2023 Jeep Compass First Drive: Capable cute-ute
We’re told that the compass—little c—has been around for about 2000 years as a handy device for finding your way. The Jeep Compass isn’t nearly that old, being born in 2006 as the slightly odd twin brother to the far more handsome and jeep-y Jeep Patriot. It exists only because DaimlerChrysler (remember them?) couldn’t decide which direction to take—the more rugged Patriot or the more urbane Compass—to fill a hole in the subcompact crossover segment. So they built both. Their internal compass, it seemed, wasn’t working too well.
Perhaps shockingly, the Compass pointed to the right direction after all. The Patriot is gone, killed off in 2017, and the Compass endures as a critical player in a very hot global segment, carrying the Jeep brand to far-flung markets in Europe and Asia. The exterior design took a giant leap in 2016 with a far sleeker look, and it took yet another step with a 2020 facelift that also spruced up the interior. Now, for 2023, Compass gets a new powertrain, some handling refinements, and even more interior upgrades.
Broomed out is the old 2.4-liter “Tigershark” four-cylinder that goes all the way back to 2013 (and which proved to be more of a kittyfish), in comes a 2.0-liter direct-injected turbocharged four that punches horsepower from 177 up to 200, and torque from 172 pound-feet to 221 pound-feet, with most of it available from 1750 rpm. In a rare case of a transmission actually dropping in ratios, a new eight-speed automatic replaces the nine-speed ZF 9HP that, shall we say, had a rough start in life and never really outgrew its troubled quality rep.
Even so, the EPA rating also goes up by 2 mpg, from 22 city/30 highway to 24 and 32, respectively. In the grand scheme, those aren’t particularly stellar numbers, about average for this circa-$30,000 B-segment class of crossovers which, despite their reduced size, can drink through the juice like the bigger boys (if you want fuel thrift, consider the hybrid Hyundai Tucson at 37 mpg combined). We’re guessing that moving to a smaller turbo engine allows Jeep to game the EPA test a bit more than with the old 2.4, meaning it can run the EPA test off-boost to produce better numbers, but drivers won’t see much change in real-world driving while hauling kids and stuff up hills.
One big initiative in the new Compass was to improve steering response through some spring and shock tuning changes, including a stiffer anti-roll bar in back. Over a brief drive through the Malibu, California hills we can say that the steering indeed feels alert and tracks a corner with reasonable precision. However, the most noticeable change was in interior noise and vibration. The car is pretty quiet inside, thanks in part to new hydraulic engine mounts, and the turbo engine/transmission combo works with seamless efficiency, always seeming to be in the right gear and at the right rpm for the moment.
You can shift manually by sliding the selector over, but you can’t call up a sport mode as there isn’t one. The fact that we didn’t feel the need for one while driving twisty roads is a hearty compliment to the engineers who tuned the software. It helps that the turbo engine behaves almost like a diesel; there is a low, 6200-rpm redline and ample low-end grunt. The outgoing car’s frantic shifting isn’t necessary when the engine has a broad, muscular torque curve.
Specs: 2023 Jeep Compass
- Base price: $31,590 (Sport 4×4) – $39,935 (High Altitude 4×4)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbo I-4; eight-speed automatic
- Output: 200 hp @ 5000 rpm, 221 lb-ft @ 1750–4250 rpm
- Layout: Four-wheel-drive, five-seat compact crossover
- Weight: 3620 lbs
- EPA-rated fuel economy: 24/32/27 (city/hwy/combined)
- Cargo capacity: 27.2 cu ft / 59.8 cu ft (rear seats up / down)
- Towing capacity: Up to 2000 lbs
- Competitors: Ford Escape, Toyota RAV4, Mazda CX-5, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda CR-V
The engineers also did some work on the off-road modes for the get-dirty Trailhawk version, which includes more ground clearance, skidplates, and bigger tires. Creeping over rocks and through ditches cut by heavy rains, the Trailhawk proved highly maneuverable and easy to ooze over obstacles. Which, despite its ultimately superior capability, can’t be said about the Wrangler, Jeep’s standard-bearing off-roader. (In this author’s opinion, the Wangler has for years suffered a throttle that is far too jumpy at initial tip-in for careful rock-crawling.)
Interior upgrades include wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which synced up quickly with our phones, plus some safety tech spread across all trims including drowsy-driver detection. While the Compass starts right at $30,000, it’s easy to go over $40,000 with some rich option packages. The Altitude 4×4 we drove stickered at $42,550 with three packages that were close to $2000 each. The Altitude package at $1795 (gloss-black exterior treatments including 18-inch wheels) struck us as the most dispensable and likely the most shameless profit generator for Jeep. If you want a power tailgate, perhaps the one feature every SUV should have, it’s buried in a $1995 convenience group that includes heated power seats and auto climate control.
Thus, while the Compass is now a nifty and very well sorted and refined little crossover, be prepared to spend if you want the best versions.
2023 Jeep Compass
Highs: A handsome face, excellent noise and vibration refinement, new engine has some beans.
Lows: Gets pricey with the good options, fuel economy is still average among the competitive set.
Takeaway: The Compass demonstrates perfectly how the cute-ute segment has drastically upped its game.
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Hopefully it is substantially better than the previous model. That felt like such a poorly made penalty box.
Agree with Gary. The previous Compass has poor resale value which is a direct result of reliability issues. To my knowledge (and my experience) the only Jeep that is close to bullet proof is the Grand Cherokee, which only suffers from engine top end lifter failures. Outside of that it is pretty bullet proof. Mine is at 150K miles and showing no signs of engine power decline.