Monday, December 3, 2018

Tested: 2018 Jeep Compass

While it may not have the same swagger its big brother the Grand Cherokee has or the off-road prowess of a Wrangler, Jeep's small Compass Latitude is an attractive crossover with all-wheel-drive and plenty of impressive features. 

Jeep deserves a pat on the back for turning the Compass around. Back when the first-generation Compass launched in 2007, it wasn't anything special. Dorky styling mixed with a low-rent, cheap interior and a lackluster experience behind the wheel. Fast-forward almost ten years and this new, model shouldn't be overlooked and deserves praise. Jeep dropped off a new 2018 Compass Latitude at my front door to test out for a week around town and on an overnight camping trip.
Let's start with the basics. The Compass sits at Jeep's family table of crossovers in between the entry-level Renegade ($18,750 starting MSRP) and the more off-road capable Cherokee ($25,240). Available in five trims: Sport, Latitude, Altitude, the off-road ready Trailhawk, and high-end Limited, pricing for the 2018 Compass begins at $21,095. For eight days, I had the keys to a Compass Latitude 4x4, which lists for $24,395 before options. Fully specced, the Jeep you see above sits at $36,390, including a $1,445 destination charge.

Behind the Wheel
Power comes from a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that makes a modest 180 horsepower, which worked fine accelerating up to highway speeds down an on ramp and in driving around town. There's no six-cylinder offered in the Compass but you do have a choice of three transmissions, a nine-speed automatic, six-speed automatic, or a six-speed manual. Front-wheel drive is standard but a version of Jeep's four-wheel-drive system is available. If you're an enthusiast who prefers three pedals, it is possible to buy a Compass with four-wheel-drive and a manual-transmission, a welcoming rarity these days that I appreciate Jeep still offering! That's the powertrain combination I'd opt for because while the 9-speed automatic helps with the Compass' fuel economy, it does feel busy searching for gears to grab when in bumper-to-bumper traffic and sometimes jittery at low-speeds.
A key selling point for any Jeep is the desired "4x4" badge slapped on the rear tailgate. While my late November test of the Compass Latitude wasn't filled with super muddy or snow driving, it did have the Selec-Terrain Traction Management System which is standard on all 4x4 models. A knob allows the driver to cater the Compass' four-wheel-drive system to accommodate a variety of off-road conditions like snow, rock, mud, or sand. The Compass' 4x4 system is actually more of a traditional all-wheel-drive setup, always sending different levels power to the Compass' front and rear wheels when needed. But a "4WD LOCK" button that can be pressed to lock the center differential and send full, equal 50/50 power to the front and rear wheels, which is super helpful when you're really stuck.
On-pavement driving was easy in the Compass. It handled lightly as expected, and had a surprisingly comfortable and fairly quiet ride. Being a taller crossover, you sit noticeably higher up in than surrounding cars. In a tight multi-level grocery store parking garage, the Compass was a breeze to maneuver, as was any call for parallel parking on the street in front of my apartment.

Becoming the norm on many new vehicles today is start/stop, a fuel-saving technology found on the Compass that shuts engine off at idle for a few seconds or at a red light. Once the light goes green again or you lift your foot off the gas, the engine restarts. This feature does cut down on emissions but is jarring, especially in bumper-to-bumper crawling traffic. Thankfully you can turn this off in the Compass. Speaking of mileage, I was able to achieve on average about 24-25 mpg in mixed highway and city driving, the worst being 21 mpg.

Inside and Out.
It's an attractive looking crossover, filled with familiar styling borrowed from the bigger Grand Cherokee. The Compass Latitude I had was a sleek Granite Crystal Metallic exterior color with a black roof (a $795 option). I particularly loved the wheels too, optional 18-inch alloy with contrasting polished black pockets in them, wrapped in a set of 225/55R18 BSW All Season tires. Bright bi-xenon high-intensity-discharge headlamps, with automatic high beams, made driving around at night worry-free.

Cabin materials step it up notch in the Latitude trim, bringing a leather-wrapped steering wheel along with seats finished in faux-leather and patterned cloth. I've said this for years, but Chrysler's Uconnect system is the best of the best, and it comes standard on the Latitude trim. A standard 5-inch touchscreen controls all of the multimedia, vehicle settings, climate control, and if equipped, the navigation and active safety systems too. It's flawless, responds instantly, packed with and is incredibly easy to use. What makes Uconnect even better, is that there are actual physical buttons you can use in addition to the touchscreen. I don't get why other auto makers haven't taken note of this golden benchmark set by FCA. An aux input and USB port, along with Bluetooth connectivity are standard, but mine had the optional bigger 8.4-inch touchscreen with navigation, Apple CarPlay, and Android Auto which paired seamlessly with my old Samsung J3.
There were plenty of options on this particular Compass Latitude to make it a very comfortable crossover to pilot in everyday driving, to-and-from work, throughout my hometown, and en route to a camping trip at Kohler-Andrae State Park. The optional "Cold Weather Group" brought a wonderful heated steering wheel and front seats, a windshield wiper de-icer, all-season rubber floor mats and a reversible cargo liner. An 8-way power-adjustable driver seat with power-adjustable lumbar support,  remote start, and a 7-inch color display in the dashboard were part of the "Popular Equipment Group." One of my favorite features was the available colossal dual-pane sunroof spanning almost the entire roof of the car, which even on a gray day was a treat.

This little Jeep is big on safety with a standard backup camera, plus front and side airbags, and side curtain airbags (mandated on all new cars sold in the U.S.), but also several optional active safety systems. There's blind-spot monitoring which illuminates a light in your side mirror if there's a car alongside you you can't see, and rear cross-traffic alert that when reversing will alert you of an oncoming car you might not notice. Also available is lane-keeping assist that will beep and nudge the steering wheel to direct the Compass back into the center of your lane should you drift over the line. The lane-keeping assist is a smart idea, but can be hyper-sensitive, especially when driving through a curvy highway interchange. Thankfully though, Jeep allows you to adjust the sensitivity of this system and even turn it off completely. Last, there's frontal collision warning that uses a small radar in the front grille of the Compass to bring the vehicle to a full stop should it detect a possible collision. This is all excellent technology that will keep occupants safe behind the wheel, but they do come at a price.
Can it Rec.?
Can you use it to recreate? Yep! Since this is a blog dedicated to traveling, state and national parks, and getting outside, let's throw the outdoor adventure card at Jeep's Compass Latitude. There are many things off the bat the Compass Latitude has going for it, apart from the 4x4 system that I have no doubts about when it comes to driving through not-too-extreme amounts of snow or mud.

A wining factor for me when it comes to shopping for cars, is if I can buy it right from the dealer with a roof rack? All Compass models come with standard side rails that have attachment points for cross bars, which can be purchased through the dealer for about $304. So yes, I could easily mount my big Yakmia RocketBox Pro 11 roof cargo box or ski rack on top. Tip- always, always, always buy legitimate OEM roof racks, never cheap universal ones on Amazon or eBay.
With the rear seat upright, cargo space in the trunk was bit small for bulkier items, but drop the the 60/40 split-folding rear seat down for 59.8 cubic-feet of maximum cargo room. Plenty of space for you, another passenger, and a full load of camping gear. The mentioned optional all-weather rubber floor mats and rubber trunk mat are ideal for muddy hiking boots, wet and snowy ski boots, or a dusty backpacking pack.

There's a few tech goodies the Compass Latitude has that definitely come in handy, like the optional power liftgate which helped when loading up my gear prior to arriving at the campsite in the pines. As did the standard keyless entry, allowing me to leave the key fob buried in my down jacket and both open the driver's door and tap that push-button start. Remote start, optional, works like a dream and is perfect after a long day of skiing on the slopes. Click the button on your key fob and in a few seconds you'll have heat blowing plus the heated steering wheel and seats turned on. There's even a second illuminated USB port and household 115-volt outlet in the backseat (both optional) to charge your GoPro or camera, along with a power outlet conveniently located in the trunk area that I used to blow up the air mattress in my tent.
A small praise I want to address too, is about an app in the Uconnect multimedia system that displays live weather updates...and a real-time map with a radar! I found this incredibly impressive and helpful, as I monitored it on my drive north to the state park while rain started to splash against my windshield. Also of note, with the optional towing package which adds a class III hitch and wiring harness, the Compass is rated to tow a maximum 2,000 pounds so it would be possible to tow a pop-up camper, teardrop trailer, or small boat.
Final Thoughts
The Compass is a noticeably better vehicle compared to its past silhouettes. It's a much more stylish and capable crossover, that with its impressive list of standard and optional features, is worthy of competing with rivals like the popular, top-selling Toyota Rav4 and Honda CR-V.

Sure $36,390 is a lot of money, especially for a small crossover, but you don't have to splurge for all the optional features I listed above because a Compass Latitude is great right at around $30,000. Erase the flashy wheels and black roof to save almost $2,000 alone, and, if you don't absolutely need the power liftgate or giant sunroof, that's another nearly $900 saved. Not adding on all of the advanced active safety systems also saves you some $1,700. I would, however, 100% recommend checking the box for the bigger touchscreen Uconnect system with navigation, and of course the $745 "Cold Weather Group" package to combat those harsh Midwest winters we have to push through.


Price as Tested: $36,390 
Warranty: 5-year/60,000-mile Powertrain, 3-Year/36,000-mile Basic
NHTSA Overall Vehicle Safety Rating: 5 Stars
Find a new or used Jeep Compass for sale near you here on

[Disclaimer: Jeep provided this new vehicle and a full tank of gas for the purpose of this review.]