Jeep Has Read Its Compass

By Casey Williams
Created: October 22, 2012 Last Updated: October 22, 2012
Related articles: Life » Autos
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Jeep Compass (Courtesy of

Jeep Compass (Courtesy of

Jeep had high hopes for the Compass, a crossover based on its compact car platform and built in Belvidere, IL. In a bid to head off Hummer’s fate, the iconic American brand went full-crossover and embraced smaller dimensions, dirty-road capability, and superior handling in most circumstances. Trail Rated it was not.

However, it was roomy and priced right. Problem was, the car’s cheap plastic interior, noisy continuously-variable transmission, and confusing on- or off-road capabilities killed the buzz.

Re-focused for the suburbs, with still-considerable capability, Jeep now reads its Compass differently.

Styling takes Compass away from the bug-eye look that was supposed to imbue a sense of Wrangler friendliness and heads toward the very popular, upscale Grand Cherokee. A multi-faceted hood, body color bumpers, sleek clear lens headlamps, and elegant chrome detailing make the car appear about $10,000 more expensive.

Our Latitude edition rides on 17” five-spoke alloys clad in all terrain tires and sports chrome luggage rails. I still like the rounded rump, how rear door handles are hidden in the C-pillar, and the tough-looking body bulges. Three new paint colors—True Blue Pearl Coat, Copperhead Pearl Coat, and Rescue Green Pearl Coat—give the utility a more vivid personality.

Continuing the Compass’s makeover, it appears designers finally had their way with the bean counters. The Tupperware-grade plastic that once paneled the doors has been replaced with soft-touch materials that are much kinder to elbows.

Liberal use of chrome detailing and a big thick leather-wrapped steering wheel from the Grand Cherokee definitely winch up the quality feel.

Heated cloth front seats (leather optional), driver seat height adjuster, fold-flat passenger throne, and 115-volt power inverter add convenience and comfort. Crank up satellite radio, USB-connect your smartphone, or flip in a CD to really enjoy your drive. Bluetooth and voice commands make controlling everything a snap.

The interior’s biggest selling point is an abundance of space. Rear passengers especially have a lot of room.

Seating is SUV-upright, but that’s part of the deal and at least everybody can see out. Fold down the rear seats, and you can haul almost anything. One could easily throw in a bicycle, luggage, and head to the campground for a week away.

Gas Mileage, Transmission

Getting there is enabled by a pairing of engines. If you want the best gas mileage, choose your Compass with the standard 2.0-litre 4-cylinder engine that generates 158 hp and 23/29-MPG city/hwy when paired with a 5-speed manual transmission and eschewing all-wheel-drive (front-drive is standard).

2012 Jeep Compass Latitude
Five-passenger 4×4 Crossover
Powertrain: 172-HP 2.4-liter I4
CVT auto trans
Suspension f/r: Ind./Ind
Wheels: 17”/17” f/r
Brakes f/r: disc/disc with ABS
Must-have features: Grit, glamour
Manufacturing: Belvedere, IL
Fuel economy (city/hwy): 20/23-MPG
As-tested price: $25,900

I prefer the optional 2.4-litre four-cylinder that stomps the street with 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque. Paired with front-drive and the manual transmission, it still manages 23/28-MPG city/hwy.

Our test model with the continuously-variable automatic transmission and AWD fares not so well at 20/23-MPG city/hwy. In case you plan to hook onto a boat or camper, make it a small one. Towing capacity is rated 2,000 lbs.

Jeep claims the CVT transmission increases fuel economy by 6-8 percent over typical multi-speed transmissions, but after a decade of driving them, they still seem eerily like a high-revving weed-eater to me. Jeep’s is absolutely among the best CVTs out there, and there is an appreciable bonus in mileage, so I could probably learn to live with it. Drive one and see what you think.

And, if the road gets nasty, drive on with the confidence of Jeep’s Freedom-Drive II 4×4 system. The system earns Jeep’s “Trail Rated” badge with a low range that engages when off-road mode is activated from the console.

Besides the all-terrain tires and alloys, models equipped with this system get an additional inch of ground clearance, full-size spare tire, skid plates, tow hooks, and fog lamps. Compass also comes with Hill Start Assist, Hill Descent Control, and Electronic Stability Control. If you want to do serious rock climbing, get a Wrangler.

I’m not sure if it took Fiat ownership of Chrysler, or just persistence from Jeep’s better angels, but the Compass continues the trend of subtle refinements making all of the difference between an underdog and being fully competitive. Very nicely done.

An as-tested price of $25,900 is a fair value, no matter how you read it. Competitors include the Ford Escape, GMC Terrain, Toyota RAV4, and Kia Sportage.

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