12/12/18 Editor's note: While this review is for the 2018 Compass, Jeep updated the Compass for the 2019 model year. While minor, the changes addressed some of our key complaints. We now rank the Compass 2/5 stars versus the previous 1/5-star rating.
- The nine-speed automatic transmission now has a rev-matching feature and it's designed to reduce downshift times.
- The previously-unavailable adaptive cruise control has been added an option package.
- The standard UConnect screen has been upgraded to 7.0 inches from five inches and includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto as standard on all trims.
Autolist rating: 2/5
But would we buy it? Probably not*
Price range: $22,540 - $30,640
- Redesigned for 2017.
- Jeep’s middle child of its crossover lineup and arguably the best-looking.
- Woeful nine-speed transmission should be skipped; choosing the six-speed is wise.
- Gets expensive as soon as you add any options.
- Not awful but key missteps mean it can't compete in a brutally competitive segment.
What is it?
The compact Compass is Jeep’s tweener crossover – it sits in the middle of the lineup above the Renegade and below the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.
There are five trim levels of the Compass: the base Sport, Latitude, Altitude, the rugged Trailhawk version and the loaded Limited trim.
All models have a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard on front-wheel-drive models, while all-wheel-drive models, like the one we tested, come with a nine-speed automatic transmission.
Upgrading to that AWD and nine-speed transmission combo will run you an extra $1,500, though the Trailhawk version comes standard with a more sophisticated and off-road-ready AWD system.
The Compass was redesigned for the 2017 model year from the ground up: the interior and exterior design is entirely new, as are the powertrains. This second-gen model was a big leap for the Compass, especially in style and refinement.
The Compass competes against the Nissan Rogue Sport, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Mazda CX-5, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, Hyundai Tucson and Volkswagen Tiguan.
TLDR: Good power, great interior, rugged looks.
— The interior. Not only is the Compass interior refined, well-built and quiet on the highway, but there’s also more than enough space inside -- rear seats, cargo area -- for all your Jeep-inspired adventures (and Costco runs). The optional UConnect infotainment system is at the top of its class. One caveat: storage space in the center console -- for purses, backpacks or laptop bags -- is seriously lacking.
— Engine power. The engine in the Compass isn’t any more powerful than its rivals, yet this Jeep always serves up robust acceleration that feels better than most in this class.
— Hey handsome. Though it has some serious competition in the looks department (namely the Mazda CX-5, Chevy Equinox and upcoming 2019 Toyota RAV4), the Compass certainly holds its own. It has all of the current Jeep design cues while balancing sophistication and ruggedness -- a combination that isn’t easy to pull off.
TLDR: Awful nine-speed transmission, engine gets coarse, numb handling.
— Transmission interrupted. The nine-speed gearbox on our test model was a complete dud. It would keep the car in too high a gear in city driving, causing the engine to rev high and loud, and it needed multiple downshifts and way too much time to find any meaningful passing power on the freeway. A good transmission is invisible in its operation; this one was the opposite, always reminding it was there with its poor performance.
— Engine refinement. While we liked the engine’s power around town and in acceleration from a dead stop, we didn’t like how its refinement runs out when you push it hard, resulting in a noisy and buzzy experience.
— It’s no dancer. The Compass has Jeep-worthy, offroad chops, but its steering and handling on the road (you know, where you’ll actually use it) is a bit numb and uninspired. Peers like the Mazda CX-5 and Ford Escape are far better in this regard.
5 stars of execution:
- The independent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) rates the second-generation Compass a Top Safety Pick, its second-highest designation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives the Compass four out of five stars, when many of its peers earned five stars.
- The Compass -- despite only being on the market for two years now -- also has four recalls on its record.
- Safety tech that is standard on rivals (pre-collision braking, lane-keep assist) costs extra on the Compass, and it doesn’t even offer radar cruise control as an option on the base model.
- We were torn over whether to give the Compass a star for safety, but ultimately, the lack of standard safety gear, its recall record and the lack of a five-star rating from NHTSA pushed this into the NO category.
- Things start out great for the Compass’ value: the entry-level, front-wheel-drive Sport model starts at a cool $22,540 -- a worthwhile sum for any vehicle in this segment.
- But things quickly deteriorate from there. Many items that should be standard -- and are standard on most competitors of the Compass -- are extra on all trim levels. Our Latitude tester -- the mid-level trim of the lineup -- topped out at a pricey $34,445 after options.
- Despite not having a turbocharged engine like some of its peers, the Compass still stays competitive in fuel economy.
- Our all-wheel-drive test model was rated by the EPA at 22/30/25 mpg city/highway/combined.
- During our week with the Compass, we averaged 20 mpg in mixed city and highway driving.
Driving experience? YES
- The 2018 model's transmission was the biggest culprit here, robbing the Compass of most of its driving enjoyment. It was too slow, poorly programmed and simply unrefined. This was the biggest turnoff of the entire Compass experience.
- But as we mentioned, Jeep addressed this issue for 2019, so we now rate this as a YES.
- If you can look past the transmission issues -- or opt for a front-wheel-drive model with the six-speed automatic -- you’ll likely be a much happier camper, thanks to the engine power and refinement.
- We really wanted to like the Compass. The styling is top-notch, and the size is perfect for a crossover: easy to drive around town on a daily basis but big enough inside for all your adventures.
- The interior comfort and refinement are also top-notch.
- But it lacks crucial active safety tech and it's expensive.
Total Rating: 2 stars
What’s it gonna cost me?
The base Sport trim starts at $22,540, including destination, and comes with a five-inch, touchscreen infotainment system, Bluetooth connectivity, keyless entry, power mirrors, and a 3.5-inch digital display screen in the instrument panel.
The Latitude trim -- the one we tested -- starts at $25,840, including destination. It adds vinyl seats, fog lamps,17-inch alloy wheels, a leather-wrapped steering wheel and automatic headlights.
Our tester then heaped on the options, including all-wheel drive, the $1,095 Navigation Group (navigation, Fiat Chrysler’s now-excellent UConnect 8.4-inch, touchscreen infotainment system and other connectivity goodies), the $1,095 Popular Equipment Group (power driver’s seat, digital instrument panel display, remote start), the $1,500 nine-speed transmission and the $1,295 panoramic roof.
This came to a total of $34,445 for what should be the mid-grade version of the Compass.
The Trailhawk is the off-roading bad boy of the Compass lineup, and it starts at $29,720. It brings off-road tech like hill descent control, a more sophisticated and capable all-wheel-drive system, drive-mode settings for snow, sand, mud and rocks, a heavier duty suspension with one-inch increased ride height, skid plates and beefier tires.
Inside, the Trailhawk adds leather seats, an 8.4-inch, touchscreen infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, Sirius Satellite Radio and a seven-inch color screen in the instrument panel.
The Limited starts at $29,140 for the front-wheel-drive version. It adds to the Trailhawk’s interior upgrades things like leather seats, heated steering wheel, a remote start system and eight-way power front seats.
So how would we spec it? We’d start with a front-wheel-drive Latitude, since that gets you the six-speed automatic transmission. Then we’d add the Navigation Group, the Popular Equipment Group, the Safety and Security Group and the Advanced Safety Group for a total of $30,020. Not cheap, but it gives you plenty of comfortable goodies and safety gear without walking the price too high.
The Jeep Compass competes in one of the highest volume segments in the industry, so you know the competition is going to be fierce.
Our overall pick in this segment is the Honda CR-V that was redesigned for 2017. It does everything well, has class-leading safety and is competitively priced.
Toyota has a new RAV4 coming out for 2019 that looks excellent on paper.
Hyundai’s Tucson is getting a little old in its lifespan, but it too is very well-rounded, and it’s also one of the better-styled models in the segment.
Chevy’s Equinox earns praise for its style and overall execution, but like the Jeep Compass, the Equinox can get pricey.
Mazda’s CX-5 is easily the best-looking and the best-handling, but it’s down on space relative to most of its competitors.
The Ford Escape is quite old at this point, and while it’s managed to stay competitive, many of its peers do everything it does but better.
Though we were unimpressed by our experience with the particular Compass we tested, buyers who opt for a different trim level and features will likely be happier. Front-wheel-drive, the six-speed automatic and the right options should give you a better experience at a more competitive price.
Still, compact crossovers like the Compass are the hottest segment in the i
dustry so there are certainly better options for you to choose, no matter what you're looking to get out of your vehicle.