I have learned to approach driving subcompact SUVs with trepidation. Not because there’s anything inherently bad about them—it’s just that there are always tradeoffs in this segment. I’ve felt confined in the driver’s seat of the Volvo XC40. I’ve heard too much of the road and engine in the BMW X2. The Jaguar E-Pace tried too hard to balance technology, sportiness, and SUV-ness. And the less said about the Ford EcoSport, the better. So I felt some trepidation when the Jeep Compass Latitude was delivered to me one frigid November morning.
That said, one would think that if anyone can build an SUV without compromises, it would be Jeep. No matter who has owned the badge, Jeep has had decades of experience to draw on in refining the SUV experience. With the Compass, Jeep has largely succeeded.
Starting at $21,095, the Compass comes in four trim levels: Sport, Latitude, Altitude, and Trailhawk. We tested the Latitude, which has a base MSRP of $24,395. With options like all-wheel drive, heated seats, 8.4-inch touchscreen display, “advanced safety and lighting,” power seats, and a two-tone paint job, the price for the car we drove came to $36,390.
Under the hood is a 2.4-liter, inline-four M-Air engine capable of 180hp (132kW) and 175lb-ft (237Nm) of torque. That’s paired with a nine-speed automatic transmission, in the case of the 4×4 model. If you opt for the less expensive front-wheel-drive option introduced with the 2018 model year, you’ll get a six-speed automatic transmission instead. (You can get a six-speed manual transmission if that’s your thing. It’s not mine—I spent well over a decade navigating Chicago traffic with a stick and have no desire to revisit that.)
The subcompact Compass is unmistakably a Jeep. It has the familiar and iconic black, seven-slot grille with chrome accents, and the silhouette it cuts makes it look like the Cherokee. Built on parent company Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s “small-wide” 4×4 architecture, the Compass sports four-wheel independent suspension with up to 8.5 inches of ground clearance. Selectable drive modes include auto, mud, snow, and sand, and it can tow up to 2,000lb (907kg).
Inside and out
The interior of the Compass is well thought-out, with a couple of small exceptions. Once you sit in the powered, eight-way driver’s seat, you’re in the ideal SUV-driving position. The thick steering wheel has some heft, and FCA’s control layout continues to impress. Radio/media controls are on the back of the steering wheel, the instrument cluster and phone are on the left, and the driver-assist functions are on the right. The layout is smart and uncluttered. A good-sized HD display is nestled between the analog tachometer and speedometer, and it’s easily configured to show whatever information you deem most relevant.
Like most of the FCA badges, Jeep uses uConnect for the infotainment system. The more experience I have with other infotainment systems, the more I like uConnect. It’s easily the best infotainment system in a mainstream vehicle, and it’s arguably the best touchscreen-only UI on the market. Unfortunately, Jeep didn’t bother to angle the screen toward the driver at all. Directly underneath the display are the climate controls, and, unlike most cars, they’re not angled forward at all, so you’ll need to reach to turn on the heat or AC. That said, uConnect gives you the option of accessing the climate controls via the touchscreen. CarPlay and Android Auto are both included with the 8.4-inch touchscreen.
Interior styling is sharp. Seats are leather-trimmed, and the black stitching on the door panels gives the Compass a comfortable but understated stylishness. The interior is comfortable, and normal-sized adults in the back seat won’t have any reason to hold a grudge, even with the panoramic moonroof reducing the amount of headroom available. The driver’s seat even has enough space for some manspreading, which is not always the case with sub-compact SUVs. There’s an impressive amount of cargo room for a subcompact as well—27.2 cubic feet, 59.8 cubic feet with the seats down. We drove the Compass to pick our daughter up from college, as the end of the fall quarter coincided with the vehicle loan. The vehicle easily fit a pillow, a couple of suitcases, and other miscellany needed for a seven-week stay with mom and dad.
I largely enjoyed driving the Compass. The handling and ride are unremarkable in a good way. If I had to describe how it handled—and I do, since this is a car review—I’d call it “SUV Lite.” There’s a slight feeling of top-heaviness if you’re too aggressive on a curve, but the rest of the time, the Compass is rock steady. The suspension shields passengers from rough bits of road, and although it’s no speed demon, the 2.4-liter inline-four gets the job done around the suburbs and on the highway. Aside from some wind noise around the B pillars that shows up around 70mph, the Compass Latitude offers a fairly quiet ride.
The Compass is rated at 22mpg in the city, 30mpg on the highway, and 25mpg overall. In five days of driving that combined interstates, country roads, and suburbs, I got 22.3mpg. Like other OEMs, Jeep boosts mileage by having the engine shut off when the car comes to a complete stop at a stoplight or intersection. On a few occasions, the car took what I can only describe as slightly too long to start back up, and when it did so, there was a slight, but noticeable lurching.
My other quibbles with the Compass are few and far between. There’s the aforementioned wind noise at higher speeds and the way the center console is laid out. In addition, the uConnect setting that makes the steering wheel and seat heat come on automatically on startup works most, but not all, of the time. That’s a bummer when it’s 20° outside and you don’t have an attached garage. There’s also no option for adaptive cruise control. But that’s small stuff.
Jeep knows what it’s doing when it comes to building SUVs, and the Compass is no exception. The company has built a solid sub-compact SUV that offers excellent value, a surprisingly spacious-feeling interior, and a solid ride. If you’re in the market for a sub-compact SUV, the Compass is a solid contender at its price point.