2012 Jeep Compass Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
February 14, 2012

The 2012 Jeep Compass looks pretty good—and its combination of versatile interior, mild off-road ability, and reasonably good gas mileage make it even more attractive—but it simply fails to feel cohesive, responsive, or refined.

Jeep's Compass compact crossover is closely related to the boxy Jeep Patriot. But until last year it was almost unanimously panned for its homely styling and chintzy interior, but things took an about face last year with a cosmetic refresh that changed its sheetmetal throughout and gave the model a 'mini-Grand Cherokee' look.

The nips and tucks worked wonders; even though it's still a little awkward from some angles, the 2012 Jeep Compass is now somewhat attractive, if a bit conservative. Inside, Jeep hasn't quite given it the revolutionary interior makeover that Chrysler gave to the Dodge Journey last year; it's been modestly spruced up but definitely feels done on a budget.

While the makeover made the Compass better-looking, it's not any better-performing, or really much more refined than before, unfortunately. A 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine is standard, but we still recommend the step-up 172-hp, 2.4-liter four, as it makes 24 pound-feet more torque—a difference you can feel in the Compass, especially off the line. The five-speed manual transmission that's standard is quite agreeable, but this model's Achilles Heel continues to be its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which is slow to ramp up revs and respond to passing demands or merely confident acceleration out of tight corners. The CVT also brings out these engines' tendency to be loud, coarse, and vibration-prone.

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Base 2012 Jeep Compass Sport models come with front-wheel drive. While the Freedom Drive I option is essentially for those who want all-wheel-drive ability for snow or mud, the Freedom Drive II system gives this vehicle a level of off-road ability that's unusual in small crossovers. As such, the Compass gains Jeep's Trail Rated badge, bringing a continuously-variable transaxle that engages in off-road mode, a one-inch higher ride height, skid plates, and a full-size spare. It includes appearance upgrades, too, but it's beyond that--actually making the Compass good enough for mud and some situations with logs and boulders.

For four adults, the Compass's interior does the job; seats tend to be quite short and lacking in support, so it's no long-haul highway cruiser, but the driving position is upright yet quite carlike. In back there's enough headroom for most adults (although legroom is a bit tight), and the bench is among the hardest, flattest ones we've tested. Cargo space remains limited, as there's not a lot of space behind the back seats and the cargo floor is somewhat high. And the Compass cabin isn't all that refined in other ways; the ride tends to be a bit too soft in corners, yet too pitchy over rough pavement. And while Jeep has added more noise insulation, these models still have a surprising amount of engine noise when accelerating. But the interior is well laid-out and comes with a number of innovative features, like a rechargeable flashlight and outward-facing tailgate speakers.

The Compass hasn't been rated for safety since its refresh, by either of the major safety agencies, but its features are pretty strong, albeit typical for the class. Side curtain airbags, Brake Traction Control, a driver-controlled three-mode Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist, Electronic Roll Mitigation, and Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with rough-road detection are all included, along with front-seat side airbags and active head restraints.

Equipment is far from what you'll find in the flagship Jeep Grand Cherokee, but the Compass comes pretty well-equipped for a model with an entry price of $20k. Power accessories, fog lamps, and alloy wheels are included in all models, while Latitude and Limited models get extras like remote start, Bluetooth, tailgate speakers, a universal remote, and a media center with 30 gigabytes of storage. Limited models are distinguished by their big 18-inch alloys and come with automatic climate control.

6

2012 Jeep Compass

Styling

The 2012 Jeep Compass is no longer a design oddity, but there's still a little ungainliness.

Last year, Jeep pulled off a transformation, giving the dowdy Compass a makeover that corresponded with the all-new Grand Cherokee. While the Compass isn't exactly as attractively proportioned as the Grand Cherokee, this is a case in which the details make the difference

The nips and tucks worked wonders; even though it's still a little awkward from some angles, the 2012 Jeep Compass is now somewhat attractive, if a bit conservative. The proportions are the same, with the boxy wheelwell outline and smooth rear-pillar upkick preserved. The front end is essentially a smaller, softer version of the Grand Cherokee's, while the taillamps have also been softened. Overall, the Compass has a vaguely sleeker, classier look from some angles, but from others there's still a hint of ungainliness.

The interior of the 2012 Compass is straightforward and functional—and appealing in appearance if not always touch. The Compass doesn't quite get the total makeover that several other Jeep and Chrysler products have received over the past year or two. The Compass's cabin has been modestly spruced up with better materials and a cleaner look, but it definitely feels done on a budget. Jeep claimed to have upgraded trims and finishes last year, but aside from the attractive optional leather seats with contrasting piping those upgrades are basically limited to a new steering wheel, some new knobs for the climate control, and a few more bright plasti-chrome accents.

6

2012 Jeep Compass

Performance

Properly optioned, the 2012 Jeep Compass is a capable off-roader, but otherwise its performance appeal is limited by sluggish, subpar powertrains.

With last year's refresh, Jeep made the Compass somewhat better-looking, but it didn't make it any better-performing. A 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine remains standard, and we recommend the step-up 172-hp, 2.4-liter four, as it makes 24 pound-feet more torque—a difference you can feel in the Compass, especially off the line—without real-world gas mileage being much lower.

The five-speed manual transmission that's standard is quite agreeable, but this model's Achilles Heel continues to be its continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT), which is slow to ramp up revs and respond to passing demands or merely confident acceleration out of tight corners. The CVT also brings out these engines' overwhelming tendency to be loud, coarse, and vibration-prone.

For the most part, the 2012 Compass drives like a high-riding small passenger car. And that's really what it is; with car-based underpinnings at least partly shared with the Dodge Caliber, the Compass handles and maneuvers very well—especially at city speeds.

The strength of the Compass remains the surprisingly good trail capability afforded by the available Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package. Base Compass models come with front-wheel drive, and there's a Freedom Drive I 4x4 package that brings carlike all-wheel drive ability good for getting out of a snowy driveway. But the Freedom Drive II package gains Jeep's Trail Rated badge (assuring that it meets a rigorous checklist for trail driving) and includes a continuously-variable transaxle that engages in off-road mode, a one-inch higher ride height, skid plates, and a full-size spare. It includes appearance upgrades, too, in the way of 17-inch alloy wheels and fog lamps. We've been impressed with its ability to negotiate mud and sand and, in some situations, logs and boulders.

6

2012 Jeep Compass

Comfort & Quality

The interior of the 2012 Jeep Compass has plenty of functional usefulness, but it's lacking in flair and refinement.

The 2012 Jeep Compass, all said, has a pretty roomy and versatile interior layout. But cargo space is limited, and whether referring to ride quality or cabin noise, refinement is lacking.

For four adults, the Compass's interior does the job; seats tend to be quite short and lacking in support, so it's no long-haul highway cruiser, but the driving position is upright yet quite carlike. In back there's enough headroom for most adults (although legroom is a bit tight), and the bench is among the hardest, flattest ones we've tested. Also, while the Compass got some upgrades inside for 2011, with soft-touch surfaces for the door panels plus all-new upholsteries (and items like backlit door switches and window controls). The new materials go a long way toward improving first impressions, but they still feel on the cheap side. 

But the interior is well laid-out and comes with plenty of cubbies and bins for storing smaller items, plus a number of innovative features, like a rechargeable flashlight and outward-facing tailgate speakers.

Cargo space remains limited, as there's not a lot of space behind the back seats and the cargo floor is somewhat high. And the Compass cabin isn't all that refined in other ways; the ride tends to be a bit too soft in corners, yet too pitchy over rough pavement. And while Jeep has added more noise insulation, these models still have a surprising amount of engine noise when accelerating or on coarse road surfaces.
7

2012 Jeep Compass

Safety

The 2012 Jeep Compass doesn't have any official, updated crash-test ratings, but there are plenty of signs that it's a strong, safe package; rear visibility might be difficult for some, though.

The Compass hasn't been rated for safety since its refresh, by either of the major safety agencies, but its features are pretty strong, albeit typical for the class.

Side curtain airbags, Brake Traction Control, a driver-controlled three-mode Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist, Electronic Roll Mitigation, and Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with rough-road detection are all included, along with front-seat side airbags and active head restraints.

The closely related Jeep Patriot has been rated for 2012 by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), and it's earned top 'good' ratings in all categories—as well as Top Safety Pick status. And we read that as a good sign for the Compass. 

You'll want to take a look around and make sure you have a good field of vision for parking or changing lanes. For many drivers, the rear-pillar upkick gets in the way during lane changes.

9

2012 Jeep Compass

Features

The 2012 Jeep Compass has a thoughtful feature set that's still up-to-date and offers a lot for the money.

Equipment is far from what you'll find in the flagship Jeep Grand Cherokee, but value is a strong point for the 2012 Compass. For a model with an entry price of $20k, it comes very well equipped.

Between Compass, Latitude, and Limited models, all three can be had with any of the off-road packages, with the primary differentiation being on the level of interior equipment. Power accessories, fog lamps, and alloy wheels are included in all models, while Latitude and Limited models get extras like remote start, Bluetooth, tailgate speakers, a universal remote, and a media center with 30 gigabytes of storage. Limited models are distinguished by their big 18-inch alloys and come with automatic climate control and an upgraded media center.

The list of features and options isn't boring either; it includes several interesting—and useful—items, like a cool tailgate speaker setup and a cargo-area rechargeable flashlight.

7

2012 Jeep Compass

Fuel Economy

Against traditional off-road SUVs, 4WD Compass models have some merit; but those with green expectations will be disappointed.

Depending on which 2012 Compass you choose—and your level of green expectations—you could be satisfied, or you could be shocked and disappointed.

None of the Jeep Compass models quite hit 30 mpg, which is a bit surprising for a compact crossover that's definitely on the compact side of the spectrum. And while the Compass offers two closely related (and closely sized) four-cylinder engines, its ratings can vary quite widely. EPA City ratings range from 20 to 23 mpg, and highway ratings span up to 29.

Base front-wheel-drive, manual-transmission Compass models are the best of the bunch, at 23/29, while with 4WD and the Freedom Drive II Off-Road Package, the Compass gets a miserable 20 mpg city, 23 highway—that's on par, or even worse, than some much larger SUVs with more space and serious towing ability.

To sum, it's definitely relative here; compared to the front-wheel-drive Compass models, you're much better off, and much greener, in choosing another compact crossover or wagon. But if off-road capability is a priority, the Compass is respectable if not compelling.

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July 24, 2015
2012 Jeep Compass 4WD 4-Door Sport

Most small crossover suv for the money!

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This vehicle has had bad reviews by JEEP fans due to its CVT transmission. I'm used to the CVT since its the same drive system as our Prius and my scooter. It does take some getting used to and some relearning... + More »
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