While once only a small segment of the driving fleet, today’s compact and subcompact crossovers are now the leading automotive segment in America, displacing compact and midsize sedans like yesterday’s trash.
Five-door crossovers are everywhere. Think of them while you drive — what are you meeting for traffic? Toyota RAV4s, Honda CRVs, Chevy Equinoxes and Subaru Foresters are the top sellers in Maine, yet there is no missing the multiple small wagons wearing Ford, Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Kia and other namebadges.
Like Jeep. FCA’s Jeep brand has five top-selling crossovers with Renegade, Wrangler, Cherokee, Grand Cherokee, plus this week’s Compass, which was all new two years ago. It is difficult to miss the plethora of Jeeps on the road in the Pine Tree State, whether you are pushing the pace through the hills of western Maine and Rangeley Lake, or up and down the super-slab I-95.
Through the first six months of the sales year, Jeep is the number six selling brand in the United States, despite a 7.8 percent shift downward. The venerable Grand Cherokee — the oldest vehicle in Jeep’s lineup — still leads overall sales for the brand, plus it is the only model to show any growth this year (other than the all-new Gladiator).
The Compass is the brand’s entry level compact crossover. Pricing starts at under $21,000 for front-drive models while buyers needing all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive traction have several trim levels — and price points — from which to choose. All models — Latitude, Limited, Sport or Trailhawk (our sample) — use the same 2.4-liter Fiat-sourced 180-hp multi-air four-cylinder engine, with an assortment of transmissions employed; six-speed manual for base models, six-speed automatic or nine-speed automatic for all others.
While buyers aren’t necessarily looking for high-speed hijinks with the Compass, most buyers will find that the 2.4-liter supplies adequate power. An optional turbo motor might please other drivers, as many rivals now offer this, however the returned fuel economy closely matches the competition; 27.0 mpg realized against EPA estimates of 22/30/25 mpg.
One area that the Compass surpasses its rivals is the available 4WD system that uses snow, sand, mud and rock modes to complement 4WD locked plus 4WD low-range to meet any traction challenges. Few compact class rivals offer this range of on-road and off-road selectability, a Jeep virtue for sure.
Another area that stood out was the room inside the cabin. Rear seat space is ample for people and gear, while the cargo hold is roomier than the Compass’s larger sibling, the Cherokee. Ingress and egress is convenient, controls are simple and well-placed, plus the 8.4-inch U-Connect touchscreen that controls apps, entertainment, radio, climate and navigation remains the most intuitive unit in the marketplace. Given the unnecessary complexity of some rivals, the U-connect setup could be considered a safety device all by itself.
The Compass’s road manners varied. Over most surfaces, the Jeep exhibited control and ride compliance that occasionally took a break over rougher surfaces. Some of this behavior could be attributed to the stiffer tuning of the Trailhawk level trim — to aid off-roading performance, yet the general feel from the helm could be tighter, more responsive to driver input.
Besides wishing for added torque from a turbo-motor option, it would be good to have a larger fuel tank as well, for more range between fill-ups.
Yet stocked with the whole portfolio of options, from panoramic roof, remote starting, power liftgate, heated steering wheel, keyless ignition, trailer sway control, premium lighting package, safety and security systems including lane departure and adaptive cruise, plus navigation, power leather seats, and forward collision warning system, the Compass will have greater appeal than a base model lacking these amenities.
However, the elevated price ($29,195 for Trailhawk, $38,445 as shown) puts the loaded Compass against some larger compact class rivals, some of which are newer and even more capable in certain arenas.
The doors close with a thud; in fact, the whole body feels solid, rugged. The Compass’s seats are comfortable, and the cabin is competitively quiet. These features are more than good enough for the daily grind. Add selectable 4WD plus some real comfort and luxury amenities, and a buyer will soon understand why many of his or her neighbors are eager to make the leap from staid four-door sedan to flexible, functional five-door crossover.