By Derek Price
People who want to use their daily driver as a real SUV, take note.
Three years after a redesign that made it look and drive like a miniature Grand Cherokee, the Jeep Compass remains one of the few small crossovers with legitimate off-road chops.
Especially in the Trailhawk version with its protective skid plates, higher ride, sloth-like crawl ratio, hill-descent control and oh-so-sweet red tow hooks, the Compass feels surprisingly capable for a vehicle that actually drives well on the road.
This week I tested the Compass Upland, a mid-grade trim that slots about halfway between the base Sport and the luxurious High Altitude. Even with add-ons that feel greedy — $1,500 for an automatic transmission and $1,495 for the destination charge — it feels well-equipped for its retail price tag of roughly $29,000.
New for 2019, the Upland special edition comes with some of the Trailhawk’s bling, including its 17-inch wheels, fascia, skid plates protecting the front suspension and all-weather floor mats. It also has black accents sprinkled across the body, including matte black tow hooks, a gloss black roof and glossy grille. Silver interior accents and a chrome exhaust tip finish off the look.
Every time I drive this generation Compass, I’m delighted by the highway ride. If you think of Jeeps as noisy and rough-riding, this one is the polar opposite with its squishy, smooth-as-glass suspension, solid chassis and well-sealed body that keeps wind and road noise at bay.
I also have another recurring feeling: disappointment that there’s only one engine available.
The only powerplant Jeep puts in the Compass is a 2.4-liter, four-cylinder engine that isn’t bad. It makes 180 horsepower, which feels slightly sluggish in a vehicle that seems so meaty from the driver’s seat. But nothing about it makes you say “wow,” either.
A smaller, turbocharged engine would seem a more modern choice, and a turbodiesel would add some excitement.
Fuel economy is rated at 32 mpg on the highway and 23 in the city with two-wheel drive. On four-wheel-drive models, that drops by just 1 mpg, enough for Jeep to claim best-in-class honors for 4×4 highway gas mileage.
Aside from the very refined-for-the-price ride, the Compass’ best feature is its infotainment system. The 7-inch touchscreen in my tester has the latest version of Uconnect, Fiat-Chrysler’s ever-evolving interface for its suite of tech features. Through continuous improvement, it’s become one of the most full-featured and easy-to-use systems of its kind.
Thankfully, it also has Apple CarPlay and Android Auto for plug-and-go simplicity for controlling smartphone apps on the touchscreen, something I’m starting to consider a “must have” feature on new cars.
Seating is spacious in both the front and back of the Compass, but it comes at the expense of cargo capacity. At 27.2 cubic feet, it feels a bit small when you open the lift gate in back. The space more than doubles when you fold the rear seat down to create 59.8 cubic feet of cargo volume, though.
The 4×4 Compass is rated to tow up to 2,000 pounds. Jeep does not recommend towing with front-wheel-drive models.
Changes for 2019 mainly involve trims and special editions. Some noteworthy differences are making the 7-inch Uconnect screen standard on Sport and Latitude models, a new Sting Grey paint color, making adaptive cruise control part of the Advanced Safety Group Package and the new Upland special edition.
Pricing starts at $21,845 for the Sport model and tops out at $30,440 for the High Altitude. The one built for serious off-roading, the Trailhawk, starts at $29,445.
At A Glance
What was tested? 2019 Jeep Compass Upland 4×4 ($23,345). Options: Customer preferred package 27T ($1,195), cold weather group ($945), technology group ($695), automatic transmission ($1,500). Price as tested (including $1,495 destination charge): $29,175
Wheelbase: 103.8 in.
Length: 173 in.
Width: 80 in.
Height: 64.6 in.
Engine: 2.4-liter four cylinder (xxx hp, xxx ft. lbs.)
Transmission: Nine-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 30 highway
Why buy it?
It offers a mix of everyday comfort and legitimate off-road capability. Its smooth, quiet highway ride stands out in the segment.