Sales of the Jeep Compass have been booming since it arrived last spring with updates for 2014. While new vehicles sales are up just over eight percent this year, Jeep Compass sales are surging 30 percent ahead of last year’s total.
The 2014 Compass features a number of significant improvements, which might help account for this change in fortune. The most notable is the elimination of the continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) on every version except for the off-road ready 4x4 Freedom Drive II. A more conventional six-speed automatic transmission is now offered in its place. Jeep has also updated the interior and exterior design and made a backup camera optional.
However, these changes can’t entirely explain the dramatic increase in sales. Credit a growing recognition among crossover utility buyers that the Compass, and its companion Jeep Patriot, offer what most utility vehicle buyers want at a very reasonable price. It packs a lot in a small, affordable package.
The Compass comes in three versions: the base Sport model, the mid-level Latitude, which Jeep loaned my wife Paula and me, and the top-of-the-line Limited. Sport and Latitude versions come with a 2.0-liter, 158-horsepower four-cylinder engine and front-wheel drive as standard equipment. A 2.4-liter, 172-horsepower four-cylinder motor is optional in these two models and standard in the Limited. This larger engine is required with either of the two available four-wheel drive systems. The Freedom Drive I 4x4 system comes with a five-speed manual or optional six-speed automatic in the Sport trim level. Front-wheel and four-wheel drive Latitude and Limited models come only with an automatic transmission.
The Freedom Drive II Trail-Rated setup, optional on all trim levels, carries over the CVT with its “rock-crawl” low gear ratio capability. The manual gearbox is not offered.
Performance in the Compass is adequate, with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine doing a reasonable job. The new six-speed automatic shifts nicely and our Latitude, equipped with this transmission, included a manual shift mode. Sixty miles per hour arrived in 9.2 seconds. This is hardly the stuff of legends but is plenty sufficient for the daily drive.
Of greater importance, the six-speed automatic eliminates the monotone high-speed engine droning that accompanied full-throttle runs when the Compass was equipped with the CVT. This happened when the engine rose to its point of maximum power and noise, about 6,000 rpm, and then stayed there. Acceleration was produced by the transmission changing ratios in a smooth slide, rather than in the distinct steps that also prompt engine speed changes. Stepping through gear ratios seems to be the way most North American drivers like their automatics to work. The resulting engine speed changes lessen the noise factor considerably.
The Compass did everything we asked of it during a week of use. It merged easily, carried loads without becoming breathless and ended up delivering 26 miles per gallon, which is highly competitive for its class. The ride is surprisingly good, with sufficient noise control at highway speeds to make longer trips enjoyable.
Affordable, pleasant and fuel efficient, the Compass is enjoying its well earned success.
I quickly embraced the 2014 Jeep Compass. It was fun to drive and easy to maneuver. It’s large enough to serve most families but small enough to fit in the garage, drive easily in tight supermarket parking lots and cope with congested traffic.
The interior of the Latitude trim level Compass my husband Jim and I had was more livable than luxurious. However, that shouldn’t present many problems, as I doubt that buyers of a crossover utility vehicle that starts at $18,495 are expecting sumptuous surroundings. That price is less than the cost of many compact cars.
Passengers are greeted by a sport mesh fabric and vinyl seat trim that proved to be comfortable, especially when first sitting down after the car had been parked under the hot sun for several hours. The upper portion of the door panels has been upgraded with thin padding and the console lid and armrests are now vinyl wrapped. Limited buyers can pull out all the stops and opt for a new saddle brown perforated leather seating package.
The instrument panel is a study in simplicity. Perhaps it is too simple. The speedometer is small and speeds are specified only in 20 mile-per-hour increments. There are lots of little lines in between the numbers, but I found it difficult to learn my exact speed with a glance.
The backup camera is a must. Without it, visibility to the rear is very limited, especially for a shorter driver.
The seats are comfortable enough, but the adjustable steering wheel does not telescope; it only tilts. Fortunately, the steering wheel’s distance worked for both the shorter and taller drivers in our family.
The Jeep Compass is the sort of vehicle that pushed my imagination. I began to think of all the things I could do with it at the home center, at tag sales or at the garden center. It’s nothing if not versatile and flexible.
Engines: 2.0-liter four cylinder 2.4-liter four cylinder
HP: 158 172
TORQUE (lb/ft): 141 165
EPA FWD: 23/30 Manual 23/28 Manual
21/28 Automatic (6-speed) 21/28 Automatic (6-speed)
EPA 4WD: Not offered 23/28 Manual
21/27 Automatic (6-speed)
20/23 CVT automatic
STARTS AT: $18,495
Jim MacPherson is the host of "The Car Doctor" show airing Sundays at noon on WTIC-AM. Paula MacPherson is his wife and new-car review partner. Send comments, questions, suggestions in care of Special Publications, Hartford Courant, 285 Broad St., Hartford, CT 06115, or email email@example.com