2023 Jeep Compass First Drive Review: New Cabin, New Engine, Still Just Shy of Greatness
With a new 2.0-liter turbo engine and a retuned suspension, the 2023 Jeep Compass is quicker, more comfortable—and also more expensive.
There’s never been a better time to be a casual off-road enthusiast looking for a comfortable daily driver. Modern electronics has made heroes out of zeroes, and the updated 2023 Jeep Compass is wearing its cape proudly. Finally, Jeep has given the Compass the updates it deserves and has made it an actual competitor in the compact off-roady crossover market.
It’s all good news: new standard engine, new transmission, standard all-wheel drive, a new interior as of last year, and fully retuned suspension. Though the Compass is aging, the 2023 updates have brought it back into the conversation and brought it within a fighting chance of the Ford Bronco Sport.
2023 Jeep Compass Specs
- Base Price (Trailhawk as tested): $31,590 ($46,290)
- Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder | 8-speed automatic | all-wheel drive
- Horsepower: 200
- Torque: 221 lb-ft
- Curb weight: TBD
- Seating Capacity: 5
- Cargo Volume: 27.2 cubic feet
- EPA Fuel Economy: 24 mpg city | 32 highway | 27 combined
- Quick Take: Admirably decent on the road, and much more capable off-road than it has any right to be.
- Score: 7/10
Jeep has been slowly trickling out updates for the aging second-generation Compass. Debuting in 2017, the car has stuck around for the long haul, built on bones that are now shared with the Alfa Romeo Tonale and upcoming Dodge Hornet. In 2022, the Compass got a comprehensive refresh that significantly improved interior quality and style while updating the exterior to suit. But it still had the wheezy 2.4-liter naturally aspirated engine that was, frankly, bad. That has been fixed for 2023, along with a slew of newly standard features.
Casual drivers will likely appreciate the 10.1-inch infotainment display and wireless Apple CarPlay that are now standard across the range, ditching the base 8.4-inch display that came on lower-tier 2022 models.
For the nerdier Compass buyers, there’s a more powerful 2.0-liter turbocharged engine bolted to fluid-filled engine mounts, helping isolate the vibrations that plagued the outgoing 2.4-liter. Compared to the outgoing engine, it makes an extra 20 horsepower and 46 lb-ft of torque. Also, Jeep has reduced the gear count in the transmission to eight speeds instead of nine, proving that there can be too many gears. Jeep engineers also spent some time recalibrating the eight-speed to suit the Compass and its now standard all-wheel drive.
The engine is shared with the Jeep Wrangler 4xe, though the Compass doesn’t come with plug-in hybrid hardware. Peering under the hood shows an engine that is utterly shoehorned into the car. According to Jeep, lack of power was the principal complaint of the outgoing model.
Every Compass is now all-wheel-drive, even down to the more road-oriented Limited models. However, standard AWD comes with a significant price hike. The base Sport FWD model gets bumped up by $2,710, making it a $31,590 car. Granted, you get real capability for your money, but Jeep is cutting out the lowest-hanging fruit in the Compass range and trying to force buyers slightly upward.
A significant retuning of the suspension was done by Jeep engineers. Dampers, springs, and bushings were all changed to accommodate the new powertrain while also achieving new goals for ride and handling. According to Brian Del Pup, an engineer that worked on the Compass, they worked on a sportier calibration that focuses on handling while not compromising off-road capability. Del Pup also says that his team recalibrated the electronic power steering for a more natural feel.
An Admirably Decent Runabout
Clambering into the 2023 Compass, it was clear that the most important stuff is correct: comfort, legroom, visibility, and isolation from the road. The seats are soft, and my body sunk right into them before my drive around an extraordinarily windy pre-winter storm Malibu, California. Though the updated interior is slightly old news, it’s worth noting how good it is. It is a big part of the reason why the Compass isn’t a punchline anymore.
On the road, the comprehensive mechanical changes made all the difference. Let’s be real for a moment; the Compass has always been a little bit of a rental car. It was always the budget option. Now, it's making a convincing case for its upward mobility. It’s kinda nice. It’s genuinely quiet, with minimal road noise making its way to the cabin. It was a windy day with 40 mph gusts, so it was difficult to judge the Jeep’s wind noise fairly, but I can say it handled the gusts well with no whistling. There was some acoustic strangeness in the cabin, a sort of echo that made it feel slightly cheap, but it was only apparent during conversations.
The quietness of the cabin was complimented well by the suspension. It was supple—not too soft, not too firm. Body motions were well controlled, even in the bumpy and twisty Malibu canyons. For a compact SUV, it handled well and drove confidently, never feeling out of control or wallowy like some SUVs. The steering is low effort and easy but still actually feels connected to the front tires. It straddles a nice line between comfort and weight, with just enough of the latter to suggest the presence of tires but not enough to annoy everyday commuters. Mind you, its not really sporty, but it's decently tuned.
Then there’s the updated engine, which is a mixed bag. Relative to the old engine, it is an astronomical improvement. Relative to the market, it is just barely on par. It still has some lingering noise and vibration issues, even with efforts to curtail them. At idle in drive, the engine’s primary, loping vibrations come through the steering wheel slightly. It’s not isolated that well either, with lots of accessory noise permeating through the firewall, especially the high-pitched twittering of the direct fuel injection.
It also doesn’t feel particularly potent. The engine is rated at 221 lb-ft but it feels like it only makes that power in a narrow range. It’s all about the low-end torque, but even then the Compass still feels slightly sluggish from stops. Once it's on an open highway, it’s straight up slow. The engine groans and grumbles to deliver power, transmitting a lot of its '90s-sounding buzz to the cabin.
It is a big improvement from the 2.4-liter, and owners of those cars will notice that. But it isn’t the modern 2.0-liter turbo drivetrain we’re used to; smooth and almost imperceptible in operation. It is good enough for most, but it doesn’t impress. It does, however, deliver better fuel economy on the EPA cycle, with an overall improvement of 2 mpg combined compared to the previous engine. And the eight-speed transmission is smooth and smart, with no gear hunting to speak of.
Jeep also had me do an off-road course with the Trailhawk, and it is deeply impressive. Most Compass owners wouldn’t even think of wheeling their cars, but if you ever wanted to tool around in one, it will do it, at least on Jeep’s prepared off-road course. It can definitely survive most fire roads and basic trails and has extremely good hill descent control that made a steep, slippery downhill quite a relaxing experience. The ABS pump and electronics are working triple overtime to make the Compass clamber over rocks and gullies, but it is actually good at it. There are no mechanical lockers, and the AWD is front-wheel-drive based. Consider it another tool in the arsenal of a Compass, though the Trailhawk gets exclusive off-road drive modes and a simulated low-range.
The Early Verdict
The primary mission of the Jeep Compass is to be a comfortable everyday runabout. Jeep has sprinkled in a healthy dose of off-road capability, as well as a slew of updates to make it less of a budget option and more of a real contender. It has achieved that goal, and is a car I could recommend to folks looking for a decent small SUV.
Overall, the effect of the Compass is good. It’s quiet and comfortable, the technology works well with a seamless CarPlay pairing experience, the engine is now up to par even if it’s a little unrefined, and the interior is actually a nice place to spend time. In terms of pricing, its right there with the Ford Bronco Sport, starting at a fairly reasonable $31,590 for a base Sport model and topping out at an eye-popping $47,215 for a maxed-out Trailhawk trim. That’s with options like the panoramic sunroof, Alpine stereo (which is lacking treble), adaptive cruise control (yes, that’s optional), and a premium package that comes with navigation, a full-LCD gauge cluster, heated seats and steering wheel, and LED projector headlights. It gets expensive, but most of the must-have options are bundled into expensive packages. Thus, you’re looking down the barrel of $40,000 or more for one of these with any amount of options.
The Compass is finally on par with the segment. It doesn’t move the goalposts or break any new ground, but it doesn’t need to. It gets the basics right. But it is expensive, and for what most will actually cost, it could stand to be a bit more powerful and have a standard safety suite with adaptive cruise control.
It’s almost there. But true greatness is still just out of reach.
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