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2020 Jeep Compass review: Plenty rugged, but lacks refinement

Jeep's compact Compass SUV has tons of off-road cred. But when it comes to daily driving duties, there's a lot of room for improvement.

Emme Hall Former editor for CNET Cars
I love two-seater, RWD convertibles and own a 2004 Mazdaspeed Miata for pavement fun and a lifted 2001 Miata for pre-running. I race air-cooled Volkswagens in desert races like the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000. I have won the Rebelle Rally, seven-day navigational challenge, twice and I am the only driver to compete in an EV, the Rivian R1T.
Emme Hall
3 min read

I love the rugged playfulness of a Jeep . That go-anywhere, do-anything aura really speaks to me. Like its larger siblings, the 2020 has what it takes to go off the beaten path and get you out into the wilderness. Unfortunately, as a daily driver, this compact crossover is less appealing.


2020 Jeep Compass

The Good

The 2020 Jeep Compass has rugged good looks and off-road capability that bests other vehicles in its class.

The Bad

The 2.4-liter I4 engine is pretty weak, and the nine-speed automatic transmission isn't tuned for smooth, around-town driving.

The Bottom Line

Jeep's handsome Compass offers good value in its lower trims, but all loaded up, it can't match other compact SUVs in terms of interior space, standard safety tech and on-road dynamics.

The Jeep Compass slots between the subcompact and larger-but-still-compact . It's available in seven trims, from the base Sport to the top-level High Altitude. Front-wheel drive is standard, but all-wheel drive is optional. Three different transmissions are offered -- including a six-speed manual -- but no matter which model you choose, every version is powered by the same, naturally aspirated, 2.4-liter I4 engine.

2020 Jeep Compass is stylish but flawed

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This engine is... not great. With 180 horsepower and 175 pound-feet of torque attempting to motivate this 3,600-pound SUV, acceleration is sluggish at best. What's more, the nine-speed automatic transmission used here is lazier than a Sunday afternoon. It's slow to downshift when I need power, and way too eager to upshift for the sake of fuel economy. The six-speed automatic could be better here, with longer ratios and fewer gears to move between.

It'd be easier to forgive the lackluster powertrain if the Compass returned stellar fuel economy, but it doesn't. In fact, the all-wheel drive, nine-speed automatic combination has the worst fuel economy of any Compass: 22 miles per gallon city, 30 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined. This puts the Compass behind the segment's heavy hitters like the Honda CR-V , , and .

Where the Compass makes up ground is in its off-road capability. No, it doesn't have a legitimate four-wheel drive with low-range gear like the , but with Auto, Snow, Sand and Mud and Rock modes -- the latter available on the Trailhawk -- the Compass can easily handle terrain that other crossovers wouldn't dare traverse.

2020 Jeep Compass
Enlarge Image
2020 Jeep Compass
Emme Hall/Roadshow

As for driver-assistance features, they're plentiful, but optional. While  Toyota  offers standard safety tech across the board, Jeep makes everything a cost option. Blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning, forward collision warning and adaptive cruise control aren't standard on any Compass -- they're all optional extras.

That said, the full-speed adaptive cruise control is really smooth under both acceleration and braking. I also like that I can customize the blind-spot monitoring to have a visual or audio alert, or both.

There's more great tech inside the Compass; Fiat-Chrysler's Uconnect infotainment software is one of my favorites. Here, and on other upper-level Compass trims, Uconnect is displayed on an 8.4-inch touchscreen, which responds quickly to inputs. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are both standard, and Garmin-based navigation is available.

Charge points are in short supply, with just one USB outlet for each row of seats. A 12-volt outlet is available in each row, too, though rear passengers do get a 115-volt, 150-watt, three-prong outlet.

Otherwise, the interior is nicely styled, but material quality is only so-so. Passenger space is about average for the compact class, but many competitors offer more luxurious accommodations and a greater loadout of premium amenities. Cargo space is on the smaller side, though, with only 27 cubic feet of space behind the rear seats, which expands to 60 cubic feet with them folded.

2020 Jeep Compass
Enlarge Image
2020 Jeep Compass
Emme Hall/Roadshow

The Compass is certainly attractive, though, borrowing a lot of visual cues from the larger . This compact Jeep avoids the polarizing look of the Cherokee; from all angles, I think it looks great.

The Compass you see here is a High Altitude model, which comes in at $37,360 all loaded up with options, including the $1,495 destination charge. Personally, I prefer the looks of the Trailhawk, with its 1-inch suspension lift, more aggressive tires and greater off-road capability.

If price is your main concern, the 2020 Compass starts just over $22,000. That base price undercuts competitors like the Honda CR-V and Toyota RAV4. Heck, it's even less expensive than the value-oriented .

On the low end of the spectrum, the 2020 Compass makes a strong case for itself as a budget-minded buy. But as the price climbs up into the mid-$30,000 range, the Compass is much harder to justify, attractive as it may be.

Editors' note: The Compass pictured here is a 2019 model. The Jeep Compass is unchanged for the 2020 model year.

Originally published Sept. 5.
Update, Sept. 18: Adds video.

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2020 Jeep Compass

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 7.5Design 8.5Media 8