2016 Jeep Compass Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
June 29, 2016

The 2016 Jeep Compass is a competent, bargain-priced, and generally well-equipped small crossover; but it's lacking in the tech and safety areas.

It seems like the Jeep Compass has been living on borrowed time for years, as this somewhat ill-conceived vehicle has floundered and then, bit by bit, been given another lease on life—even though by today's standards it's behind the curve in safety and tech.

As it stands, the 2016 Jeep Compass is more of a "mini-Grand Cherokee" than the odd econobox Jeep hatchback from which it morphed.

With a replacement due soon, Jeep has slimmed down the Compass lineup a bit for 2016. The Limited model of previous year, with its leather seating and four-wheel disc brakes, among other things, has been discontinued, and value appears to be even more of an emphasis—especially considering the all-new Renegade model that's arrived across the showroom.

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Today, if you don't have high expectations and you need a somewhat rugged vehicle that fits a strict price limit, the Compass offers a presentable interior, a smooth powertrain, and predictable handling, making it much more in tune with what buyers expect from a small crossover.

The profile of the Compass has become a little more Grand Cherokee influenced, for the better, but it remains somewhat trapezoidal with soft details, making it look more cute than 'ute. Inside, the Compass has never been nearly as controversial; while Chrysler went well beyond the realm of normal mid-cycle revamps in upgrading the cabin materials, look, and feel, what it amounted to here is sort of a "lite" version of the phenomenally good revamps given to other Dodge and Jeep models in recent years.

The first few years of Compass were known for their coarse, buzzy engines and sluggish continuously variable transmission (CVT). Refinement has improved, but the base powerplant on the Compass remains a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4, while top Limited models come with a 172-hp, 2.4-liter version. A 5-speed manual gearbox is standard on the Sport, while a 6-speed automatic is probably the best option for most buyers. Jeep still offers CVTs throughout the Compass lineup—and it's required to get the model's most capable Trail Rated four-wheel-drive system that gives you enough to churn through sand or do some modest rock-crawling. Furthermore, fuel economy isn't all that great for the lineup—30 mpg on the highway at best—but that off-road package brings an EPA-rated 20 mpg city, 23 highway, 21 combined.

Part of what's leaving this model feeling dated is that in the Compass you sit far deeper below the beltline of this model than you do in most newer crossover or small-SUV models. Front seat comfort is merely adequate, while the rear bench is one of the hardest, flattest ones we've tested in such a vehicle.

All versions have acoustic laminated front windshield glass, which incrementally helps subdue the Compass model's ongoing issues with engine noise. But its safety record is still hard to stand by. While front active head restraints, electronic stability control, and Hill Start Assist are standard on all models of the Compass, its three-star frontal results from the federal government are cause for hesitation.

Jeep has slimmed down the number of builds of the Compass somewhat for 2016; it's now offered in two different trim levels: Sport and Latitude. For 2016 Jeep has added a hand-free calling system and satellite radio to the standard-equipment list. The top-of-the-line Limited is gone this year—as is that model's leather seating and four-wheel disc brakes (although a new High Altitude Package most of its features back, plus a sunroof and chrome-clad alloy wheels).

But some of the coolest features that used to make the Compass a standout—things like its integrated rechargeable flashlight and tailgate speakers—have been phased out.

Later in the year, a new Sport SE package will bring heated cloth mesh front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, 18-inch Mineral Gray wheels, and Mineral Gray trim elements (including roof rails), as well as a rearview camera.

Fuel economy isn't a selling point of the Compass. Modern SUVs can be much bigger and return the same fuel economy as the Compass; case in point, Jeep's own Grand Cherokee. At best, the Compass manages 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined; at worst, 20/23/21 mpg. Choose carefully.

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2016 Jeep Compass

Styling

The 2016 Jeep Compass is outdated overall, although its mini-Grand Cherokee exterior works from some angles.

The Jeep Compass has gone an unusually long time—it's entering its 10th model year—without a major redesign. And yet, you might not suspect the Compass of being so world-worn.

That's because in 2011—yes, five years ago now, but still—Jeep righted much of what was wrong in the homely awkwardness of the original Compass design. The boxy wheelwell outline and out-of-proportion upkick in the rear flanks remain of that, but they've somehow softened over time, and all the details gave fit together far better ever since that make-or-break mid-cycle revamp.

What we'd call its present-day look—the "mini-Grand Cherokee" look—succeeds as a whole; the result is a vehicle that still has some awkward angles yet fits much better into the market today than when it was introduced.

The Grand-Cherokee-like grille, headlights, and hood are the highlights of the design, and of course they're some of the newest elements. Last year also brought some detail changes, like a new grille treatment. And the Compass's profile is somewhat trapezoidal with soft details, making it look more cute than 'ute.

Inside, the Compass has never been nearly as controversial. It's a straightforward-but-functional theme inside, and while Chrysler went well beyond the realm of normal mid-cycle revamps in upgrading the cabin materials, look, and feel. What it amounted to here is sort of a "lite" version of the phenomenally good revamps given to the cabin of the Dodge Durango and Chrysler 200, among many others, in recent years.

Upholsteries and trims were revamped then, with available Saddle Brown perforated leather upholstery with accent stitching, for instance, or a new sport mesh-and-vinyl with accent stitching. And the palette of colors has gradually been reworked; last year Eco Green Clear Coat was new on the exterior-color list, while this year it's Mojave Sand.

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2016 Jeep Compass

Performance

The Compass has reasonably good drivability, but there's nothing remarkable here unless you factor in the available off-road prowess.

There are two different engines offered for the Jeep Compass lineup, as well as three different transmissions; and although it might not be immediately clear which you should go for, keep in mind that each one serves a rather specific purpose.

At the base level, the Compass Sport is powered by a 158-horsepower, 2.0-liter inline-4 with front-wheel drive. Step up to Latitude models or all-wheel-drive versions of the Sport and you instead get a 172-hp, 2.4-liter version. A 6-speed automatic is offered on most of the lineup, although a 5-speed manual is standard on the Sport.

There's a continuously variable transmission (CVT) for the lineup, too; but it serves a special purpose. It's required equipment if you want the Trail Rated badge and the best off-road gear—the Freedom Drive II four-wheel-drive system. In part, that's because the CVT includes an integrated low range, which allows the Compass to take on some semi-serious off-roading—and definitely far more than most other cute crossovers in this size class would be able to tackle.

The 6-speed brings a higher top gear for lower revs at highway cruising speeds, while there’s also a low 4.21 first gear for stronger launches—plus AutoStick manual control. It's also as much of an improvement in drivability as you might think; in a short spin, we found the automatic transmission in the Compass to be not only more responsive, but more settled. We'll add more impressions on the new automatic as soon as we can spend more time with one.

The Compass is somewhat unique in that it is available with four-wheel drive and a manual transmission (again, only with the more modest Sport model). We've found manual-gearbox versions of the Compass to have decent drivability, although the notchy shifter and imprecise clutch detract from driving enjoyment somewhat.

Ride and handling for this model actually isn't bad on a wide range of street and highway conditions. The ride can be a bit busy here, as it can in any models with a rather short wheelbase, but the steering is relatively well-weighted and the Compass drives like a tall-riding small car.

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2016 Jeep Compass

Comfort & Quality

The Compass hits the mark on functionality, but it's sorely lacking in flair.

If there's one place in which the 2016 Jeep Compass most shows its age, it's inside, where the cabin has seen some incremental improvements over the years—and one significant one—yet it remains a bit behind the class in terms of refinement and detailing.

The interior is well laid-out and comes with a number of neat features, like outward-facing tailgate speakers. From the driver's seat, the Compass feels like a small car—one that rides several inches higher than it otherwise would.

And part of what's leaving this model feeling dated is that nearly every other model in its class has gone with a somewhat different interior packaging approach. The Compass has a dash that feels high up, and you sit far deeper below the beltline of this model than you do in the Jeep Renegade, for example. Front seat comfort is merely adequate, while the rear bench is one of the hardest, flattest ones we've tested in such a vehicle.

Cargo space behind the rear seats (the seatbacks do flip forward easily) is a compromise that must be made. Here, by the way, is where the closely related Jeep Patriot starts to make a little more sense as the Patriot's squared-off look allows a more usable cargo area.

The ride is probably just comfortable enough for most needs, but it can be a bit on the harsh side, more like that of a small car than other compact crossovers. Engine noise is no longer the deal-breaking issue that it was some years ago in the Compass, as all models get acoustic laminated front windshield glass.

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2016 Jeep Compass

Safety

There's a lack of crash-test information for the 2016 Jeep Compass, although all the basics are here.

You might be missing some of the best active-safety protection that a decade brings when going with a dated model like the 2016 Jeep Compass. And if this is for family use, we'd also be concerned about the occupant-safety scores that this model offers.

Currently, only the NHTSA has rated the Compass. In the federal testing program, the Compass earned three stars for frontal crash and four stars for rollover, as well as four stars overall and five in side impact in 2014.

The IIHS hasn't given the Compass safety ratings; yet the very closely related Jeep Patriot has earned top "Good" ratings in all categories except the small overlap front test, where it is rated "Poor." Consider that a somewhat positive counter to those truly bottom-rung federal results.

That said, Jeep isn't exactly pulling any punches and keeping the Compass up to date. It doesn't offer any kind of modern active-safety hardware for 2016, although the set of safety-related equipment still includes anti-lock braking with rough-road detection, hill-start assist, active head restraints, and a driver-controlled electronic stability program.

The relatively low seating position and high beltline make outward visibility challenging during lane changes and parking—although a rearview camera system is available on the Sport model and standard on the Latitude.

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2016 Jeep Compass

Features

The Compass is strong in value for money—if you can deal with a consolidated, unremarkable feature set.

Jeep has slimmed down the number of builds of the Compass somewhat for 2016; it's now offered in two different trim levels: Sport and Latitude.

The 2016 Jeep Compass Sport includes air conditioning, power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, fog lamps, and illuminated cupholders; and for 2016 Jeep has added a hands-free calling system and satellite radio to the standard-equipment list.

Latitude models add heated cloth front seats, a fold-flat passenger seat, 60/40-split reclining rear seats, a 115-volt power plug, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel, among other items.

The top-of-the-line Limited is gone this year—as is that model's leather seating and four-wheel disc brakes. Although some of its convenience features, like automatic climate control, remain offered as part of packages.

The Altitude, priced between Sport and Latitude, includes a blacked-out exterior appearance, with 18-inch black alloy wheels, as well as heated front seats and cloth and vinyl upholstery. The High Altitude package, priced between the Latitude and Limited, includes leather seating, a sunroof, a six-way power driver's seat, and 17-inch painted aluminum wheels. Both the Altitude and High Altitude are available with either front or all-wheel drive.

Later in the year, a new Sport SE package will bring heated cloth mesh front seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls, 18-inch Mineral Gray wheels, and Mineral Gray trim elements (including roof rails), as well as a rearview camera.

A Compass High Altitude Package gets most of the Limited model's feature set back—with leather seating, power sunroof, automatic headlamps, power six-way driver seat and 18-inch chrome-clad alloys.

Other options include a power sunroof, nine-speaker premium sound with liftgate speakers, and a navigation system with SiriusXM Travel Link. A Sun and Sound Group brings the sunroof plus special Boston Acoustics speakers with a subwoofer.

Keep in mind, the Compass also offers two all-wheel-drive options. The Freedom Drive I system is the more basic of the two, providing rear-wheel torque when needed. The Freedom Drive II system is a bit more serious and is paired with a low-range-equipped continuously variable transmission.

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2016 Jeep Compass

Fuel Economy

The 2016 Jeep Compass doesn't deliver the sort of mileage you might expect from such a lean-looking small vehicle.

Compared to most newer models in this class, the 2016 Jeep Compass lags in fuel economy.

For the 2016 Compass, EPA fuel economy numbers range up to 23 mpg city, 30 highway, 26 combined with the base 2.0-liter inline-4 and manual gearbox. Models with the automatic and AWD factor in at 20/26/22 mpg.

Get the tough Freedom Drive II package and continuously variable transmission and you'll really pay a price in fuel efficiency. There it's 20/23/21 mpg—really not any better than much larger, and perhaps more versatile, SUVs.

Keep in mind that the new Jeep Renegade offers a 9-speed automatic transmission with nearly as much off-road capability—and better mileage numbers throughout.

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Styling 6
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