Jeep Compass — Power to the people

By David Boldt

(June 26, 2023) At the base of the Compass windshield (on the driver’s side) is etched the profile of a World War II Jeep; that, after all, is the origin of the Jeep story, developed for the U.S. military immediately prior to World War II, and soon serving in both European and Pacific fronts. After the war civilian versions (known as the CJ) were used by hunters, fishermen and what we’d later call outdoorsmen in pursuit of their God-given right to get-the-hell out of the house.

That civilian Jeep is today’s Wrangler, while the 4-door hatch Jeep’s team calls the Compass shares little more with World War II than a 4-letter word — Jeep.

Of course, if what we once knew as Chrysler wants to rub elbows in the marketplace with the CR-Vs and RAV4s, it’s hard-pressed to do that with a Dodge — although Dodge will get its chance with the just-released Hornet. As both brand and umbrella, Jeep is Certified Gold; not only does the Stellantis division drive volume, its outdoor vibe generates big profits. So, the decision to dub a smallish, land-based crossover "Jeep" is a no-brainer, even when (ostensibly) the product team knows better. With that, Jeep gives us a compact crossover it calls Compass — and following a stylistic refresh in 2022 gives us more power (or as they say in Michigan, Mo Par!) for 2023.

The footprint for the Compass sits between Jeep’s Renegade and Cherokee, and dimensionally is almost an identical overlay with Nissan’s now-discontinued Rogue Sport. With an overall length of 173 inches, it sits on a wheelbase of 104 inches — and weighs 3,300 pounds with its now-standard all-wheel drive.

In short(!), this is a relatively tidy package, and if its spec doesn’t work on the trails of Moab, it’ll work quite well while parallel parking on Main Street. That’s abetted by a reasonably generous greenhouse, along with minimal front and rear overhangs. And thankfully, it avoids both the cartoonish profile of the smaller Renegade, along with the love it/hate it sheetmetal of Jeep’s about-to-be-discontinued Cherokee.

The big news for 2023 is the standard fitment of a 2.0 liter turbocharged four, similar to what is under the hood of the more performance-oriented Hornet. In Compass tune it delivers a relatively conservative 200 horsepower and 221 lb-ft of torque, along with an EPA estimate of 24 City/32 Highway/27 Combined. Acceleration is adequate (although that comes with a slightly labored audio…), highway cruising is relaxed, and in both highway and stop-and-go driving we netted roughly the same 27 miles per gallon the EPA suggested. Of course, all of the above is good, but at a time when CR-V and RAV4 hybrids will consistently deliver 40, the Jeep’s significantly lower number seems sooooo last century.

Inside, the Compass provides an interesting contrast with our personal ’06 Grand Cherokee, which (this week) shares the driveway. Given its off-road attributes, the GC sits higher, making getting inside a climb. And for rear seat passengers, the abbreviated rear door makes for a tighter squeeze getting in, and supplies less rear seat legroom once inside. The Compass works surprisingly well for four adults, and not surprisingly, won’t work at all for five adults; for that fifth there’s presumably Uber…

The driver will find legible instrumentation and a comfortably-sized wheel. In lower trims the standard touchscreen measures 8.4 inches, while up-spec variants receive a 10-inch unit. With HVAC controls mounted separately below the touchscreen, most processes are fairly intuitive. And if there is confusion, bring along a grandchild…I do. 

Behind the second row is 27 cubic feet of cargo space, while folding that second row gives you 60 cubic feet, adequate for a bike or (perhaps) a small piece of furniture. And as a crossover there are always roof rails, which are easier to reach given the crossover’s relatively low height.

Of course, the above goodness comes with a price, and given that we’re talking Jeep that price is elevated, beginning — with the base Sport trim — at $30K, and quickly hitting $40,000, which was the sticker on our well-equipped Latitude Lux. Despite its relative lack of efficiency, I like the content of the Compass, and its utility. Find a base Sport for no more than $30K (and expect some incentives from Jeep) and I think it makes a compelling argument for those city folks wanting to occasionally venture out.

But don’t go too far out…’cause it’s not really a Jeep.