We have mixed feelings about the crossover.
Serious off-road enthusiasts would love nothing more than for Jeep to exclusively build the Wrangler and the Gladiator. While the carmaker does its best to cater to such buyers with vehicles like the new Mojave models, there are plenty of customers out there who simply want an affordable crossover with rugged Jeep styling. To suit the more average crossover shopper, models like the 2020 Jeep Compass offer the aggressive looks that are expected of a Jeep with approachable levels of off-road capability that exceed what most owners will ever use it for.
After recently testing a 2020 Compass in its top High Altitude trim level, we came away with mixed feelings about it. Hardcore Jeep enthusiasts may scoff at the Compass because of its Fiat-derived origins but we think it does enough to be considered a "real" Jeep.
As far as styling is concerned, the Compass certainly looks the real deal. The last-generation Jeep Compass looked fine but the latest model that arrived in 2017 looks a lot like a baby Grand Cherokee, which is high praise. Particularly in the High Altitude and Trailhawk trim levels, the Compass appears ready to tackle the Rubicon trail, and for many buyers, that will be enough.
Only one engine sits under the hood of the Compass, a 2.4-liter Multi-air four-cylinder producing 180 horsepower. Though not completely underpowered in its segment, the four-banger has to haul around 3,600 pounds, resulting in a disappointing 0-60 mph time of 8.4 seconds. Power is sent to the front wheels through either a six-speed manual or six-speed automatic while 4x4 models get a nine-speed automatic or the choice of a manual. We tested the nine-speed, which was sluggish to downshift and didn't allow responsive access to the engine's power.
If there's one thing that Fiat Chrysler executes well, it's infotainment. The company's Uconnect system is a standout in every segment thanks to a clear touchscreen, intuitive controls, useable voice command, and Android Auto/Apple CarPlay support. Our High Altitude trim tester was further equipped with heated and ventilated leather seats, a heated steering wheel, and a slew of driver-assist features.
The technology inside the Compass is outstanding but the interior ergonomics are far from perfect. We found the seats to be fairly comfortable and the passenger and cargo volume to be more than adequate. However, those sitting in the front have nowhere to put a phone, sunglasses, or any other loose items. We've tested plenty of crossovers in this segment (and below) and nearly all of them feature a storage area near the shifter to put a phone. The Compass barely has enough space for a travel-size bottle of hand sanitizer.
If you enjoy a spot of off-roading, Jeep offers the Compass with an available Trail Rated Trailhawk model. Not only is the Trailhawk less expensive than the High Altitude, but it also includes a 4x4 mode with a 20:1 crawl ratio, Rock Mode, increased ride height, skid plates, tow hooks, and hill-descent control. The Trailhawk will be more than capable enough for the vast majority of crossover buyers who would never take advantage of a Wrangler's capability.
With a starting price of just $22,280, the 2020 Jeep Compass is pretty affordable in the compact crossover segment. But there is a downside because the base Sport trim doesn't include a lot of equipment as standard. The top High Altitude trim with 4x4 starts at a significantly high price of $29,905 and even that still requires a slew of optional equipment. Toss in the luxury seats, driver-assist features, and panoramic sunroof as found on our tester, and the price of the Compass exceeds $38,000. Incentives should soften the blow on this price but on paper, it's a bit expensive.
Jeep loves hiding Easter Eggs related to its rugged heritage in its models and the Compass is no exception. We quickly spotted the silhouette of a Willy's Jeep on the windshield and a little lizard underneath the windshield wipers as well as a handful of Wrangler grilles embossed on the interior plastics. If you do drive a Compass, it is pretty fun to spot all of the Easter Eggs or challenge passengers to find them all.