2014 Jeep Compass Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
New look and new transmission for capable compact SUV.
Redesigning for 2011 transformed the Jeep Compass into a whole new vehicle. Not as in all-new, but gaining an entirely new, real-Jeep character. That's because all the right changes were made, both mechanical and cosmetic. The styling is less original than the first (2007-10) generation; and where Jeeps are concerned, that's a benefit. That early Compass never looked much like a Jeep, and couldn't go off-road like one, either.
The Compass is built like a car and drives like a car. Yet, it possesses much of the versatility and capability associated with a small SUV. Compass has a strong steel structure and a well-planned subframe. Side-curtain airbags and electronic stability control with anti-rollover sensors are standard.
It's still not as rugged as a Wrangler, by any means, or even a Patriot. However, a Compass stacks up well against other entry-level SUVs, including Honda CR-V, Hyundai Tucson, Kia Sportage, Mitsubishi Outlander Sport, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester, and Toyota RAV4.
Compass is available with two engines and two transmissions, in three trim levels, with either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with a choice of two levels of the active 4x4 system.
For 2014, Jeep Compass has been updated inside and out. A new 6-speed automatic transmission became available, standard on 2014 Compass Latitude and 2014 Compass Limited models and optional for the 2014 Compass Sport. A continuously variable transmission (CVT2), with a crawl ratio for off-roading, remains as an option for all three trim levels. Front seat-mounted side-impact airbags became standard for 2014, and a rearview backup camera joined the option list.
With the optional Freedom Drive II off-road package, the Compass earns Jeep's Trail Rated status, making it a worthy choice for moderate off-road treks, even if it could never match the hard-traveling prowess of a Jeep Wrangler with its two-speed transfer case.
Inside, the instruments and controls are well placed and easy to use. There's good interior space all around, with rear seats that fold flat to provide almost 54 cubic feet of cargo space. Options for added versatility include reclining rear seats and a front passenger seat that also folds flat, creating either a table or an eight-foot-long space for storage.
As an alternative to standard front-wheel drive, buyers can choose Jeep's Freedom Drive I or Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package. Freedom Drive I is full-time all-wheel drive, delivering almost all of the torque to the front wheels until more traction is needed at the rear (with up to 60 percent available there). A lock mode may be engaged for snow, sand and mud.
For rugged off-roading there's Freedom Drive II, which is Jeep Trail Rated. It uses a continuously variable transaxle (CVT2) with a low range that engages when Off-Road mode is activated. Included are 17-inch all-terrain tires and aluminum wheels, raised ride height, a full-size spare tire, skid plates, tow hooks, fog lamps and manual seat height adjuster. On the down side, Freedom Drive II is likely to give up 2 or 3 mpg in fuel economy.
The standard engine is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder making 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque, with 5-speed manual shift or coupled to the CVT with Autostick manual mode that the driver can shift up and down through six preset gear ratios. With the 5-speed manual transmission and front-wheel drive, the 2.0-liter delivers an EPA-rated 23/30 mpg City/Highway.
The proven 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine produces 172-horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. Standard on the Limited and available for the others, it uses dual Variable Valve Timing (VVT) on both intake and exhaust camshafts. That helps optimize the torque curve at all speeds and produces more power, better fuel economy and smoother, quieter operation.
The 2014 Jeep Compass comes in three versions: base Sport, midlevel Latitude and top-end Limited, each with front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. The standard engine (except in Limited) is the 2.0-liter 4-cylinder, with a 5-speed manual transmission.
The Compass Sport 2WD ($18,495) and Sport AWD ($20,495) come standard with cloth upholstery, air conditioning, tilt steering wheel, 60/40 fold-flat rear seats, foglamps, heated power mirrors, rear window wiper/washer, cruise control, power door locks and windows, 130-watt 4-speaker AM/FM/CD/MP3 stereo with auxiliary audio jack, roof rails, and P215/70R16 tires (P225/60R17 with the 2.4-liter engine).
The Latitude 2WD ($22,195) and Latitude AWD ($24,195) add heated mesh cloth seats, fold-flat front passenger seat, height adjustment to the driver's seat, 115-volt outlet, and leather-wrapped steering wheel with integrated controls. The new 6-speed automatic transmission is standard, with the 2.0-liter engine. The 2.4-liter engine is optional ($495) for the Sport or Latitude model.
The Limited 2WD ($25,495) and Limited AWD ($27,495) use the 2.4-liter engine and the 6-speed automatic transmission, adding perforated leather-trimmed bucket seats, 6-way power driver's seat, 230-watt 6CD sound system, 18-inch aluminum wheels with all-season tires, and tire pressure display monitor.
One popular option is the Jeep 'Trail Rated' Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group ($550). It includes Hill Start Assist, all-terrain tires, Brake Lock Differential, Hill Descent Control, full-size spare tire, oil pan and transmission skid plate, fuel tank skid plate shield, tow hooks, engine oil cooler, trailer wiring harness, and an off-road crawl ratio in the continuously variable transmission (CVT).
An All-weather Capability Group for Sport and Latitude ($395, or $95 with Freedom-Drive II) includes Goodyear 17-inch all-terrain tires, rugged floor mats, daytime running headlights, engine block heater, and tow hooks. A Security and Cargo Convenience Group ($495) includes remote state, a remote USB port, auto-dimming mirror with microphone, security alarm, soft tonneau cover, UConnect voice command, and a universal garage door opener.
Other options include UConnect ($325 to $695); a trailer tow package ($278) with engine oil cooler, full-size spare tire and wiring harness; and navigation ($395) for the Limited model. Leather upholstery ($1,145) and a rearview backup camera ($795) also are available. The backup camera includes a media center with 40GB hard drive and CD/DVD/HD radio. Not all these options are available on the Sport and Latitude.
Safety features that come standard on all models include dual front air bags, head-protecting curtain side air bags, seat-mounted front airbags, antilock brakes with brake assist (which applies more brake force than the driver is applying if sensors determine it's needed in a panic stop), traction control, and electronic stability control with rollover mitigation.
Imagine the Jeep Grand Cherokee and downsize it a bit in your mind, and you'll have the Compass. We think it looks even nicer than the Grand Cherokee, because it's a tidier size.
The fact that the 2014 Jeep Compass looks like a small Grand Cherokee elevates it in the beauty department. The hood flaunts a power bulge, above quad reflector headlamps and a chrome-trimmed seven-slot grille. Cladding protects the sheetmetal during off-roading, which the Compass is capable of undertaking. Roof rails and a spoiler are standard, along with 17-inch aluminum wheels on most models (18-inch on the Limited). All of the pieces fit aesthetically, to create a Jeep that's smooth, rugged and unmistakable.
Up front, the Compass Sport has a body-color grille with chrome inserts. Other models get a bright mesh grille insert. Lower bodyside cladding is standard on all Compass models, which also feature bright side roof rails.
Appearance of the Compass was updated for 2014. Grilles on Latitude and Limited models were enhanced, with plated upper grille trim and mold-in silver-color texture. Halogen headlamps on Sport and Latitude models now have black inner bezels. Limited models have added projector halogen headlamps, along with chrome foglamp bezels. Taillamps have a new smoked-look inner bezel.
We love the simplicity, efficiency, and clean style of the Compass interior and its lack of gimmickry.
The four main instruments are perfectly placed and easy to read; it gets no better. Speedometer and tachometer, plus smaller temperature and fuel gauges. There's digital information below the speedometer, including mpg, range and tire pressure. A button on the steering wheel makes it easy to scroll through the data.
Well thought out door handles, grab handles, door pockets, armrests, door speakers, center console with cubbies, ceiling scoops for headroom, and a nice tray inserted in the dash over the glove compartment make life better. The shift lever is up on the console out of the way, under the pop-up DVD loader. Just about the only item missing is a dial to tune the satellite radio stations; buttons get there, but only after driver distraction.
The one-piece rear liftgate is light, easy to raise and lower. It has panels for structural integrity, and the rear bumper has a non-skid rubber surface for grip when someone needs to step on it to get to the roof.
For 2014, the Compass Latitude has new sport mesh/vinyl seats. Armrests and the center console are now wrapped in vinyl.
The perforated leather upholstery in the Limited is beautiful and expensive feeling, and the bucket seats are comfortable. Fabric seats also are pleasing. The standard 60/40 folding rear seats drop flat in a heartbeat, and that's sweet. Yes, the center rear passenger has to straddle the tunnel with his or her legs; but legroom back there is good, at 39.4 inches. Rear door pockets are small, but speakers with the premium sound system are big.
The standard space-saver spare tire is neatly stored under the floor. Overall there's less cargo space than one might expect, although 54 cubic feet with the rear seats folded isn't bad. Maybe that expectation is because overall the Compass feels bigger than it is.
When it first entered the market as a 2007 model, the Compass was considered to be a modern Jeep, intended to attract customers who hadn't been lured by the traditional-type Jeep products. Likely buyers weren't off-roading aficionados, and were presumed to prefer a comfortable ride over intensive off-pavement capabilities. Yes, they liked to know that their Jeep could handle the occasional rural byway, or a lumpy, rock-strewn gravel road. But on the whole, the Compass was designed to appeal to a more urban customer.
Now, seven years later, the Compass comes across as a trifle old-fashioned, weighed against some contemporary rivals. Some folks like it that way. Still, a Compass is harder to recommend to prospective buyers who would otherwise be looking at typical crossover-type, carlike SUVs. A Compass might be a little too basic, reminiscent of the past rather than wholly indicative of today and tomorrow.
That said, the Compass has a lot going for it, starting with relatively spirited performance from a relatively small engine. Fuel economy isn't bad, either. Our 2014 Limited 4x4, with the 2.4-liter engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, averaged almost 25 mpg in mostly urban/suburban driving, which is just about where the EPA estimates says it should be.
Jeep's new 6-speed automatic transmission is well-behaved. The five-speed manual gearbox works well, too, and gets the most out of the four-cylinder engine.
A 2.4-liter Limited can pass semi-trucks on two-lane highways and uphill 70-mph freeways, and it cruises along just fine. Passing need not be a worry (although careful timing and full throttle are necessary), and the Compass can maintain 70 mph without feeling overworked.
The Jeep Compass is relatively quiet, too: perhaps more quiet at higher speeds than around town, thanks to the sound-absorption material in the rear wheelwells, quarter panels and C-pillars. At slower speeds, the proven 2.4-liter engine has never been known to be silky, compared to some rivals. The Jeep 2.4 is known more for its reliability and reasonably good mileage than its smoothness.
The standard 2.0-liter engine might be lacking in power for many buyers, with just 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. Especially if it's mated with the CVT, although the Auto Stick with six steps helps a lot to work the power more effectively. But with the 5-speed manual transmission in a 2WD Compass, the 2.0-liter's fuel mileage of 23/30 mpg looks inviting.
Handling qualities fall around mid-pack when compared against some modern rivals. Ride comfort earns a similar ranking. It's not harsh by any means, but hardly cushiony, either, in the contemporary sense.
Overall, though, we like the ride and handling of the Compass. It's nimble and corners well, thanks to somewhat stiff shocks and springs and a hefty anti-roll bar. Even though the ride isn't soft, it's still totally comfortable; in fact, maybe more comfortable simply because it's less soft.
Front-seat occupants get plenty of room. That's a familiar Jeep hallmark: efficient use of space. Back-seat riders endure somewhat hard seatbacks, but should be satisfied otherwise, especially with the amount of headroom. Even the center rear position would be satisfactory, except for a cupholder console on the floor that prevents passengers' feet from finding much space. Cargo space is modest, beneath the cargo cover.
Gauges are a sore spot. Numerals are among the smallest on any vehicle, for no apparent reason, though orange pointers do help. The instruments themselves are none too big, either.
Visibility is blocked somewhat over the driver's right shoulder, and even more so past the windshield pillars. They're not especially thick, but could be limiting enough to bar the view of a person passing by, or a child. The rearward view isn't so good, due to fixed rear seat headrests and a hump in the back glass housing the wiper motor.
Along winding wooded roads, a Compass revealed itself to be steady and silent, with the suspension isolating the cabin from bumps and tosses. We aimed for potholes and weren't jarred when we hit them. There was none of the old Jeep head-toss, or side-to-side jouncing, and no trace of wallow over ripples. The turn-in for corners was secure, with no play in the wheel or wandering.
We drove an earlier Latitude at an event in the Pacific Northwest, aptly named Mudfest. The course was deeply rutted and thickly muddy, yet the Compass was one of the few SUVs that took it all in stride, thanks to abundant ground clearance and plenty of traction.
It's almost impossible to imagine getting stuck in snow or mud in a Compass with the Freedom II package. The locking differential can offer the best possible traction from a standing start, and the Brake Traction Control dabs the brakes (at lightning speed) at individual wheels to keep them from spinning. The locked differential keeps the torque evenly distributed at 50/50, up to 10 miles per hour. At that point the torque begins transferring again, as calculated by the electronic control module based on vehicle speed, turning radius and wheel slip.
With Jeep's Freedom Drive I all-wheel drive system, not Jeep Trail Rated like the Freedom II, virtually all of the power goes to the front wheels. As traction is needed elsewhere, up to 60 percent can shift to the rear wheels. The coupling is through a two-stage clutch system that's magnetic and electronically controlled, rather than viscous. The system also has a locking center differential.
On loose, wet gravel roads that climbed, descended and twisted in every direction, a Compass didn't skate on the slick round stones even with standard touring tires. When slamming the brakes at 40 mph, the ABS with rough-road detection worked hard but successfully.
The Jeep Compass is like a little brother of the Grand Cherokee, with a smaller body and engine. It has a clean and well thought-out interior and controls, with sporty fabric or classy leather. The standard 2.0-liter engine with 5-speed manual transmission is minimal, but gets a combined 26 mpg. The 2.4-liter engine is more powerful and smooth. Ride and handling are solid, and easy fold-down rear seats open up 54 cubic feet of cargo space. The Freedom II off-road package enables the Compass to take on just about any terrain, and only costs $550. As an entry-level SUV, this is a great package.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses filed this report from the Pacific Northwest, with Kirk Bell reporting from Chicago. James M. Flammang reported on the 2014 Compass from Chicago.
Jeep Compass Sport 2WD ($18,495), Sport AWD ($20,495); Latitude 2WD ($22,195), Latitude AWD ($24,195); Limited 2WD ($25,495), Limited AWD ($27,495).
Options As Tested
Security and Cargo Convenience Group ($495), UConnect 430N CD/DVD/MP3/HDD/navigation ($395), dark slate gray/saddle interior color ($195).
Jeep Compass AWD Limited ($27,495).
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