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2020 Jeep Compass Test Drive Review
When you need maximum off-roading capability in a small crossover SUV, the 2020 Jeep Compass is one of your best choices. If you don’t, it’s not.
More than any other brand, Jeep embodies the romance of adventure and the resilience of the American spirit. Owning one is a lifestyle and values statement, making a Jeep an aspirational source of personal pride. But as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles seeks to capitalize on Jeep’s extraordinary appeal by offering more affordable pathways to ownership, does it run the risk of diluting its cachet with models like the Mexico-sourced 2020 Compass? That depends on whether you’re buying this little Jeep for the image or its actual utility.
Look and Feel
There are two kinds of Jeeps. The first is the Wrangler, which defines the rugged side of the brand and which directly serves as the basis for the Gladiator pickup and indirectly as a spiritual influence on the entry-level Renegade SUV. The second is the Grand Cherokee, reflecting the more refined side of the brand with upscale styling, and which provides the aspirational template for the more affordable Cherokee and Compass SUVs.
As such, like the Grand Cherokee, the 2020 Jeep Compass is a handsome SUV. It comes in four core trim levels called Sport, Latitude, Limited, and Trailhawk, and Jeep offers various packages (such as Sun & Wheel) and special edition trim upgrades (such as North Edition) to flesh out the lineup. Prices kick off at $22,280 for a Compass Sport with front-wheel drive (FWD) and a six-speed manual transmission. If you’re feeling spendy, you can get the High Altitude upgrade for the Compass Limited, which is priced from $32,645 with all-wheel drive (AWD).
Or, if you’re feeling super spendy and you’ve never had a habit of making smart financial decisions, you can buy a Compass kitted out like our test vehicle. It was a 2020 Compass Limited with AWD, a black-painted roof, every option package except for the Trailer Tow Group and a Graphics Package, a power panoramic sunroof, a navigation system, a premium sound system, and a spare tire. The total tallied up to $39,755 including the $1,495 destination charge.
Curiously, Jeep did not install the optional 19-inch wheels on our test vehicle, most likely because that would’ve put the price above $40,000 and into Crazytown.
Granted, Jeep almost always offers big discounts on the Compass. And it is a benefit that Jeep offers so many appealing upgrades that are unusual in the small SUV space. There are even hints that Jeep’s price premium is justifiable. For example, our test vehicle had soft-touch surfaces in the locations you’re most likely to touch, it had a premium grade of leather, and it was loaded with sophisticated technology.
But for every surprise and delight element, you can find a counterbalance in the form of a low-rent glossy plastic piece, or a flimsy-feeling part, or some other seemingly deliberate and all-too-obvious cost-cutting measure that taints the Compass with disappointment.
But, if you remember the original Compass that Jeep sold prior to this version, you can no doubt recognize the current model as a big improvement.
Jeep refers to the Compass’s 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine by the name Tigershark. There is nothing aggressively predatory about it. Good for 180 horsepower at 6,400 rpm and 175 pound-feet of torque at 3,900 rpm, it should perform reasonably well in this application, but it doesn’t.
Instead, it’s just loud, slow, and thirsty. Acceleration is sluggish, passing power is nearly non-existent, and the test vehicle averaged 23.1 mpg, coming up short against the EPA fuel economy rating of 25 mpg in combined driving.
The nine-speed automatic transmission doesn’t help, often shifting harshly or resisting downshifts in what can only be a feeble software-programmed attempt to conserve gas. An automatic engine stop/start system also engages in order to improve efficiency, but on warm days the air conditioning goes from cold to swampy when it shuts the engine off. Fortunately, Jeep gives the driver an easy way to deactivate this feature.
On the road, the Compass’s suspension nicely controls body roll but it allows too much vertical motion while letting too much impact harshness impede upon the cabin. Add heavy and vague steering, and a sensitive brake pedal until you acclimate to it, and a Compass provides little in the way of driving enjoyment on the pavement. In fact, one of my favorite things about getting into the driver’s seat is gripping the fat-rimmed steering wheel, which certainly is not a compliment to this Jeep’s daily driving dynamics.
With that said, if you’re planning regular off-roading excursions, a Jeep Compass is a decent tool to use. Especially in Trailhawk trim with added ground clearance, an Active Drive Low AWD system with a 20:1 crawl ratio, and an exclusive Rock driving mode, the Compass offers an off-road capability that only the Jeep Renegade Trailhawk and the Subaru Crosstrek can replicate.
Our Compass Limited test vehicle wasn’t quite up to snuff, though its simpler AWD system did include a 50:50 Lock mode to evenly split power delivery between both axles at low speeds. Rock mode was missing, too, but the Selec-Terrain traction system still offered Automatic, Snow, Sand, and Mud choices. And as any Jeep should, the Compass handled a moderately difficult trail without any issues.
Form and Function
One of the numerous options on our test vehicle was the new-for-2020 Luxury Seat Group. It adds rare features for the small SUV segment, such as a premium grade of leather, ventilated front seats, a power-adjustable front passenger’s seat, and a memory function for the driver’s settings.
This upgrade goes a long way toward making the Compass comfortable not just for the driver, but also for anyone who joins you for an adventure. The Compass’s back seat is roomy, too, which cannot be said for all small SUVs, and the test vehicle supplied air conditioning vents, a USB charging port, and a 115-volt power outlet for rear passengers.
With 27.2 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seat and a maximum of 59.8 cubic feet with the back seat folded down, the Compass isn’t particularly remarkable in terms of cargo capacity, aside from how it beats both the Jeep Renegade and Jeep Cherokee in terms of volume. Our test car’s optional spare tire took up some space under the cargo floor, and the Alpine subwoofer housing also chewed up some luggage room.
Scant storage room inside the cabin, combined with awkwardly positioned cupholders, can cause aggravation, especially if you carry lots of personal items with you.
Jeep offers an excellent available Uconnect infotainment system in the Compass. It’s got an 8.4-inch touchscreen display, Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Bluetooth connectivity, and 4G LTE WiFi connectivity. It’s also ready for extra-cost SiriusXM Guardian connected services, which adds emergency calling, a vehicle finder, remote engine starting, and more. Our test vehicle also had a navigation system and an Alpine premium audio system that delivers decent sound quality for this segment.
Intuitive and featuring appealing graphics, Uconnect is easy to use, though some features are embedded into menus that really should be more easily accessible buttons, such as the heated seat and steering-wheel controls. On a positive note, primary stereo and climate controls are separated from the display, rendered as knobs and buttons mounted low on the center of the dashboard.
Uconnect’s voice recognition system works quite well with naturally spoken requests, but navigation requires more specific prompts in order to program it by voice. Also, drivers can adjust both the stereo and the climate controls using voice commands.
Overall, and especially for the segment, Uconnect impresses.
If the infotainment system is worthy of praise, so too is Jeep’s effort on the safety features front. And for 2020, Jeep extends the availability of its driving assistance and collision avoidance technology to the base Sport trim level.
Regardless of the trim level, this technology is optional and included in both the Safety and Security Group and the Advanced Safety Group. Our test vehicle had both upgrades and included adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, forward-collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane-keeping assist, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic warning.
These systems perform to average expectations. The adaptive cruise control overreacts to changes in traffic ahead, and it causes confusion in motorists following behind. As a result, it’s not good to use in moderate to heavy traffic. Also, the lane-keeping assist can occasionally be more insistent with corrective action than is desired.
In crash tests performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Compass earned Good ratings in all tests except for headlight performance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is not quite as enthusiastic about the SUV’s safety, giving the Compass a mix of three-star, four-star, and five-star ratings.
When it comes to the 2020 Jeep Compass, almost everything worthy of praise is an optional upgrade. This, coupled with the overall lack of refinement and driving dynamism, makes the Compass a questionable value.
Also, at essentially $40,000, a loaded Jeep Compass is not a good use of your hard-earned money. You’re better off doing without some of the nicer features on this model and spending that same amount of cash on a Cherokee or a Grand Cherokee.
Within the competitive segment, only the Jeep Renegade and the Subaru Crosstrek offer similar off-roading talent. Starting next year, the 2021 Ford Bronco Sport will be a contender, too. In this crowd, and for this purpose, the Compass Trailhawk, with its off-road-focused powertrain is potentially worthy of consideration.
But if you’re going to spend most of your time on pavement, there are numerous better ways to spend your money on a small SUV. And when it comes to undeniably strong value, you’ll want to start by investigating the Hyundai Kona or Kia Seltos.
Therefore, unless you absolutely must have a Jeep, the Compass is not a cost-effective solution to your daily transportation problem. And even then, other Jeeps both new and used are likely to prove more satisfying.
What's your take on the 2020 Jeep Compass?
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Looking for a Used Compass in your area?
CarGurus has 15,541 nationwide Compass listings starting at $3,200.
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