2018 Jeep Compass Buying Advice
This is the best SUV for you if you seek a middle ground between a subcompact and compact crossover. Jeep hopes bridging the size gap between these two hot market segments can make its second-generation Compass stand out among more than two dozen competitors.
Hot also describes the Jeep brand. Despite year-over-year sales down 12 percent, Jeep is on pace to exceed 800,000 vehicle sales in the United States for calendar 2017. That beats BMW, GMC, Hyundai, Kia, Lexus, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Subaru, and Volkswagen. Jeep accounts for roughly 40 percent of sales for its parent company Fiat-Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), whose other brands include Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, and Ram Trucks.
Within the Jeep hierarchy, Compass has the lowest sales volume, but nonetheless posted a 9.9-percent climb in demand for 2017, to around 85,000. Jeep’s middle-of-the-road path for this crossover seems on track.
Should you buy a 2018 model or wait for the ’19?
Little reason to wait for the ’19. Compass was redesigned for model-year 2017 and won’t be significantly refreshed until model-year 2020 or ’21. So buying a 2018 gets you a crossover that’ll stay current for a few years and lets you duck model-year price increases on what’ll be essentially an unchanged vehicle.
The first-generation Compass was on sale from 2007-2016 and was based on the lamentable Dodge Caliber compact car. The new model rides a stretched version of the Fiat-developed platform that underpins the subcompact Jeep Renegade and Fiat 500X crossovers. The current Compass is better than its predecessor in every metric and is a far more competitive vehicle in the overall compact crossover landscape.
Styling: Not surprisingly, the 2018 Compass’ styling is a repeat of the 2017. Designers made the right choice in modeling its appearance after Jeep’s flagship Grand Cherokee SUV. Compass doesn’t have the boxy, Wrangler-like proportions of the smaller Renegade, nor the oddly styled beak of the larger Cherokee. Note that Jeep is freshening the Cherokee’s styling for model-year ’19 with a softened front end, but the Compass remains the more stylish entry, with a classy appearance that belies its price and market positioning. The Trailhawk looks appropriately tough, with beefier wheels, extra ride height, unique hood decal, and signature red tow hooks.
Interior materials quality is above average, with nicely textured plastics and available contrast piping on the seats, shifter boot, door panels, and center armrest. The thick steering wheel feels great in hand, particularly the leather-wrapped version that’s optional on the Sport and standard otherwise.
Compass has more front-seat headroom and legroom than the Cherokee. Its tall driving position affords good forward visibility, though tall rear headrests partially obscure the view out the back. The back seat has similar headroom as the Cherokee and only gives up 2 inches of legroom to its larger sibling. Most occupants won’t even notice, as the rear bench is otherwise very comfortable and supportive. Wide door openings make for easy ingress and egress.
Cargo volume also rivals some larger compact-class crossovers. With 27.2 cubic feet behind the rear seatbacks and 59.8 with them folded, Compass has about 10 percent more space than the Cherokee. Small items storage is just OK, however. The glovebox is of a decent size, but we wish the center console was wider. The cupholders sit front-to-back instead of next to each other. This would be fine if they were farther forward on the console, but the sliding center armrest can sit directly above the rear cupholder, making access a bit awkward.
Instruments and controls are something of a mixed bag. The speedometer and tachometer are a touch on the small side, but the large LCD screen between them compensates by offering a high degree of customization, such as a redundant digital speed readout.
Similarly customizable is the available 7- or 8.4-inch touchscreen infotainment system that includes Chrysler’s Uconnect 4 software suite. Uconnect gets high marks for its fast response to user inputs and the ability to create a custom “home row” to quickly access your most used features by simply dragging your preferred icons to the bottom of the screen. The settings menu is chock full of options to tweak the Compass to your preferences, including behavior of the available remote engine start, the ability to disable the rain-sensing function of the windshield wipers, and more. We wish all automakers offered such a high degree of flexibility.
While there are a few discrete climate and audio buttons, they’re mounted too low on the central dashboard stack. Further, some controls, such as those for the available heated front seats and steering wheel, are governed through the Uconnect system, which can require several virtual button presses in order to make adjustments.
Mechanical: All Compass models make do with a single engine, the 2.4-liter four-cylinder that’s also available in the Renegade, 500X, and Cherokee. It produces a middling 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque. While less than 5 percent of Compass buyers will select it, Jeep deserves kudos for being one of a small handful of automakers to offer a crossover with a manual transmission. It has six speeds and is available on front- and all-wheel-drive Sport models, as well as the AWD Latitude. Automatic transmission options include a 6-speed for front-drive versions and a 9-speed for those equipped with AWD.
Only AWD models have been made available for us to evaluate. Non-Trailhawk grades have decent acceleration, but the 9-speed gearbox continues to be a thorn in FCA’s side. It doesn’t always shift smoothly, and at steady-state speeds of around 35-45 mph, it can’t decide on the gear in which it wants to stay. The Trailhawk weighs 306 pounds more than other AWD Compass models, and it’s noticeably slower off the line and when merging and passing. It would be nice if FCA’s engineers could adapt the rear-drive-based Grand Cherokee’s excellent 8-speed automatic for use with its smaller, front-drive-based crossovers.
Non-Trailhawk models exhibit a fine balance between ride and handling. Limited grades have standard 18-inch wheels (optional on the Latitude), which furnish very good grip while still delivering a surprisingly smooth ride; 19s are an option on this model but we haven’t tested one so equipped. Lesser Compass grades use 16s or 17s, which are slightly more biased toward ride softness. The Trailhawk has off-road-ready 17-inch tires and is capable of going where most small crossovers cannot. You pay a price on-road for that performance, as the tires are noisier and less able to absorbing road imperfections. Road and tire noise aren’t especially noticeable on other Compass models, though engine drone is an issue across the board.
Features: Compass Sport is standard entry-level compact crossover fare, with the usual array of power accessories, Bluetooth connectivity with 5-inch touchscreen infotainment powered by Chrysler Uconnect 3, 16-inch wheels, and a rearview camera. Pushbutton engine start is included, along with a capless fuel filler and a handy USB charging port for rear-seat passengers that’s on the back of the center console.
Latitude models have 17-inch wheels, automatic headlights, upgraded exterior and interior trim, and are available with more extra-cost convenience and safety features than the Sport.
Trailhawks get the previously mentioned off-road hardware and exterior styling cues, a full-size spare tire (other models have an inflation kit or optional compact spare), dual-zone automatic climate control, 8.4-inch infotainment screen with Uconnect 4, satellite radio, cloth/leather blend upholstery, and keyless access.
The Limited adds its own unique exterior trim, 18-inch wheels, full leather upholstery, power driver’s seat, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, and remote engine start.
Pricing for the 2018 Jeep Compass falls in line with this crossover’s mission of blending subcompact and compact attributes. Note that base prices listed here include Jeep’s $1,095 destination fee.
With front-wheel drive, the Sport starts at $22,090 with manual transmission and $23,590 with automatic. All other front-drive Compass models are automatic only. The Latitude’s base price is $25,390 while the Limited’s is $28,690.
The AWD Sport grade starts at $23,590 with manual transmission and $25,090 with the automatic. The AWD Latitude starts at $25,390 with the manual and $26,890 with the automatic. The Trailhawk’s base price is $20,790 while the Limited’s is $30,190.
Options for the Sport include the Tech Group ($895), which includes 7-inch infotainment screen with Uconnect 4, CarPlay, Android Auto, satellite radio, rear-obstacle detection, and dual-zone automatic climate control. The Cold Weather Group ($745) adds a leather steering wheel, heated front seats, heated steering wheel, windshield-wiper de-icer, all-season floor mats, and remote engine start on models with the automatic transmission. The Sport Appearance Plus Package ($695) includes black roof rails, alloy wheels, and deep tinting for the windshield.
The Latitude and Trailhawk also offer the Cold Weather Group, and it costs $845 and $795, respectively. Imbedded GPS mapping with 8.4-inch screen is part of the Navigation Group ($1,095 on Latitude, $995 on Trailhawk and Limited). The Latitude’s Popular Equipment Group costs $1,295 and includes most of the items in the Sport’s Tech Group (except rear-obstacle detection), along with a power driver’s seat. As the Trailhawk already has Uconnect 4 as standard, its Popular Equipment Group is just $645 for the power driver’s seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and remote engine start. Leather upholstery is $1,595 for the Trailhawk.
The Safe & Security Group ($895 on Latitude and Trailhawk, $745 on the Limited) includes rain-sensing wipers, blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection, rear-obstacle detection, and remote engine start on the Latitude and Trailhawk if you didn’t order the Cold Weather Group. Safe & Security is required to add the $895 Advanced Safety & Lighting Group, which includes lane-departure warning, automatic headlight control with high-intensity bi-xenon lights, and forward-collision warning.
A compact spare tire is $245 on the Sport, Latitude, and Limited. Latitude, Trailhawk, and Limited offer a power liftgate for $495, a panoramic sunroof for $1,295, and a Beats audio system for $695.
If you can tolerate the 9-speed automatic transmission’s quirks, our pick for the best value is an AWD Latitude with the Popular Equipment, Safe & Security, and Advanced Safety & Lighting groups, along with a power liftgate and compact spare for a total sticker price of $30,715. If you live a colder climate, add $845 for the Cold Weather Group.
Compass’ portly curb weight contributes to fuel-economy ratings that are slightly below average among compact-class crossovers. With manual transmission, EPA-estimated ratings are 23/32/26 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 22/31/25 with AWD. Automatic models rate 22/31/25 mpg with front drive and 22/30/25 with AWD.
Compass uses regular-grade 87-octane fuel.
Expect the second-generation Compass to have a slightly shorter lifecycle than its predecessor, which was on the market for nine years. With that in mind, it will be due for a freshening for the 2020 model year. At that point, we expect revised exterior styling. We also hope the interior will be re-worked to make the physical climate-control switches more accessible, along with adding discrete buttons for the heated seats and steering wheel.
We also hope FCA will continue to work on improving the 9-speed transmission’s drivability, as well as the dependability of its vehicles. FCA does not have the best reputation for reliability as evidenced by generally poor scores on customer-satisfaction surveys.
The 2018 Compass is better than the…
Hyundai Tucson, whose available dual-clutch automatic transmission behaves even more poorly than the Compass’ 9-speed. Kia Sportage, which is somewhat oddly styled and is no more spacious inside despite having a larger footprint. Toyota C-HR, which is cheaper overall but doesn’t offer all-wheel drive, is slow, and has very poor visibility.
The 2018 Compass is not as good as the…
Honda CR-V, the compact-crossover benchmark for room, comfort, and road manners. Nissan Rogue, which offers a more refined driving experience. Subaru Crosstrek, nearly as capable off-road as the Jeep but with a better reputation for reliability and resale value.