A couple of years ago Chrysler invested some money in making the Compass better-looking, but it didn't complete the task by also making it better-performing. As it stands, the Compass ends up being adequate but uninspiring in some respects, downright disappointing in others—even though its horsepower numbers and specs look respectable.
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.
For the most part, the Compass drives like a high-riding small passenger car. With its underpinnings shared mostly with the Dodge Caliber, it handles at 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.
But here's where the Compass stands apart from its more carlike cousin: If you give it the right options, you'll end up with a vehicle that's worthy of its Jeep badge. 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.