Jeep has an image, and it’s time to exploit it. The company had an amazing seventeen-year run with the Cherokee because people wanted a vehicle that could do the work of a wagon, but didn’t look like one. Sure it was a capable go-anywhere off-roader, but many of them never left the pavement. This is what helped start the SUV craze.
No matter how much Jeep builds a car to take the tough stuff, there will always be customers who only use its ability to park on lawns. That’s why the Compass exists. It has all the image of a normal rough-and-ready Jeep, but in a package that on-road customers want. Jeep isn’t selling out its heritage (anyone remember the original Jeepster?) There are plenty of other companies making crossover vehicles out there. Jeep is just giving its loyalists a vehicle they can drive when their commute is reduced to paved roads.
It’s hard to tell this is purely a city car from the outside. The Compass comes with the round headlights and vertical grille that instantly make it recognizable as part of the Jeep family. The Compass also has the squared off edges and slab sides that are Jeep hallmarks, and it makes the crossover look much taller as well.
Where the Compass breaks from traditional Jeep styling is also where it shows Jeep was definitely paying attention to detail. The design has a good flow that tapers up to the rear window. It adds a sleek element that isn’t seen on the other mud-happy Jeeps. Also the rear door handles are integrated into the C-pillar, which gives the Compass a more coupe-like profile.
Inside the Compass is a good job of contrasting. It has contrasting main colors (tan and black) as well as multiple contrasting textures of plastic. The result is very pleasing to the eye as well as the fingers.
Although we’ve been commenting about how much the Compass is a city car, the interior takes its cues from larger SUVs. The instruments are kept low, so the driver feels taller; the controls are set a little further back so the car feels longer; and the center console is set lower and made narrower to make everything feel wider. Because of this, the Compass feels like a much larger car than it drives.
Jeep’s slogan is, “There is only one Jeep.” In the case of the Compass this is irony, because there are actually two Jeeps, the Patriot and the Compass. These two cars share the same platform and come out of the same factory in Belvidere, Illinois, but they are very different. The Patriot is for the Jeep lover who is going to take the car off-road; the Compass is made for the urban assault.
We could tell our Compass was clearly tuned to be a city car. It’s nimble, has front-wheel drive, and was good on gas at 25 mpg. So we spent our time testing it in its home environment of urban areas. To keep the drive nimble, the ride wasn’t overly soft. But since we had more ground clearance than a car, our Compass had more suspension travel, which made it easier to handle the potholes.
The only engine available for Jeep is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine making 172 hp, which is more than enough in a crossover of this size. The car felt like it had power always ready on demand between the stoplights. The continuously variable transmission was also a big contributor to this feeling. Because the transmission is made of continuously varying ratios, instead of gears, there is a feeling that the engine stays in its power and torque “sweet spot” much longer.
Our Compass Limited topped out at $25,875 with the options such as leather, sunroof, 18-inch chrome wheels, and a lot of other goodies. This means we’ve got a nice car for little money to sit in traffic… and this Compass is likely to spend most of its life in traffic. That’s what we like about it. The Compass is being a city car and being unapologetic about it.
The Compass isn’t for everyone, and Jeep knows it. Jeep is making the sensible decision and splitting off two lines: the Patriot for the serious off-road driver, and the Compass for those who only occasionally carry their kayak or mountain bike. Although we hate to admit it, we are very much in the latter category. This means Jeep built the Compass really for us.