2020 Jeep Compass

PHOENIX — All new for the 2017 model year, the second-generation Jeep Compass is decidedly more upmarket than the vehicle it replaces. Slotted between the subcompact Jeep Renegade and compact Jeep Cherokee, the Compass – with looks that mimic the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee – is, in our opinion, the better looker.

New for 2020 are numerous minor updates, including new Alpine premium audio speakers optional on Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk trim models, and safety and security group (with gloss black exterior mirrors, blind-spot monitoring with rear cross path detection, ParkSense rear park assist system, rain-sensing windshield wipers and vehicle theft security alarm) now optional on the Sport model.

Also optional on the Sport model is the advanced safety group that includes a leather steering wheel, forward collision warning-plus, lane departure warning-plus, auto high-beam headlamps, adaptive cruise control, advanced brake assist, and auto-dimming rearview mirror.

We drove the upmarket Compass Limited 4X4 that, for the first time, is available with a new luxury seat package that includes power-adjustable driver’s seat, seat memory, and ventilated front seats. The Compass starts at just $23,600; our Limited trim had a starting price of $29,900, but climbed to almost $40,000 with optional equipment.

A 2.4-liter, 180-horsepower four-cylinder engine teamed with a nine-speed automatic transmission powers all Compass trim levels. A six-speed manual shifter is standard in either front-and all-wheel drive configurations on the Sport and Latitude models, with the automatic transmission optional.

In our weeklong testing, we thought the engine performance was anemic and begged for more horsepower. The 180-horsepower just wasn’t enough. The nine-speed automatic transmission seemed too much for the small four-cylinder and often struggled to find the right gear in a timely fashion when called upon. Our realized fuel economy of 24 mpg overall was about average for the class. Getting from zero to 60 mph takes about nine seconds.

Conversely, the ride was compliant and felt mostly composed. Still, it fell short of competitors in the class and we noted excessive body roll on curvy roads and when cornering. Brakes performed well with short stops on dry roads. Absent wet pavement, we were unable to evaluate their stopping capability.

The highlight of the Compass is its off-road four-wheeling capabilities. Numerous competitors in its class offer all-wheel drive but none can compare to the trail-rated capabilities of the Compass. We spent time on very challenging off-road trails in Arizona’s Butcher Jones State Park where our 4X4 Limited handled the deep sand, boulder-strewn trails and steep incline and decline roads. Here, the Jeep Compass at its best but know that it still falls well short of its siblings Jeep Wrangler, Cherokee and Grand Cherokee when it comes to off-road performance.

There is a Compass Trailhawk trim level that adds more off-road goodies including more aggressive tires, hill-descent control, increased ride height, skid plates, standard Jeep Active Drive Low 4x4, 20:1 crawl ratio and increased towing capability, and distinguishing red tow hooks front and rear beneath the bumper.

The Compass comes in a choice of eight different trim levels, all two-rows with seating for five. Driver visibility is good, but the seats are short and not as comfortable as those in most competitors. The back seat is tight, and the seating position feels awkward. There are plenty of soft touch materials throughout the cabin with attractive styling and what appeared to be good build quality. On lower trim levels, the cabin is Spartan with upper grades much more attractive, as expected.

The highlight of the interior is Jeep’s Uconnect® infotainment system with its user-friendly 8.4-inch interface with excellent color and high-resolution graphics. Its menus are straightforward, intuitive and simple to learn and use. You can easily customize the screen and there are redundant adjacent buttons and knobs conveniently placed alongside the screen. Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto are standard; ditto for navigation.

Overall the Jeep Compass is light years better than the previous generation and literally leaves compact crossover competitors in its dust when off-road. It’s also one of the best-looking vehicles in the Jeep stable.  But its underpowered engine, fussy transmission, less than desirable handling, and generally subpar driving characteristics significantly detract from its overall desirability. If you’re unlikely to take to off-road driving fun, most competitors might be a better choice as a daily driver.

Vital Stats
Base Price: $22,105 - $30,985
Price as Tested: $39,130
Engine/Transmission: 2.4-liter 180-hp 4-cylinder teamed with a 9-speed automatic transmission
Seating: 5

Crash Test Ratings: Overall four out of a possible five stars from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration and an overall “Good” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety

Where Built: Toluca, Mexico

Competes With:
Chevrolet Equinox
Ford Escape
Honda CR-V
Hyundai Tucson
Kia Sportage
Mazda CX-5
Nissan Rogue
Subaru Forester
Toyota RAV4

Fab Features:
Capable off-road creds
Attractive Styling
Excellent Uconnect infotainment system

— Jim Prueter