Most crossover SUVs can't cross over very much.
They look like rugged, off-road-ready SUVs, but they're really high-riding cars, with light-duty all-wheel drive (usually optional) and not much more off-road capability than the cars they're based on.
Except for this one.
What It Is
The Compass is a compact-sized, two-row crossover SUV that's based on a car — like other crossovers — but with capability comparable to truck-based SUVs.
It offers a 20:1 gear-reduction feature that operates like a truck-type four-wheel drive system's 2-speed transfer case — but without the weight of a 2-speed transfer case.
It also offers almost 9 inches of ground clearance. Combined with its more-rugged-than-most all-wheel-drive system, this Jeep can tackle terrain that's off limits to other crossovers. Yet it still behaves with car-like civility when the terrain is paved.
Prices start at $21,595 for the base Sport trim with front-wheel-drive and a 6-speed manual transmission (something else the Jeep offers that's becoming hard to find in other crossovers).
A top-of-the-line Trailhawk with the most-capable version of the all-wheel-drive system (with a Rock Crawl mode) and even more ground clearance, plus off-road M+S-rated tires, tow hooks, skid plates and various trim upgrades stickers for $28,945.
There's almost nothing that's directly competitive with the Compass as far as capability — that isn't also a truck-based SUV.
The next-closet thing is probably the Subaru Crosstrek — which can match the Jeep's ground clearance and which also comes standard with a very capable all-wheel drive system (the Jeep's is optional) and costs a bit less ($21,895 to start).
But the Soobie hasn't got the gear-reduction feature or the adjustable terrain settings that the Jeep offers.
An Upland special edition variant has been added to the mix; it includes the Trailhawk's 17-inch wheels, tow hooks, skid plates and front clip — but without the Trailhawk's all-wheel drive system.
There's also a new High Altitude Appearance Package for the Limited trims. This one comes with 19-inch wheels, an upgraded 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen, high-intensity-discharge lights and gunmetal/tungsten interior trim.
Truck-based SUV capability — without the truck-based SUV.
Available manual transmission — both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive versions.
Uconnect infotainment system is one of the best available — at any price, in any class of car, crossover or truck.
Slowpoke acceleration: 0 to 60 takes more than 10 seconds.
Fairly thirsty: Expect to average low 20s, not far off the average of larger, more powerful truck-based SUVs.
Auto-start/stop system is standard, like it or not — even if you don't like the engine shutting itself off at every red light and then chugging back to life when the light turns green.
Under the Hood
Every compass comes with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine that produces 180 horsepower, but you have three transmission options — as well as the option to choose front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The base trim comes with the 2.4 liter engine an a 6-speed transmission; a 6-speed automatic is optional. Models with the optional all-wheel drive system come with either the manual or a 9-speed automatic.
Regardless of combo, mileage is about the same: 22 city, 31 highway with the manual and full-wheel drive; 22 city, 30 highway with the 9-speed automatic and all-wheel drive.
The Compass can tow a respectable-for-its-size 2,000 pounds.
On the Road
The Compass isn't speedy, but it is immensely capable.
Its all-wheel-drive system may not have a 2-speed transfer case, as "real" (truck-type) four-wheel drive systems have, but the Jeep achieves the same result without it, via the 20:1 crawl ratio built into the transmission.
You can take this Jeep off-road — almost anywhere a truck-based four-wheel drive SUV could risk — especially the Trailhawk version, which has an extra margin of additional clearance.
The one thing the Compass doesn't do very well is pass on paved roads. There is just enough engine to get you going — not much left to get you going faster.
At least, not anytime soon!
At the Curb
Though small — the Jeep is just 173 inches end to end — it has lots of room, including 38.3 inches of backseat legroom, more than many current (and larger) midsize sedans have.
It also has much more room for cargo — 27.2 cubic feet behind its second row of seats and 59.8 cubic feet with the seats folded down. This space efficiency is one of the major reasons for the huge popularity of crossovers.
The taller profile of the crossover layout also gives the Jeep more headroom than a typical lower-riding car, which is another reason for the popularity of this layout.
Be aware that the Trailhawk's M+S-rated tires are noisier on-road and will wear faster than the all-season tires that come with other trims.
You can disable the auto-stop/start system by pressing a button on the center console.
The Bottom Line
Though there are lots of crossovers on the road, none in this class can match the Compass off-road.
To find out more about Eric and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com. His new book, "Don't Get Taken for a Ride!" will be available soon.