2012 Jeep Compass North 4×4. Click image to enlarge
Jeep claims best-in-class rear seat legroom in the Compass and having sat back there, we can’t really argue with it. The front seats are very comfortable and were easy to set to our preferred driving position. The Compass is much larger inside than its exterior would suggest. Storage space is plentiful with 643 litres of room behind the rear seats, which grows to 1,519 litres once those are folded down. Configured as such, it had no problem swallowing a new 38″ x 65″ dining room table flat on the cargo-bay floor between the rear wheel wells without issue. To top it off, some handy interior touches are the 115-volt outlet in the centre console (a popular trend with new vehicles) and a rectangular cubbyhole in front of the passenger seat.
It’s not all good news inside the Compass, though. Interior fit and finish seems to have been missed during the Fiat renaissance in 2011 that saw many of the other Chrysler Group products receive upgraded interiors. Yes, it did get a substantial refresh last year, but it still reeks of the Caliber inside. The hard, dark plastic dashboard and trim pieces look dated and out of place with the modern infotainment unit. The doors do feature soft touch materials, but that is the extent of it.
On the road there is nothing noteworthy, good or bad, with the ride and handling of the Compass. With many vehicles this could be a detriment as a little bit of personality or soul is always welcome, but the Compass’ predictably compliant driving experience is more of a plus than a minus for an entry level compact cross-over vehicle. Performance from the engine is decent in the city, but lacking on the highway. Another 30 or so horsepower would be a huge benefit here, as would it be if this 2.4-litre actually felt like it made its rated 172 hp. Power distribution fore and aft is better than expected when the vehicle is in 4WD lock — just a little application of the gas can quite easily kick the tail out on a slow snowy corner.
That brings us to the CVT: to call this one loud and obtrusive could actually be an understatement. The compass was the fifth vehicle we’d driven in three months to come equipped with this type of transmission and only the Nissan Versa came close to matching the Compass’ mechanical wailing. The best way to describe the sound would be to liken it to a leaking exhaust flex pipe or cracked exhaust manifold. Twice we stopped for a vehicle-wide check to make sure all doors, windows and sunroof were closed.
So, what to make of the Compass, a vehicle that straddles so many classifications and price points that it brings new meaning to the word crossover? Even with its negatives, the Compass is still a great deal. Judged on its own merits, it is a solid vehicle when compared to other lower-priced models, as it is possible to purchase this high-riding, spacious CUV for the price of a similarly-optioned Honda Civic. However, when viewing it against the wider variety of choices in its class, it becomes harder to justify. Check off too many option boxes and the Compass wanders into Honda CR-V/Subaru Forester/Toyota RAV4 territory, where it starts to lose its appeal. And that basically sums up this Jeep: it is a great alternative to a compact sedan or all-wheel drive hatchback, but not so great as a fully-equipped compact SUV.
Pricing: 2012 Jeep Compass North All-Weather 4X4
Crash test results