2020 Jeep Compass Review

Christian Wardlaw | May 19, 2020

Introduction

Jeep sells two small SUVs, each with distinctly different personalities. One is the 2020 Jeep Renegade, a jaunty little party on wheels. The other is the 2020 Jeep Compass, which wants to be a Grand Cherokee when it grows up.

Last redesigned for 2017, the current version of the Compass represented a massive improvement over the vehicle it replaced. Now, for its fourth year in production, the Compass gets new Alpine speakers for the premium audio system, expanded availability of safety technology to base Sport trim, and a new Luxury Seat Group with premium leather, a power front passenger’s seat, ventilated front seats, and memory for the driver’s settings.

The Compass in Sport trim is the least expensive Jeep in terms of base price. But this entry-level SUV offers more ways to upgrade than most of its competitors do. For starters, when you build a Jeep Compass using the company’s website, you choose between nine different variations ranging in price from less than $22,500 to more than $31,000, and that’s before adding a steep $1,495 destination charge.

2020 Jeep Compass Limited front view in red

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated a Compass Limited equipped with all-wheel drive (AWD), black roof paint, a spare tire, a navigation system, a premium sound system, a power panoramic sunroof, and every option package except for a Graphics Package and trailering equipment. The price came to $39,755, including the $1,495 destination charge, which bumps right up against a Jeep Grand Cherokee North Edition.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Jeep Compass, it is helpful to understand who buys this small SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

Compass owners skew female, younger, and more affluent according to J.D. Power data. It shows that 61% of Compass owners are women, vs. 58% for the small SUV segment. The median age of a Compass owner is 49 years (vs. 56) and a third of Compass owners identify as members of Generation Y (vs. 22%). A Compass owner’s median annual household income is $84,730 (vs. $78,727).

In spite of their income, 39% of Compass owners identify as Price Buyers (vs. 30% for the segment). Only 51% of Compass owners agree that they’re willing to pay more for an environmentally friendly vehicle (vs. 59%), and only 20% strongly agree that they’ll pay extra to ensure their vehicle has the latest safety features (vs. 26%).

At the same time, Compass owners are less likely to strongly agree that:

  • they avoid vehicles they think will have high maintenance costs (60% vs. 66%)
  • a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is quality of workmanship (35% vs. 43%)
  • a first consideration when choosing a vehicle is miles per gallon (14% vs. 20%)
  • a first consideration in choosing a new vehicle is reliability (52% vs. 63%)

Most Compass owners agree that they prefer to buy a vehicle from a domestic company (75% vs. 49% for the segment). For the record, Jeep is a brand within U.K.-headquartered Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, and the Compass is made in Mexico.

Owners say their favorite things about the Compass are (in descending order) the exterior styling, interior design, driving dynamics, seats, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the Compass are (in descending order) the infotainment system, climate control system, storage and space, engine/transmission, and fuel economy.

In the J.D Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the Compass ranked 10th out of 15 small SUVs.

What Our Expert Says…

In the sections that follow, our expert provides his own perceptions about how the 2020 Jeep Compass measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Good looks go a long way toward making the Compass appealing, as is evident in J.D. Power ownership data. It looks like a Grand Cherokee in many respects, and that visual connection to the bigger and more expensive model immediately lifts the Compass in terms of its stature amongst competitors.

2020 Jeep Compass Limited rear view in red

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Interior

Given the test car’s price in relationship to its size and segment position, the interior should be nicer than it is. Soft surfaces exist where you’re most likely to come into contact with the cabin, but hard plastic covers the rest of the interior and some of the switchgear is less refined than expected. What you’re paying for here is the Jeep name and the rugged image it connotes, and for a ton of features if you choose to equip it with extras.

2020 Jeep Compass Limited interior dashboard view

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For example, the test vehicle had the new Luxury Seat Group, with premium leather upholstery, ventilated front seats, a power adjustable front passenger’s seat (including height adjustment), and more. These conveniences, along with others available for the Compass, are rare among small SUVs, partially explaining the near-$40,000 as-tested price tag.

Seats

At first, the driver’s seat feels like it has too much lumbar dialed in as the default setting. After a couple of hours behind the wheel, though, I decided I liked it. Plus, the seat remains comfortable over an extended period time, signaling proper cushioning and support. And with the new Luxury Seat Group, the front passenger is equally comfortable.

The rear seat is unexpectedly accommodating. I could easily “sit behind myself” without my legs contacting the softly padded front seat back, and there was plenty of space for my size 13 feet. Air conditioning vents, a USB port, and a household-style 115-volt power outlet are further examples illustrating why a loaded Compass reaches so high in terms of price.

Climate Control System

Equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, heated and ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, and rear air conditioning vents, the test Compass had no trouble keeping occupants comfortable in terms of cabin temperature. The exception is when the automatic engine stop/start system activates, making the cold air conditioning more like a tepid tropical breeze. A button on the center console deactivates the fuel-saving engine technology.

Another complaint is that the climate controls are located really low on the dashboard where they are harder to see and use, and the seat/steering wheel settings are embedded into the touchscreen, which is less than ideal.

Infotainment System

The test vehicle had the fully featured version of Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment technology, complete with an 8.4-inch touchscreen display that looks huge on the Compass’s narrow dashboard. Highlights included Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, a Wi-Fi hotspot, SOS emergency calling, a vehicle finder service, and a navigation system.

Historically, Uconnect has impressed critics and vehicle owners with its clean, intuitive user experience, and that remains true today. The voice recognition technology passed most of my standard natural voice prompt tests, including for changing a radio station and the cabin temperature. However, in order to program the navigation system, specific voice prompts following a menu structure are necessary.

Jeep’s new Alpine premium sound system will serve the target Compass buyer well.

Storage and Space

Officially, cargo space behind the rear seat measures 27.2 cu.-ft., which is significantly more than the Jeep Renegade, but it doesn’t seem much larger. The test car had both a spare tire housed under the cargo floor and the Alpine subwoofer mounted to the right side of the cargo area, which is already narrow. Fold the back seat down and the Compass holds 59.8 cu.-ft. of cargo. 

Both numbers are competitive in the segment, and the maximum number beats both the Renegade and the larger and more expensive Cherokee. The test Compass also had a power rear liftgate, another convenience feature that adds to this Jeep’s price. 

Nevertheless, storage and space are not high on Compass owners’ lists of their favorite features. Interior storage is limited to the glove compartment and door panel bins. The area located under the sliding center armrest is tiny, and aside from a few bins here and there, the Compass offers nowhere to stash your stuff. The front cup holders are also awkward to use.

Visibility and Safety

Tidy in size and equipped with large side mirrors, a standard reversing camera, and an available blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic warning, the test Compass was easy to see out of and to maneuver. It’s stubby hood also improved visibility when off-roading, and as-equipped the test vehicle offered weather-related aids such as rain-sensing wipers, heated side mirrors, and a windshield wiper de-icer.

Available with a full menu of advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), including adaptive cruise control with stop-and-go capability, the Compass impresses as far as this technology goes. The adaptive cruise did slightly brake-check someone behind me, though, angering the other driver. And this Jeep simply does not make enough power to quickly respond to clearing traffic conditions ahead, potentially causing more ire directed a Compass driver’s way from fellow motorists.

Additional ADAS includes forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, and lane keeping assistance. The latter two work reasonably well, though at times I felt like I was wrestling with the steering.

In safety testing performed by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the Compass gets dinged for Poor or Marginal headlight performance (depending on equipment). But it gets Good ratings in all other assessments, indicating that it protects occupants well in a collision.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) agrees but gives the high-riding Compass a 3-star rollover resistance rating, which is worse than most competitors. 

Engine/Transmission

Compass owners are unimpressed by this Jeep’s standard and only engine. It’s a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder making 180 horsepower at 6,400 and 175 lb.-ft. of torque at 3,900 rpm. In as-tested Limited specification with all-wheel drive, it uses a 9-speed automatic transmission and is charged with motivating 3,327 pounds of SUV.

Fairly gutless, the engine supplies adequate power only when you’re asking little of it. The 9-speed automatic often doesn’t help, sometimes engaging harshly when setting off from a stop or shifting with an odd delay. During one flat-out, foot-to-the-floor passing exercise, I could not coax the additional downshift that would’ve put the engine into its maximum power band.

My opinions are based on testing at or near sea level. Owners in high-altitude regions must be really disappointed with this power plant. For those buyers, I’d recommend the Renegade if for no other reason than it offers a turbocharged engine option that is missing from the 2020 Compass.

The Compass Limited comes with an automatic AWD system featuring a Lock mode and Selec-Terrain traction management with Auto, Snow, Sand, and Mud settings. It dispatched a dry but challenging trail with little effort. 

For serious off-roading, consider the Compass Trailhawk for greater ground clearance and a more sophisticated Active Drive Low AWD system with an available low 20:1 crawl ratio and an additional Rock setting for Selec-Terrain.

Fuel Economy

According to the EPA, the Compass Limited AWD should get 25 mpg in combined driving. The test vehicle averaged 23.1 mpg on the testing loop.

Driving Dynamics

Jeep Compass owners like the way this SUV drives, aside from the engine, the transmission, and the fuel economy.

The fat-rimmed steering wheel sure is good to grip in your hands, and it responds quickly enough even if it feels a little disconnected and vague on-center with slightly heavy effort levels off-center. At first, the brake pedal seemed touchy and over-eager to apply braking, but I quickly got used to it.

As far as the 4-wheel independent suspension is concerned, it uses common MacPherson struts up front and a comparatively rare Chapman strut rear design. Body roll is nicely controlled, but this Jeep transfers plenty of impact harshness into the cabin and there is too much vertical body motion over pavement undulations. The end result is a cheap rather than solid and secure feeling Jeep.

Final Impressions

The 2020 Jeep Compass offers many reasons to choose it over other small SUVs. From its Grand Cherokee Jr. styling to its wide range of trim levels, equipment, and technology, the Compass caters to a variety of buyer budgets. And like any Jeep, it is designed to excel when driving off-road.

At the same time, the underlying engineering is unimpressive. The Compass is begging for a turbocharger and an extra layer of dynamic refinement that’s evident in many of its competitors, namely vehicles like the Hyundai Kona, Kia Seltos, Mazda CX-30, and Subaru Crosstrek.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

Explore new car previews
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
2020 Subaru Outback Preview
Introduced at the 2019 New York International Auto Show, the 2020 Subaru Outback has been optimized to offer better fuel efficiency, a quieter and safer ride, boosted technology, and turbocharged power, which is something Subaru hasn’t given its Outback in over ten years.
Read the full review
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
2020 Mazda CX-30 Preview
Based on the redesigned Mazda 3 platform, the new 2020 Mazda CX-30 is larger and more sophisticated than a Mazda CX-3, but smaller and sportier than a Mazda CX-5.
Read the full review
What's New For 2020 Honda Pilot
What's New For 2020 Honda Pilot
Fresh off of last year’s redesign, the 2020 Honda Pilot adds three new trim levels to its 2019 fleet of five. And while there are no significant changes for 2020, find out on what they are.
Read the full review
Read all articles
Scroll to the top
New Car Preview
2021 Hyundai Elantra Preview
Most Dependable
2019 Vehicle Dependability: Most Dependable Small SUVs
Most Popular
10 Most Popular Luxury Cars
New Model Update
New for 2019: Ford Trucks, SUVs, and Vans
New Car Preview
2021 BMW 3 Series Plug-in Hybrid Preview
More related
articles