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2018 Jeep Compass Test Drive Review
With so many competing small SUVs, the 2018 Jeep Compass stands out by offering plenty of versatility and the ability to venture where few other compact crossovers dare.
The Jeep Compass is technically listed as a compact SUV, but it costs less than any other vehicle in the segment. In fact, in terms of pricing and other statistics, the Compass is actually positioned between compact SUVs and subcompact SUVs—two red-hot vehicle segments with plenty of stiff competition. So what does the Compass offer that helps it stand out amongst all these vehicles?
The 2018 model year marks the sophomore year of the second generation of the Jeep Compass. It replaces an outgoing vehicle that more or less limped on for a decade. The first-generation Compass was born out of dismal years at Chrysler. In fact, that original Compass was actually based on the Dodge Caliber chassis—and represents a time both Jeep and Dodge would probably like everyone to forget.
Look and Feel
One of the major trends in automotive design in 2018 is the “in-family” design ethos. It’s no longer enough for vehicles to look similar to one another—they must look nearly identical. In that context, the 2018 Compass essentially looks like a baby Grand Cherokee. That family resemblance is a very good thing, as the smaller Compass will need that sharp styling to stand out against popular compact SUVs such as the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Toyota RAV4, Chevy Equinox, and Ford Escape, not to mention the Volkswagen Tiguan, Mazda CX-5, and Kia Sportage.
When you look at its pricing, the Compass could also compete with the Honda HR-V, Mazda CX-3, Subaru Crosstrek, and even Jeep’s own Renegade. One of the few vehicles that actually fits in the same size/price category as the Compass is the Nissan Rogue Sport—the new, shortened version of the Rogue. In terms of height, length, and width, the two are only an inch or two apart at times.
Unlike many of the more car-like soft-roaders, the Compass has an upright driving position. This provides great visibility but also the confidence of being higher above the road. Combined with its chunky steering wheel and upscale interior design, the Compass really feels like the larger Jeep Grand Cherokee from behind the wheel—albeit with a smaller center console. True to form, it has plenty of cubbies and compartments for all your gear. Trims for the Compass are Sport, Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited. The base Sport trim comes standard with a reversing camera, push-button start, Bluetooth connectivity (with voice control), 6 speakers, and a 5-inch Uconnect touchscreen display.
The Sport also comes standard with USB and Auxiliary ports. These jacks are located prominently in the center console and do not feature covers like some competitors. This makes more sense, as it eliminates one step to connecting a phone. If you need to pair that phone via Bluetooth, the process is incredibly easy, with minimal lag.
We drove the mid-range Latitude trim. It comes standard with all the features from the Sport, plus automatically activating headlights, integrated roof rails, and 17-inch aluminum wheels. Inside, the Latitude features chrome interior finish, ambient LED lighting, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shift knob.
If you're looking for something a bit more upscale, the Limited is positioned as the Luxury version of the Compass. It features plenty of chrome accents, chrome roof rails, chrome door handles, and chrome mirror housings. It also has 18-inch aluminum wheels, which add a lovely visual touch.
In the cabin, the Limited features leather seating, heated and ventilated front seats, an 8-way power driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rear-view mirror, and the large 8.4-inch Uconnect multimedia display. A piano black bezel surrounds the Uconnect screen, as well as climate control vents.
As its name suggests, the Trailhawk trim is for getting off the beaten path. It sets itself apart from the rest of the lineup with unique red tow hooks, a blacked-out hood, unique badging and grille, and features like skid plates, off-road tires, and unique 17-inch wheels.
Only one engine is offered in the Jeep Compass. It’s a 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder making 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. Buyers have the option of either front-wheel drive (FWD) or available four-wheel drive (4WD).
If you don’t need 4WD and simply require FWD, you have the option of either a 6-speed manual or 6-speed automatic transmission. With 4WD, the available 9-speed automatic transmission is optional for the Sport and Latitude trims and standard for the Trailhawk and Limited.
Our Latitude test model has 4-wheel drive and the optional 9-speed automatic. This setup returned 22 mpg city, 30 highway, 25 combined. In my combined driving, I observed fuel economy of 21 mpg.
The 6-speed automatic and 4WD combination brings fuel economy to 22 mpg city, 31 highway, 25 combined. The 4WD Compass with the 6-speed manual gets the same fuel economy, while the FWD Compass returns 23, 32, 26.
Despite its small engine, the Compass provides a decent jump off the line, and it's great for getting around a city or the suburbs. It’s when you hit the highway that the Compass starts to hit its limits. In pulling onto the highway and getting up to speed, the Compass actually feels gutless.
You have to mash the throttle to get any serious acceleration at those speeds. And when you finally do get the Compass to move, the engine is whining so loudly that it sounds like something is about to break. All this is… fine… but you just need to know that getting up to highway speeds is going to take some time. Happily, the Compass makes up for those shortcomings with its the ride quality. It’s soft and soaks up bumps in the road, but still manages to corner well.
An interesting characteristic of the Compass is its very touchy brakes. They are sensitive but strong, and will likely surprise you the first time you jump on them to stop quickly. But that’s better than the alternative of numb, underpowered brakes. Given how distinct this brake feeling is, it would have been nice to see a tighter steering ratio to match the feel of its brakes. Despite this, the Compass is well rounded and very well suited for use as a daily driver.
There are plenty of other subcompact and compact SUVs that offer well-mannered driving, but what sets the Compass apart from the massive segment of soft-roaders is its all-weather capability. Way down below the Uconnect and center console, next to the shifter, is the dial for the Selec-Terrain system. This dial features Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud drive modes—each with power-distribution settings ideal for each driving mode.
The 4WD Compass is very capable in the snow. The 9-speed manages power well, and you have the advantage of being able to click the dial into Snow mode. This mode takes just a bit of edge off the throttle, which is key for winter driving. The Trailhawk adds a Rock Mode with Hill Descent Control, allowing it to go places few compact SUVs can reach.
Form and Function
The Compass features a spacious cabin for passengers. Both front and rear seats have plenty of head- and legroom. The more upright seating layout provides plenty of good visibility all around.
The Compass includes a bevy of clever storage solutions. Deep cargo wells in all four doors allow for multiple water bottles, while the netting on the passenger side of the center console is a quick and easy place to put items if you’re in a hurry.
The “in-between” sizing of the Compass is most evident in its cargo space. It has 27.2 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Folding the rear bench down gives way to 59.8 cubic feet of cargo space, which is poor for the compact SUV segment, but strong for a subcompact. On the plus side, the Compass features an adjustable rear load floor, which allows you to sort cargo to your preferences.
The Compass uses Jeep’s helpful Uconnect infotainment system. In the Sport and Latitude, it's operated via a 5-inch touchscreen display. It also features voice control and Bluetooth connectivity. Using Uconnect is a snap, and it continues to be one of the best infotainment systems on the market. It features a tablet-like layout with home buttons for Radio, Media, Climate, Apps, Controls, Nav, and Phone. Adopting this technology should be very easy, especially if you use a tablet.
The Sport and Latitude trims are available with the 7-inch Uconnect touchscreen, which also features Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. Both these systems allow you to connect with your preferred iPhone or Android mobile device and utilize its maps app, music apps, and podcasts. They also read text messages aloud for you and compose text messages via voice control.
An even larger 8.4-inch touchscreen is standard in the Trailhawk and Limited and available in the Latitude, as part of the Navigation package. That package also includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, as well as SiriusXM traffic and weather updates and dual-zone automatic climate control.
The Jeep Compass comes standard with 7 airbags, all-speed traction control, stability control, the LATCH child-seat anchoring system, and hill-start assist. It also features rain brake assist, electronic roll mitigation, electronic stability control, and hill descent control. A reversing camera is standard and comes with active guidelines that turn with the steering wheel. The Compass also comes standard with a trailer-sway damping system, which works with the electronic stability control to help with trailer handling in various driving conditions.
The Compass is also available with forward-collision warning and avoidance. Our test model came with available lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, and automatic high beams. The available Park Sense option provides audible and visual alerts for the driver when backing up, which goes above and beyond the reversing camera.
The 2018 Jeep Compass has a base MSRP of $20,995. We drove the Latitude 4x4, which has a base price of $24,295. With all of the options and packages, our test model came in at $33,545.
Moving upmarket, the Trailhawk starts at $28,695, while the Limited 4WD has a starting price of $29,095. A fully loaded Limited with all the options will cost nearly $35,000. And that pricing backs up its “in-between” positioning; the Compass costs less than any other compact SUV, but with options, fits right up in that same bracket.
In keeping with “outdoorsy" vehicles, one could compare the Compass to the Subaru Forester, which is more expensive, but roomier. Or it could be compared to the Subaru Crosstrek, which is still more expensive, but the Compass is more capable off-road. The point is, in the currently massive segment of small SUVs, there are so many options that you could drive yourself mad trying to find the right vehicle. But the wide range of choices offers you a chance to find the perfect match of owner to SUV.
I typically don’t like “in-between” vehicles. They always seem like they're avoiding the competition. But the Compass does it right, offering the svelte footprint and responsive, car-like driving characteristics of a subcompact SUV. At the same time, it offers more cargo space than a subcompact but with a bit more cargo space and plenty more room for all five occupants. If you plan to get your SUV dirty but live in the city, the Jeep Compass is a great value.
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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2018 Jeep Compass Top Comparisons
Users ranked 2018 Jeep Compass against other cars which they drove/owned. Each ranking was based on 9 categories. Here is the summary of top rankings.
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Jeep Compass Questions
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