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2018 Jeep Compass Review

2018 Jeep Compass Review
The 2018 Jeep Compass makes some compromises in size and power, but its Trailhawk model hits the crossover-SUV sweet spot.

The 2018 Jeep Compass crossover SUV splits the difference between the smaller Renegade and bigger Cherokee. It capitalizes on the looks of the Grand Cherokee, with a much lower price.

The Compass compromises interior space and power as it carves out that slim niche. It’s still worth a 6.3 on a scale of 10, thanks to its combination of clean lines, a well-damped ride, and its talented Trailhawk edition.

Jeep sells the Compass in Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited editions. It’s now completely out of the business of selling the old Compass, a hatchback that it confusingly sold alongside the new vehicle as a 2017 model. Forget it ever existed.

The new Compass gives every reason to do that, starting with its smartly conceived shape. Part Grand Cherokee, mostly at the front, it’s more in lockstep with the mid-size Cherokee in its urbane profile. Paint the roof a contrasting black and it stands out—and relieves a tendency toward a bulbous body. Inside, the Compass doesn’t stray far from Jeep’s current design themes. It’s laid out with care, and Jeep offers trim packages to brighten up its generally high-quality feel.

The sole engine is an underwhelming 180-horsepower 4-cylinder, teamed to a 6-speed manual or a 6-speed automatic or, in its best life, to a 9-speed automatic. No matter the gearbox, it struggles to pull when more than two passengers are on board. On the positive side, the Compass rides well with most tire-and-wheel combinations, though we’d be wary of the biggest 19-inch option. We’ve a special love for the Trailhawk model. Other Compass crossovers can have all-wheel drive, but the Trailhawk gets slimmer bumpers, a 20:1 simulated crawl ratio, an inch more of ground clearance, and more rugged all-terrain tires. It hits the sweet spot between crossover and SUV.

The Compass suffers compared to rivals inside. The cabin seems narrow like the Renegade, though leg room and even head room are ample for four adults. Five adults? Not if you like any of them. The seats could use better padding, front and back. In back, the split-fold rear seats open up a big cargo hold, but the cargo floor sits higher than some rivals.

Safety scores are mixed from federal and independent testers, but the Compass has a standard rearview camera and can be fitted with blind-spot monitors and forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking—the latter, standard or cheaper on Japanese-brand rivals. Adaptive cruise control is not offered. Touchscreen audio, USB ports, Bluetooth, and cloth seats are standard. In the mid-$30,000s, the Compass Limited has leather, navigation, and Beats audio.

Unremarkable but pleasant inside, the 2018 Jeep Compass has hints of Cherokee in its profile.

Underneath, the 2018 Jeep Compass has a lot in common with the pint-sized Renegade. From just about every other perspective, it’s more like the next-larger Jeep SUVs: the Cherokee and Grand Cherokee.

Which is to say, good on the Compass. We like the shape, and the interior’s styled well. It’s worth a 7 on our styling scale.

The Grand Cherokee references start up front. The Compass lifts its seven-slot grille treatment right from the patriarch of the Jeep SUV family, and guilds it with lots of metallic trim. It thus neatly avoids the visual tragedy of the mid-size Cherokee’s wan, thin grille and weird split headlights.

From the nose back, however, the Compass picks up much of the Cherokee’s surfacing and proportions. The roofline tapers a bit, the thick roof pillars turn up at the rear. Jeep paints the roof body color, or if you’re adventurous, in a shiny black that splits off from the body at a line of silver-toned trim. Base vehicles are plain, and need an optional trim pack with a roof rack and alloy wheels to look their part. Of course, the biggest 19-inch wheels look great, but they mess up the ride quality. (More on that later). Trailhawks get their own front and rear bumpers for better ground clearance, and rugged tires that scrape some tasty Jeep fond from the bottom of the pot.

Inside, the Compass follows Jeep's recent design language with lots of curves and organic shapes. Climate controls are grouped below the infotainment screen and in the center console, considerable real estate is taken up by a knob that modifies the traction assistance system's parameters. Jeep offers the Compass in some design-savvy interiors, but the light gray on some test models could be especially prone to marking.

Ride and handling goes into the Jeep Compass plus column, but power is mediocre.

The 2018 Jeep Compass deserves an engine that can show off its ride and handling talents.

While we give it a point above average for ride quality on its smaller wheel-and-tire combinations and one for its steering, we take one back for an underpowered 4-cylinder that leaves us wanting more. All told, it’s a 6 for performance.

The U.S.-spec Compass gets a dated 2.4-liter 4-cylinder with 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. On paper, the power ratings and displacement augur well, but on the road, the Compass labors under a load of just two passengers. Stuffed with stuff and people, it requires a constant, heavy right foot and patience.

A 6-speed manual comes with Sport and Latitude models. We haven’t driven one, or a Compass with the lower-budget 6-speed automatic. All the versions we’ve sampled have come with a 9-speed automatic, the same transmission that clunked and kludged in various Cherokees and other FCA vehicles we’ve driven. It’s more refined here, with much less obvious shift action. It’s mostly noticeable when it steps through a few cogs to tap deeper acceleration.

The Compass has an independent suspension on all models, and it’s set up for on-road comfort unless you spring for the tough-mudder Trailhawk model. Other Compass crossovers have a soft, compliant setup with the base 16-inch wheels, and don’t feel compromised by the slightly larger 17-inch setup.

Pay into the 19-inch wheel-and-tire sets, and the Compass’ ride gets busy and jittery. The Compass doesn’t need them. It metes out a fair amount of body lean, but sweeps confidently into curves. The steering wheel’s thick rim implies more sporty behavior that’s not present, but the Compass doesn’t need to thread the needle like an Escape.

Jeep Compass Trailhawk
The Trailhawk isn’t a true hardcore off-roader like a Wrangler, or even a Cherokee, but it’s a sweet compromise of off- and on-road talent.

Jeep lifts the Trailhawk’s suspension about an inch, for a net of 8.4 inches of ground clearance. It wears its own bumpers front and rear for improved approach and departure angles. Its 9-speed automatic simulates a low-gear range by locking into its ultra-low first gear; it translates into a 20:1 crawl ratio that suits light-duty trail-riding.

More importantly, Trailhawks add two more modes to the traction control system that proved useful on a special off-road course that Jeep built for the Compass’ global launch.

Comfort & Quality
A narrow cabin and a high cargo floor hamper the Jeep Compass’ utility, but it’s finished well.

Jeep tucks a sizable cabin into the Compass’ compact shape. Passengers will need to share close quarters—it’s called compromise, people—but they won’t emerge with permanent folds or creases they didn’t bring to the party.

We give the Compass a point above average for its well-finished interior, but it could use better front seats and seems narrower than rivals. It’s worth a 6 on our comfort and quality scale.

On every Compass, Jeep offers a driver seat with height adjustment. You’ll have to pay more for power driver assist, or for a height-adjustable passenger seat. In any case, the seats have small bottom cushions and don’t feel well-padded. They also have head restraints angled too far forward, one of the ways automakers aim for top crash scores. The front seats sit close together, a legacy of the Compass’ status as a spin-off of the petite Jeep Renegade. The narrow cabin could put two big passengers in shoulder contact.

The rear seats have good leg and head room, even with a panoramic roof installed, but they’re narrow, too. No three adults we know will fit at the same time in the Compass’ back seat. The seats fold down to expand cargo space from its 27.2 cubic feet, right in line with the Compass’ big competition, but the cargo floor sits at 31.1 inches, higher than many of those rivals.

Jeep applies care to the Compass’ interior, despite its $20,000-ish base price. The dash on all models wears soft-touch plastic, and the cloth seats on base Sport models feels durable and substantial. Mid-grade models blend cloth and synthetic material for a modern feel, and Limiteds get leather, even if it’s an inexpensive variety.

Crash scores for the 2018 Jeep Compass are mixed.

Federal and independent testers have different ideas when it comes to the 2018 Jeep Compass.

The IIHS calls it a Top Safety Pick after the Compass earned top "Good" scores on its crash tests, and its front crash prevention earned a "Superior" rating.

Federal testers tell a different story. The Compass earned a four-star overall rating, including a rare three-star rating for rollover safety in its calculated tests.

Starting from an average of 5, we add one point for the TSP nod, but take two back for the four-star overall rating and the three-star blemish. It earns a 4 out of 10. It narrowly misses making it back to the mean by bundling automatic emergency braking in a $1,640 package of options.

Every Compass has a rearview camera and Bluetooth. All but the Sport model can be fitted with blind-spot monitors and a bundle of safety technology that includes lane-departure warnings, active lane control, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and HID headlights.

Adaptive cruise control is not available on any model. It’s surprising, but not unheard of in this size class (GM’s Chevy Equinox/GMC Terrain omit the feature, too). Priced against Toyota RAV4s and Honda CR-Vs that make the features standard on most models, the Compass is too new to seem so out of date.

The Jeep Compass Trailhawk stands out in this crossover-SUV class, and all versions come well-equipped.

Jeep sells the Compass in Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited trim. Each of them has good standard equipment and choice in options. The Compass’ Trailhawk model is a standout, and so is its infotainment system.

With base prices checking in at about $22,000, the Jeep Compass Sport comes with power features, air conditioning, two USB ports, keyless ignition, 16-inch wheels, a rearview camera, cloth upholstery, Bluetooth with audio streaming, and a 5.0-inch touchscreen audio system.

At the Latitude trim level, the Compass gains 17-inch wheels, cloth/vinyl upholstery, roof rails, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, and access to a wide range of option packages. Among the features that can be added from Latitude models on up, Jeep offers a sunroof, Beats audio, navigation, blind-spot monitors, a power tailgate, a 7.0-inch touchscreen, a tow package, and a bundle that includes forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking.

The Compass Trailhawk has a 115-volt power outlet and leather seats, in addition to its specialty off-road hardware.

Limited Compass SUVs get an 8.4-inch touchscreen, leather seats, heated front seats, 18-inch wheels, and an LCD screen in the instrument cluster. Prices top out at about $35,000, right in line with other models such as the Ford Escape and Toyota RAV4.

The Compass incurs a destination charge of $1,095, one of the stiffest add-ons in the industry.

Fuel Economy
Every Jeep Compass earns EPA combined ratings of 25 mpg or more.

With the Compass, Jeep has a vehicle that’s competitive on fuel economy, even if it’s not the class leader.

The EPA says base Compass crossovers with front-wheel drive and a manual transmission check in at 23 mpg city, 32 highway, 26 combined. With all-wheel drive, ratings drop to 22/31/25 mpg.

Those figures also apply to the front-wheel-drive Compass with the automatic transmission.

With all-wheel drive and the automatic gearbox, the Compass’ ratings are 22/30/25 mpg.

All Compass crossovers with automatic transmissions have stop/start, which shuts off the engine to conserve fuel at stoplights.

Compass rivals like the Honda HR-V and CR-V post highway numbers somewhat higher.

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