The Jeep Compass is the brand’s entry-level model but this does not mean that it’s and incapable of being a Jeep.
In one month’s time, I’ll have managed to finally drive two SUVs that had so far eluded me. The first was the Infiniti QX50 and the other is this one, the 2020 Jeep Compass. In a bid of good luck, the Compass I got to drive is, by far, the most appealing and interesting.
Even if this is the most “basic” Jeep product, the Trailhawk trim lives up to expectations, the first being styling. Of all the Jeep products, the Compass is by far the most timid-looking. Even the Renegade, as cute as it may be to some, is broader-shouldered and more upright. The Trailhawk trim includes yet noticeable elements such as red tow hooks, 17-inch wheels with on/off-road tires, a black roof and black hood decal, and the all-important badge.
Said badge, be it on the Renegade, Compass or Cherokee, sets the Jeep apart no matter what. In fact, among those in the know, simply saying you drive a Trailhawk is good enough.
The real element that marks that defines the Jeep Compass Trailhawk is the included Jeep Active Drive Low 4×4 system. This is the tool that separates the Jeep from the others. With the ability to lock the system in 4×4 LOW, when the tough get going, the Compass leads the way or is right behind. With the enhanced Selec-Terrain Traction Management System, even more is possible.
The final real benefit delivered with the Trailhawk package is the dedicated off-road suspension. With it, the Compass delivers 8.5 inches of ground clearance and impressive approach and departure angles. The latter two specs are unmatched in the segment. Period.
Let’s talk pricing
The 2020 Jeep Compass is, like all Jeep products, pricey. That it, retail pricing is typically on the higher side, and above the average for vehicles in its segment. Its category, actually, is defined more by its sticker price than its size which puts it at a disadvantage.
The base Sport starts at a reasonable $26,700. Moving up the ladder is where it gets dicey. A 2020 Compass Altitude, without options, has an asking price of $34,000 which is $300 more than a 2020 Toyota RAV4 XLE AWD which includes a heated steering wheel, sunroof, an 8-inch display and more.
The Trailhawk is, on the other hand, without options, a near bargain at $34,750. You get all the good Trail-Rated bits at this price and if that’s all you’re in for, you’re all set. Only a few options in, like the popular equipment, cold weather, premium lighting packages with the power hatch and sunroof, and the price has jumped to $42,800. This is when the novelty of the Trailhawk somewhat wears off.
It is, first and foremost, an urban Jeep
Like the smaller Renegade, despite its aspirations as a real Jeep, the Compass is above all a city dweller were jaunts on the highway are inevitable. Here, the little Jeep manages to deliver ideal levels of comfort thanks in part to its off-road suspension. Pothole-riddled roads are absorbed almost effortlessly all the while scarcely affecting highway stability at higher speeds.
The only engine offered is the 2.4-litre Tigershark 4-cylinder which produces 180-horsepower and 175 lb.-ft. of torque. On its own, it provides plenty of get-up and go but the culprit is the is the often-lazy and barely cooperative 9-speed automatic transmission that ruins the driving experience most.
Under mild throttle input, the 9-speed slips from gear to another with little hesitation. With any more pressure on the throttle, it begins shows signs of confusion. By comparison, the 9A in the Jeep Renegade I reviewed last year suffered no such issues. Finally, the Toyota RAV4 and its 203-horsepower 2.5-litre 4-cylinder engine and 8-speed automatic transmission feel infinitely more alert and powerful.
Once more, as a Jeep destined more for use in town, it’s sized in such a way as to fit. Its exterior dimensions are proof of this fact, same goes for the cabin. This is where the Compass falls short on utility when compared to nearly all of its similarly priced competition.
Jeep says that the Compass’ boot can hold up to 800 litres of stuff but the visual reality is that it’s far less than this. The 2020 Toyota RAV4, holds about 1,000 litres of gear and when compared side by side, the RAV4’s trunk seems almost twice as big. Passenger space is also at a premium in both rows. Three abreast on the rear bench is snug for any trip lasting more than 15 minutes. Up front, the soft seats are fine however elbow room is tight. Same goes for storage.
Dashboard layout is typically Jeep/FCA with good ergonomics and the Uconnect 4 multimedia centre with its 8.4-inch screen continues to draw praise.
And the Compass
The 2020 Jeep Compass does not draw as much praise or as many buyers than many of its segment colleagues. There were nearly nine times more RAV4s sold in 2019 in Canada than Compasses. This does not mean the small Jeep is a lesser vehicle but it clearly indicates it does not measure to consumer needs in the price range. In fact, it was once of the worst performing SUVs in the segment, handily outsold by the Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Chevrolet Equinox, Hyundai Tucson and many more.
With the exception of a basic 2020 Jeep Compass Trailhawk, best to look elsewhere for your small SUV needs.