Test Drive: 2012 Jeep Compass North 4X4 car test drives reviews jeep
2012 Jeep Compass North 4×4. Click image to enlarge

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Review and photos by Michael Schlee

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2012 Jeep Compass

Terrorizing suburbia was the name of the game last week.  Driving around with an automotive invincibility complex that would make Mad Max look like a Sunday driver, the steroid-backed Jeep Wrangler Rubicon made us think even the apocalypse wouldn’t slow it down. We were desperately in need of a reality check, so this week our test vehicle is the urban-oriented Jeep Compass.  Driving this baby Jeep right after the Wrangler Rubicon is like chasing a spoonful of wasabi with a mouthful of white rice.

For those unfamiliar with the Jeep Compass, it was released in 2006 as a 2007 model along with its platform twin, the Patriot.  Both were based on the Dodge Caliber, with hardened parts here and there to earn Jeep’s trademark Trail Rated badging.  Considered an ugly duckling at the time, the Compass received a welcome refresh last year and now sports front-end styling that mimics its bigger brother Grand Cherokee.  From the rear, the original Compass can still be discerned, as well as the Caliber roots it sprang from.  The redesign was a hit—the Compass had its best sales year ever in 2011, tripling the sales of the old-style 2010 model.

Test Drive: 2012 Jeep Compass North 4X4 car test drives reviews jeep
2012 Jeep Compass North 4×4. Click image to enlarge

When these compact Jeep twins were first launched, many Jeep faithful were less-than-impressed that there were soon to be two off-road “pretenders” wearing Jeep badges.  While this may be true of the lower trim front-wheel drive models, Jeep has done its best to make the Compass a serious off-road contender.  Optional on the Compass (and included on our tester) is the Freedom II Off-Road Group, which features 215/65R17 all-terrain tires, brake lock differentials, hill descent control, engine oil cooler, upgraded 140-amp alternator and skid plates. 

To compensate for the lack of a true two-speed transfer case, the Compass features an “L” setting for its continuously variable transmission (CVT) that simulates low-range gearing.  With the 4WD lock engaged and “L” selected, the pseudo-low-range rock-crawling set-up fully disables stability control and keeps the engine revs high for moderate off-road adventures.  While we are on the topic of stability control, it can be mostly disengaged with one touch of the button, or fully disengaged if the button is held down for several seconds (like most new Chrysler products); this is crucial for any true off-roading.

Test Drive: 2012 Jeep Compass North 4X4 car test drives reviews jeep
2012 Jeep Compass North 4×4. Click image to enlarge

Jeep markets the Compass as “An SUV for compact car money,” which is true of the base 4X2 Sport model, but not our test version.  The vehicle featured here is a mid-level North All-Weather 4X4 model, which sends the base $21,195 price for a Compass Sport 4X4 ballooning to an as-tested price of $32,815, thanks to options like the Sun and Sound, Security and Convenience and Customer Preferred packages.  That is a lot of money for a compact CUV that’s still missing features like leather seats and navigation.

As far as engine options go, the Jeep Compass offers a choice of two four-cylinder engines coupled to either a manual or automatic transmission powering the front, or all four, wheels. Our test vehicle came with the 2.4-litre four-cylinder engine, producing 172 hp, coupled to a continuously variable transmission and the Freedom Drive II four-wheel drive system.  This version of the Compass has official fuel consumption ratings of 9.9 L/100 km in the city and 7.7 L/100 km on the highway.  We were not able to achieve anywhere near those numbers, managing only 12.1 L/100 km in combined driving.  Part of the issue may be the CVT, which spins the engine at a relatively high 3,250 rpm at 120 km/h.  For an infinitely flexible transmission, we expected a lower cruising engine speed.

About Mike

Mike Schlee is the former Social Editor at Autos.ca and autoTRADER.ca. He began his professional automotive writing career in 2011 and has always had a passion for all things automotive, working in the industry since 2000.