Somewhere in between. In many ways, the 2021 Jeep Compass feels like it’s filling in the gaps. Though it's considered a compact SUV, It slots in between the smaller Jeep Renegade and the midsize Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Its looks are a mix, too. The Compass scales down the Cherokee’s grille and headlights, adding enough curves to differentiate itself from the boxy Renegade or Jeep Wrangler. All the same, roof rails and exposed cladding make sure that everyone knows the Compass is ready for adventure.
All those elements give the Compass a split personality. It’s part urban, part rugged. In that space, it goes up against the likes of the Subaru Crosstrek and Hyundai Tucson.
Bland on road, impressive off. The Compass doesn’t distinguish itself with its on-road behavior. Every model gets the same 180-horsepower engine, which is adequate but unremarkable. Underneath is an independent suspension, which is composed over rough city pavement but hampered by light and vague steering.
Lower trims and front-wheel-drive models get a six-speed automatic transmission, while upper trims and all-wheel-drive models get nine cogs. This is a rare instance where we preferred the simpler transmission, as the nine-speed box sometimes struggles to find the right gear.
The Trailhawk trim raises the ride height and swaps in stiffer springs for 8.4 inches of road clearance and surprising off-road ability. Its transmission gets a super-low first gear that simulates a crawl ratio, and it helps the Compass navigate rocky paths and steep descents.
Better for things than people. Cabin space in the Compass isn’t terrible, but it isn’t great, either. Rear passengers get a reasonable 38.3 inches of leg room, but the narrow cockpit means that fitting three abreast is a struggle.
We have more complaints about the seating, which is unsupportive in both rows. In front, thin bolsters and padding make road trips uncomfortable. The rear bench is relatively flat, and it does little to cradle passengers.
Where the Compass redeems itself is utility. Cargo space starts at 27.2 cubic feet, which is excellent for the class. The rear seats fold down to open up nearly 60 cubes, which is even better. Both numbers make the Compass impressively practical for its size.
Sibling rivalry. As capable as the Compass Trailhawk is, it starts over $32,000. From there, it’s only a small jump to the Jeep Wrangler Unlimited, which is more spacious and even more trail-ready. Plus, the Wrangler can pop off its roof, which is a trick the Compass can’t match.
The Compass doesn’t help its value proposition elsewhere, as it lacks features most competitors include. Upper trims gain active safety features for 2021, but basics like automatic emergency braking aren’t available on the base Sport trim. As more and more manufacturers make driver aids standard, Jeep looks increasingly old-fashioned.
To get the most out of the Compass, we’d recommend the Latitude trim. It gets synthetic leather and makes the safety features available, though you still have to pay $1,395 to add them. After adding that package and AWD, the Compass costs nearly $29,000, which is a tough sell against the competition.
Final thoughts. The 2021 Jeep Compass has plenty of charm to offer buyers, and we admire its combination of utility and style. If you’re looking to take your crossover away from the pavement, you could do much worse than the Trailhawk.
All the same, the Compass is let down by uncomfortable seats and an unremarkable driving experience. Those flaws, along with missing safety features and a steep pricing ladder, make it a dubious value.
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