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The Jeep Compass is more rugged now than it was when it was first introduced. While the Compass was originally panned for its homely styling and chintzy interior, the automaker tweaked the design modestly a couple of years ago—just enough to make it over as 'mini Grand Cherokee' but not enough to remedy the low-rent feel that's evident from the first time you get inside.
Although the 2013 Compass still looks a little awkward from some angles, the nips and tucks worked wonders, and it's now even somewhat attractive on the outside. With that last refresh, the Compass also got a spruce-up inside; but unlike the extensive makeover given to the interior of the Dodge Journey crossover, this one still looks cheapish.
Even though the makeover worked wonders for first impressions, it did nothing to improve the Compass' performance, which is adequate but not at all inspiring. We recommend getting the 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine over the 158-hp, 2.0-liter four, mainly because the larger engine makes 24 pound-feet more torque—a difference you can feel in the Compass, especially off the line. If you like manual transmissions, go for the relatively nice five-speed here; otherwise this model continues to be saddled with continuously variable automatic transmissions (CVTs) that respond slowly when you need a quick burst of power (or power out of a corner) and tend to bring out these engines' very coarse, loud character. Gas mileage used to be reasonably against competing models a few years ago, but it's lagged behind newer designs; for 2013, Jeep has boosted the highway mileage of five-speed models to 30 mpg.
There remain two different four-wheel drive options; those who want AWD for snowy or muddy driveways are going to be fine with the Freedom Drive I system, but the step-up Freedom Drive II system gives this vehicle a level of off-road ability that's unusual in crossovers this size. It gets a special version of the continuously-variable transaxle that engages in off-road mode, a one-inch higher ride height, skid plates, and a full-size spare. It gets rugged appearance upgrades, too, but it's enough for some off-road situations with logs and boulders, and it's enough of a real deal to earn Jeep's Trail Rated badge.
The 2013 Compass feels like a small car, riding several inches higher than it otherwise would. Ride quality is on the harsh side, but harder impacts and harder cornering bring out a softness and bouncing that's not always welcome. Chrysler has made several attempts to tamp down engine noise, but it's still one of the louder vehicles in this class from inside the cabin.
That said, the packaging is quite good. The interior is well laid-out and comes with a number of innovative features, like a rechargeable flashlight and outward-facing tailgate speakers. But due to seats that fall short on comfort and support, the Compass merely does the job; the rear bench in particular is one of the hardest, flattest ones we've tested in such a vehicle. Cargo space is limited—both because the cargo floor is surprisingly high, and simply because there isn't much space behind the rear seats.The Compass' equipment list is best compared to that of an affordable small car. 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. Automatic climate control and 18-inch alloys are reserved for top Limited models.