Jim Meachens’ Motorway America

2020 Jeep Compass — Off-road capable

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman
Motorway America

When the second-generation Jeep Compass compact crossover hit showrooms in 2017 it didn’t have to clear a high bar to improve on the original car-based Compass, which debuted as a 2007model based on a front-drive platform. The original model wasn’t a particularly good car, carried very little go-anywhere equipment — the most un-Jeep-like model in Jeep’s storied off-road history.

Five years ago we were under the impression that Jeep was going to discontinue the slow-selling Compass, but perhaps because of the emerging popularity of the compact crossover segment, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) decided to build an all-new model. We drove a 2017 model nearly a thousand miles on a vacation trip and now, four years later, we landed a 2020 copy to road test on home turf. We found the second-generation Compass a big improvement in virtually every area over the original.

It’s now a credible entry in the compact segment with the ability to compete on a more level playing field. And the 2020 Compass has the off-road chops to call itself a true full-fledged Jeep. While the Compass has stiff competition and probably won’t persuade many buyers from choosing a Honda CR-V or Toyota RAV4, it also faces a challenge from its almost-same-sized stablemate, the Jeep Cherokee.

To get the most rugged Compass opt for the Trailhawk trim level that brings a lifted suspension, beefier tires, a more advanced traction control system, and underbody skid plates to protect vital components. These upgrades, along with a lockable center differential, hill descent control and a first-gear hold feature, make the Compass attractive to people who travel the unbeaten path. Numerous competitors in its class offer all-wheel drive, but very few can compare to the trail-rated capabilities of the Compass.

The Compass comes in four trim levels — Sport, Latitude, Limited and Trailhawk. There are also Altitude and High Altitude versions of the Latitude and Limited respectively that add unique exterior accents and a few extra features.

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 or, all-wheel drive configurations on the Sport and Latitude models, with the automatic transmission optional.

We found the engine-transmission combination a big advancement over the last-generation’s 172-horsepower 2.4-liter paired with a continuously variable transmission. But that being said, we thought the performance was lackluster and begged for more horsepower. The 180 horses just isn’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. Getting from 0 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.

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.

Luggage capacity with all seats in place is a decent 27 cubic feet. But this is not a model you would purchase for towing with capacity limited to 2,000 pounds.

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.

The Compass comes with a decent amount of standard equipment starting at $23,600 for the manual transmission model including a rather steep $1,495 destination charge. Standard are dual-zone climate control, height-adjustable front seats, a 7-inch touchscreen, a six-speaker sound system, and USB ports for both the first and second rows. But note that the base Compass with automatic transmission, which most people desire, jumps to $25,100. The Compass tops out at $33,395 for the High Altitude version of the Limited trim level.

Our 4X4 Latitude test vehicle carried a bottom line of $35,805 with a slew of options. Included were the automatic transmission for $1,500; navigation with 8.4-inch display, $1,345; polished black aluminum wheels, $995; and the Advanced Safety Group, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and collision warning, $945.

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.

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