Review and photos by Peter Bleakney

It’s fair to say the Compass is the least “manly” vehicle currently roaming the Jeep corral. But it certainly isn’t fair to dismiss it on those grounds. Compact soft-roaders are big business these days, so it only makes sense Chrysler would leverage the Jeep name to get in on the action.

Problem is, Jeep has been fighting an uphill battle with this cute ute ever since it was introduced in 2007. Yes, it’s been around that long.

Based on the Dodge Caliber (not the greatest starting point) the Compass was certainly cheap to buy, but the abominable plastic interior and noisy drivetrain placed it at the back of the pack. Its awkward styling and googley eyes didn’t help either. The Compass’ more macho-styled and mechanically identical sister vehicle, the Patriot, outsold it – and still does.

For 2009 the Compass got an improved interior, and a 2011 major refresh bestowed more sound insulation, cabin upgrades, improved suspension and a snout that apes big brother Grand Cherokee.

2014 Jeep Compass Limited
2014 Jeep Compass Limited
2014 Jeep Compass Limited
2014 Jeep Compass Limited. Click image to enlarge

And so we come to the 2014 Compass, a vehicle that’s had more “work done” than Joan Rivers.

Compass starts at $17,245 for the base Sport 4×2 front-drive five-speed manual model with no air conditioning. My tester is the top-line Limited 4×4 with a base price of $27,795. It still carries the old 2.4L “World Engine” (developed with Hyundai and Mitsubishi) under the hood, and yes, this 172-hp, 165 lb-ft  four is hardly the picture of refinement, but for 2014 Jeep has ditched the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT) for a traditional six-speed auto. This is a $1,495 upgrade over the standard five-speed stick.

While this might seem counter to an industry that more and more embraces the CVT for its fuel-saving benefits, in the case of the Compass it mitigates much of the horrid engine drone that its CVT induced. And yes, this engine can drone when pressed.

And that’s what you’ll be doing when looking for some meaningful giddy-up. The Compass is not swift, and I found highway merging and passing required a fully planted right hoof and a fair bit of faith. As with most modern automatic transmissions, this one is mapped for maximum fuel economy – it upshifts early and hangs on to those taller gears as long as possible

Once up to speed the Compass is stable and relatively serene on the highway, showing 2,500 rpm at 120 km/h.

As a daily runabout, the 2014 Compass Limited 4×4 is certainly an agreeable compact crossover. The aforementioned years of gradual improvements result in an alert chassis, nicely weighted and linear steering, and a pretty refined ride. The brakes feel strong and linear too.

Structurally, the Compass comes across as a solid piece. New this year in the Limited is available Saddle Tan perforated hide with contrast stitching that lends an upscale air. Other 2014 interior upgrades include satin chrome finish on the centre bezel, shifter bezel and pull cups, and a new dash bin applique with badge.

Yes, the dash is still hard plastic, but where it counts the Compass gets it right. I found the heated six-way leather seat with manual lumbar both comfortable and supportive, and the armrests and door panels are nicely padded. The steering wheel is trimmed in soft, tactile leather not far from that found in the Range Rover I recently tested.

The back seats are also contoured for comfort, they recline slightly, and legroom and headroom is generous. They quickly fold forward to create a flat load floor.

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