The Jeep Compass has always been much like good-looking classmate in high school; attractive, but with all the brain power of an avocado. The Compass always wanted to be the smaller, cheaper answer to a Cherokee or Grand Cherokee. But much like that aforementioned peer, there was little going on under the hood.
While I can’t say much of your fellow student, I can say the Jeep Compass’s truly dreadful 2.4-liter “Tigershark” 4-cylinder engine and 9-speed automatic transmission was closer to a whiny minnow that a tiger shark. Thankfully, this has finally been rectified, as the stingy bean counters at Stellantis loosened the purse strings, allowing for a much-needed heart transplant.
But before we get to that, a bit of housekeeping.
The Compass is offered in base Sport trim, rising through Latitude, Latitude LUX, Limited trims before topping out with the trail-rated Trailhawk. It sits above the subcompact Renegade but below the midsize Cherokee in the Jeep lineup, and it is the brand’s third most-popular SUV behind the Grand Cherokee and Wrangler. But note that the recently unveiled Alfa Romeo Tonale and Dodge Hornet both share the 2023 Jeep Compass’s architecture, which made its debut in 2017.
Of course, the Jeep Compass proves easy to love. Its attractive appearance is a timeless example of a contemporary Jeep design; in many ways, it is the Jeep Grand Cherokee’s little brother. From its overall shape to its handsome grille, the Compass looks as if it’s a Jeep Grand Cherokee that has been inadvertently washed in hot water. Its design was so well-executed, little reworking is needed. It’s just so darn good looking.
While the exterior retains its good looks, the interior gets a major upgrade, with a redesigned center console and far more modern switchgear. Slim climate control vents enhance the cabin’s contemporary ambience, while an optional 10.25-inch digital instrument cluster and a standard 10.1-inch center-mounted touchscreen employ updated software with a far more-sophisticated user interface that responds faster than it did before.
Wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, and front row USB-A and USB-C ports are standard. Rear seat passengers get USB-A ports; USB-C ports are optional on all but base models. A wireless charging pad is optional.
The Compass’ seats feel fine for short trips, but their lack of supports becomes evident on longer trips, although that’s not unusual in less-expensive vehicles.
But the biggest improvement can be found under the hood, where the Compass’ new powerplant transforms this vehicle’s personality. That would be a 2.0-liter direct injection turbocharged double-overhead-cam 4-cylinder engine that generates a healthy 200 horsepower and 221 pound-feet of torque through an 8-speed automatic transmission. That’s a noticeable increase from the 2022 model, which produced a mere 180 hp and 175 lb-ft of torque.
Jeep’s powertrain switch also brought about a welcome, if not overdue, change: front-wheel drive is no longer offered. And that’s as it should be. This is a Jeep after all. So now, it comes equipped as a Jeep should, with standard Active Drive 4×4 technology. Opting for the top-of-the-line Trailhawk nets you a low range and a 20:1 crawl ratio for off-roading.
All Compass models are equipped with Selec-Terrain driving modes, which include Auto, Snow, Sand/Mud modes, although Trailhawk models also get a Rock mode, for true boulder bashing as well as hill descent control. Notably, the rear axle and power-transfer unit disconnect when not needed to conserve fuel. And all compass models have a 2,000-pound towing rating.
Driver assistance safety features include Lane Departure Warning with Lane Keep Assist, Rear Cross Path detection, Forward Collision Warning with Active Braking, Brake Assist, and Automatic Emergency Braking with Pedestrian/Cyclist detection. Adaptive Cruise Control with Stop and Go is optional on Latitude and Latitude LUX and standard on Limited and Trailhawk. An optional Highway Assist semi-autonomous driving is optional on Limited and Trailhawk models.
While the Compass has long been a mall crawler, not a boulder basher, it has a far more pleasing personality as a result of its heart transplant. While Jeep claims the new powerplant has fluid-filled engine mounts to quell vibration, its vibrations still make themselves known. Nevertheless, its newfound power is welcome, despite a transmission that seems a bit too concerned with fuel economy. As speed builds, it quickly upshifts. When need more muscle, it firmly downshifts, and there’s delay before the turbo kicks in with an abrupt wallop of power. A bit more refinement here would do wonders.
One area where engineers sweat the details is the suspension, where the ride is far more comfortable than before. There’s more ride compliance, but handling isn’t greatly affected. This is an off-roader, after all, so ride compliance is to be expected. But body motions are well-controlled, so it doesn’t affect its on-road performance.
Certainly, the 2023 Jeep Compass is a far better vehicle than any Compass that preceded it, making it a worthwhile consideration. And while the vehicle that we drove is a 2023, the 2024 model will remain largely uncaged, with the exception of a redesigned front grille, new wheel designs and a new all-Terrain tire on Trailhawk models.
Larry Printz is an automotive journalist based in South Florida. He can be reached at TheDrivingPrintz@gmail.com.