narrowness, the cabin feels sizable for a compact. There’s 27.2 cubic feet or cargo space behind the rear seat, which splits and folds to create more. But the cargo floor is 31.1 inches, a bit high for loading.
The Compass needs and deserves a better engine, to keep up with its ride and handling. Its 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque don’t sound so lame on paper, but on the road it struggles with more than two occupants. Add two more people and some gear in back, and it becomes work to keep the speed up.
The Sport and Latitude come standard with a 6-speed manual transmission, while the 6-speed automatic is optional. Unfortunately we haven’t driven a Compass with either of these transmissions, just the 9-speed automatic that we have found to be clunky in the Cherokee and other Chrysler models, especially downshifting for acceleration. So we might prefer the 6-speed automatic. By comparison, the new 9-speed in the GMC Terrain is smooth.
The independent suspension is tuned for comfort, except on the Trailhawk. But even the Trailhawk delivers a good ride. The Sport’s 16-inch wheels deliver the best ride, the Latitude’s 17-inchers are fine too, but with the 19-inch wheels the ride gets jittery.
There is some body lean, but the Compass still enters corners with confidence. The thick steering wheel suggests a level of sportiness that the chassis and steering don’t deliver, however. The Compass doesn’t handle like a Ford Escape or Mazda CX-5.
The Trailhawk offers something that the other compact crossovers don’t, never mind that it’s still only half-way to offroad. It’s a gentrified small Jeep, not a true-blue one. But it’s a nice compromise.
The raised bumpers give it higher approach and departure angles, but they detract from the clean styling. The one inch increased ground clearance gives it a total of 8.4 inches. The 9-speed automatic is programmed for rock crawling at very slow speed. But mostly, the traction control system adds two modes.
The Compass is one of the best looking compact crossovers. Its engine is dated and the 9-speed automatic lacks refinement. Ride quality is fine. The cabin is too narrow for comfort and the seat padding is too slim.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.