By Bruce Caldwell
The Jeep brand is synonymous with off road performance. Over seventy years of go anywhere prowess has fostered a well-earned reputation. The irony is that owners of daily driven Jeep SUVs seldom use a fraction of their vehicle’s performance potential. This attribute that attracts Jeeps buyers is oddly one that few owners maximize.
Jeep extreme condition technology comes at a cost on top of the line models such as the Grand Cherokee, but the good news is economy minded customers can dial back the state of the art features and still get a very competent Jeep at a budget price. A case in point is the 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude 4×4.
Jeep Compass 4×4 models (they’re also available in front-wheel-drive versions) still have off-road enhancing features such as a center locking differential, stability control, and roll mitigation. Wheels are placed at the far corners of the platform, so approach and departure angles are well suited for rugged trails. The relatively trim size (compared to full size SUVs) makes the Compass fairly nimble on narrow dirt roads.
The Jeep Compass comes in three trim levels: Sport, Latitude, and Limited. We tested a Latitude 4×4 model. We liked the features and value of this middle model. As an AWD model it came with the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder engine instead of the 2.0-liter engine found in the Sport and Latitude 2WD models. The Latitude has a CVT transmission with manual shift capability, while the Sport comes with a standard 5-speed manual transmission (a CVT with crawl ratio gearing is optional on the Sport). The Limited’s main focus is an upgraded interior.
Walkaround: The 2012 Jeep Compass was restyled in 2011, so 2012 changes are minor. The front ¾ view is particularly handsome as it echoes the upscale Grand Cherokee. Our test Latitude had very handsome 5-spoke 17-inch alloy wheels. The wheels were reminiscent of those on our all-time favorite Jeep SUV — the Grand Cherokee SRT8. The sharp styling and wheels do a lot to make the Compass look like a more expensive SUV.
Interior: The interior is a Compass strong point, especially for the driver and front seat passenger. The level of materials, textures, and design are high. Quality is above what one might expect in this affordable price range.
Driver/front passenger legroom is stretch out spacious. Rear seat room is fine as long as the front seats aren’t all the way back. The Compass is classified as a five-passenger vehicle, but a tall floor tunnel compromises the middle position. Rear seat small item storage is very limited.
Cargo capacity and utility are great. The split rear seats fold flat and the front passenger seat can also be folded. The seatback is hard plastic so long items can be transported (as long as a single passenger rides behind the driver). A low loading height and a wide hatch make cargo handling easy. There’s ample space even when the rear seats are in their upright position.
The sound system, gauges, and controls are all very nice and easy to use. The auxiliary steering wheels controls are excellent.
Under The Hood: The 2.4-liter engine in our test Latitude was rated at 172 horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque. The 2.0-liter engines used
in front-wheel-drive Sport and Latitude models are rated at 158 horsepower and 141 lb-ft of torque. Both engines are DOHC designs.
Our tester was EPA rated at 21 city and 26 highway. Under mostly city driving conditions we weren’t able to get out of the teens. We felt engine power was adequate, but far from exhilarating. The engine gets the job done, but it did seem a little buzzy on steep hills. The four-cylinder engines fall short in the refinement department, especially compared to the wonderful V-6 and V-8 engines found in the Jeep Grand Cherokees.
Behind The Wheel: We place Compass road manners in the fine category—very adequate, but nothing to rave about. The ride is comfortable, stable, and offers a good compromise between sports car road feedback and luxury car numbness. Wheel location is great for off-road hill climbing, but it yields a large turning radius due the relatively long wheelbase. Compass road manners compare favorably to competing compact SUVs, but they don’t stand out either positively or negatively.
Whines: Oversize speakers limit door storage bin potential and we’d rather have the extra space than more booming bass. A minor complaint is the shape of the rear side windows and the “C” pillar—we’d prefer shapes closer to those on the Jeep Grand Cherokee.
Bottom Line: We liked the 2012 Jeep Compass Latitude. It does a lot of things right at a right price. It looks like a smaller scale Jeep Grand Cherokee. This similarity worked both for and against the Compass. We liked the value proposition, but we missed the luxury and performance of the Grand Cherokee (which can easily cost twice as much as the Compass). The 2012 Jeep Compass is competent; versatile; great for local weather/driving conditions; and a strong value.