The Jeep Compass, for the most part, 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 is one of the best-handling Jeeps ever—and certainly one of the most maneuverable for tight corners and tight spaces.
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, especially off the line.
The entry-level Compass trim gets the five-speed manual standard, with a CVT included on the Latitude and Limited models. Between these two engines, you might as well go with the larger one—it has a little more torque, so it's slightly perkier from a stoplight. We recommend the manual, as 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.
Base Compass 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. Appearance elements of the Freedom Drive II package included 17-inch alloy wheels, and fog lamps. The Freedom Drive II package is recommended for "moderate off-road situations," including steep grades, occasional wheel lift, and rock or log climbing, and on a loose, muddy trail, we were extremely impressed by the level of traction and composure.