The Jeep name might be best associated with boxy and ever-capable four-by-fours, the brand does still make a few other SUVs alongside them which offer an acceptable fraction of the off-roading capability with a lot more creature comforts day-to-day, the smallest and most affordable of which (in Australia, at least, where the pint-sized Renegade is no longer offered) is this – the Compass.
Although the current second-generation Compass was first introduced back in 2017, the 2022 model benefits from a much-needed update, scoring some mildly refreshed looks but most importantly a new interior. However, prices have risen by over two grand across the range to justify these updates – none of which, it’s worth mentioning are mechanical.
Four variants are on offer locally, with the range kicking off at $39,990 for the front-wheel drive Night Eagle. The model on test here, however, is the S-Limited which sits second-highest in the range behind the Trailhawk and which will set you back $49,700 before on-road costs.
Certainly, in what is a congested end of the SUV market, the Compass manages to stand out, not least thanks to the iconic seven-bar grille up front, black roof and A-pillars, smoked taillights, and matte grey badges which include the Compass name unusually located on the front doors. The updated front bumper certainly looks a bit tougher than it did before, as well as looking more premium thanks to its now-painted lower section. Likewise, painted wheel arches rather than black plastic cladding also makes for a far more premium look all-around.
The Thule roof racks and towbar fitted to my tester, it’s worth highlighting, aren’t standard and were on this car due to it being used for a charity bike ride event (at least according to the stack of pamphlets for said event left in the glovebox). Perhaps I’m biased as I think roof racks make everything look better and have them on my own car, but they only enhanced the all-purpose look of the Compass and made my bike an ideal prop for this shoot.
They aren’t the only added extras on this car, though, with the mudflaps, 18-inch wheels (normally it comes on 19-inch wheels) with satin-chrome valve stem caps, a Kicker mid-bass and tweeter speaker upgrade kit, and cargo tray and net also being added to my tester. The only thing missing that would have been welcome is the $3195 Premium Package which adds a panoramic sunroof, heated and ventilated seats, a heated steering wheel, and a 360-degree camera.
However, the S-Limited is still a well-specified thing without it, offering eight-way power adjustable front seats with four-way lumbar support, leather upholstery, a 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster, a 10.1-inch Uconnect 5 infotainment screen with wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, automatic LED headlights, a powered tailgate, and automatic parking. What’s the catch? All of these items are standard on the Compass Limited which you’ll save $3000 on. All that’s unique to the S-Limited – beyond the availability of the Premium Package – is a black headliner, grey contrast stitching, and a nine-speaker Alpine audio system.
Still, this interior must be commended for offering a major step up from the Compass’ cabin of old. The new infotainment system in particular is very slick, with a crystal-clear display, a decent sat nav system, and wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The digital instrument cluster is also a welcome addition as it offers a multitude of different layouts – the only problem is that none of them really work that well, with the digital speed read-out either too small, inconveniently placed, or not available at all.
Likewise, the new steering wheel looks far more more upmarket than the incredibly dated one from before, but it is far too chunky for my liking. However, nothing in here is as awful as the indicator and wiper stalks which would have feel cheap in a $15,000 car ten years ago, let alone a 2022 model priced at $49,700. For two of the things you use most in any car – I’ll resist making a joke about BMW drivers and indicators since I once drove one myself – the poor build quality, cheap plastic, and clunky operation of them is a big let-down.
They’re all the more frustrating to see as the rest of this cabin’s presentation is very impressive, with enough soft-touch surfaces, classy fonts, and modern design touches to make it feel almost entirely all-new. But the parts bin indicator stalks? They need to get back in the bin pronto.
It’s also worth mentioning that it’s a practical thing, too, with the Jeep Compass offering 438 litres of boot space with the rear seats still in place which is impressive for its small size, as well as having a 40:20:40 split-folding rear seat, although there’s no rear centre armrest for rear occupants – you’ll have to fold down the entire middle seat to reveal a pair of cupholders.
Moving under the bonnet, the Night Eagle, Limited, and S-Limited grades all use the same engine – a 2.4-litre naturally-aspirated four-cylinder petrol engine making 129kW and 229Nm. Where they differ is what’s beyond the engine: the Night Eagle makes do with a six-speed auto and front-wheel drive, while the Limited and S-Limited score a nine-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. The Trailhawk, meanwhile, uses a 2.0-litre turbo diesel mill offering 125kW and 350Nm.
If you’re after performance, the Compass unfortunately doesn’t deliver much as its meagre outputs only make the 0-100km/h dash a more leisurely 10.1-second stroll. Noisy under load and hiding what power it has up at 6400rpm, it’s an unfortunate sign of the Compass’ age when Jeep had just been making some big strides with the new looks and interior. It might work fine around town where its displacement helps it feel punchy enough, but on the open road it’s quite the drag.
It’s also shockingly thirsty, using a disappointing 10.4L/100km over my 510km of testing – not too far off the 9.7L/100km claim, but still far too much for a small SUV. A smaller turbocharged engine or a hybrid of some sort is what the Compass is crying out for, and indeed, a plug-in hybrid with a small turbo engine is offered in Europe, but us here in Australia are stuck with the old 2.4-litre.
At least the nine-speed auto redeems it somewhat, with this transmission being pretty smooth as it switches ratios. However, the engine’s lack of power does expose some indecisiveness in it, with it often needing to downshift multiple times to extract the performance you’re requesting from it, and sometimes taking longer than you’d like to respond. On the whole, it’s not a bad unit and especially on city streets, but nine ratios is perhaps one too many.
The ride quality is pretty good, however, with it certainly aided by the smaller 18-inch wheels which I think it’s worth swapping the standard 19s out for. With a fatter sidewall, they help the Compass absorb most hits with ease, and help it feel at home on gravel tracks as well. Likewise, its handling is fine, feeling fairly acceptable for the class with it displaying adequate body control.
Speaking of, the off-road credentials of the Compass are impressive for a vehicle sitting in a class of soft-roaders. The all-wheel drive system offers a quasi ‘low range’ setting that utilises its low-ratio first gear, can be locked at a 50:50 split, and there are drive modes for sand/mud and snow along with a hill-descent control system. With its now-painted lower trims, you won’t want to try any hardcore off-roading although it does still have an impressive 225mm of ground clearance, but for a camping trip or a drive to a great hiking spot or mountain bike trail, it’ll be ideal.
Like all Jeep models, the Compass is covered by a five-year unlimited kilometre warranty. Jeep also offers five years of capped price servicing costing $399 a visit, with 12-month/12,000km intervals.
It’s also worth noting that the Compass has a five-star ANCAP safety rating, but only against the older 2017 criteria. However, it does offer a lot of safety tech including autonomous emergency braking with pedestrian detection, forward collision warning, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic alert, traffic sign recognition, and driver fatigue detection across the range.
In my eyes, it’s easy to see a buyer for the Jeep Compass – someone who lives in the city but likes to escape to the country on the weekend, where its small size is convenient day-to-day but its impressive practicality and all-wheel drive system lends a big helping hand once you’ve left the city streets.
However, it’s hard to get past the Compass having to make do with an outdated and lacklustre engine, along with the cheapness of those horrible indicator and wiper stalks. Factor in a price that’s a hair off $50k before on-roads, and it’s mighty expensive for a car in this class as well.
If you are interested, I think you’re better off saving some cash on the Limited model, rather than stepping up to this S-Limited which only really adds cosmetic upgrades, but even then, while it may be quite the functional vehicle, the price tag is still a bitter pill to swallow.
2022 Jeep Compass S-Limited List Price: $49,700
- Performance - 7/107/10
- Ride & Handling - 7.5/107.5/10
- Tech & Features - 8/108/10
- Practicality - 8/108/10
- Value for Money - 7/107/10
Pros: New looks and interior are surprisingly premium, new infotainment system is slick, decent off-road performance for a small SUV, big boot for the segment
Cons: Petrol engine is lethargic and thirsty, transmission can at times be indecisive and slow, indicator and wiper stalks feel hilariously cheap, too expensive
Photography by Tom Stuart.
Full Disclosure: The vehicle tested here was provided by FCA Australia for two weeks with a full tank of fuel. All additional fuel costs were covered by the author.