One of the biggest mistakes an automaker can make is to build lousy vehicles and slap a popular brand name on them. General Motors made such a mistake in the 1980s, when it affixed the Cadillac logo to a jumped-up Chevrolet Cavalier and called it the Cimarron. Jeep, under Chrysler Corp. ownership, made a somewhat less egregious blunder more recently by putting out several mediocre vehicles and calling them Jeeps. Among these were the Liberty, the Patriot and the Compass.
Jeep’s current management, Fiat Chrysler, seems to grasp the real value of the Jeep nameplate. Along with introducing a new model, the subcompact Renegade, Fiat Chrysler has redesigned the compact Compass and midsize Cherokee, while doing away with the widely unloved Patriot. We got our first look at the redesigned Compass in its second year, and found it to be an impressive little Jeep.
Our test car was a 2018 Compass Limited 4X4, base-priced at $29,195 and sticker-priced at $36,005. The entry-level Compass Sport has a base price of $22,526.
The Compass comes in four flavors, ranging from the bare-bones Sport to the rough-and-tumble Trailhawk, which beats everything in its class as an off-road performer. In Limited trim, the focus is on comfort and near-luxury, rather than ruggedness. For example, the Limited’s standard features include such flourishes as remote start, Uconnect connectivity with an 8.4-inch display, satellite radio, heated steering wheel and front seats, dual-zone climate control, and autodimming rear-view mirror.
A number of high-value features, such as blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, navigation system and automatic high-beam control, cost extra.
Since we’re entering the fourth year of our lease of a 2015 Jeep Renegade, we naturally were inclined to compare the two Jeeps. The Compass was much more lavishly equipped (and had a sticker price about $10,000 steeper), so in most respects we found it more pleasant to drive. Both Jeeps have the 180-horsepower, 2.4-liter Four and 9-speed automatic transmission, but the Compass seemed quicker and was more fuel-efficient. Neither car could be considered fast or invigorating under hard acceleration. The Compass is significantly roomier than the Renegade, particularly in the back seat. Our Renegade is a Trailhawk, so it doesn’t ride as smoothly or quietly as the Compass.
Both cars give the impression of being well-built, with quality interior materials, and no squeaks or rattles.
Fuel economy is a strong suit for the Compass. It’s rated at 22 mpg city, 30 highway, and uses regular unleaded gasoline.
Another strength is the UConnect system and other interior controls. Everything is intuitive, and every control produces an instant response. The switches and buttons that control the audio system are identical to those in the Renegade, and are among the most convenient we’ve used.
The Compass’ tall profile ensures easy access and egress, and seating positions were comfortable in both front and back.
The Compass has been rated at Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, and received four of a possible five stars in government crash tests.