What's New for 2012
For 2012, the Jeep Compass is now available in three different trim levels. The continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) has also been recalibrated for better performance.
Compared to its two-dozen competitors, the 2012 Jeep Compass is a compact crossover that continues to search for its direction. Built on the same car-based underpinnings as the Dodge Caliber, the Compass has always seemed to be caught between two worlds. The homely little trucklette was neither refined enough to compete with suburban runabouts like the Honda CR-V in everyday driving, nor rugged enough for serious off-road escapades.
Last year's makeover certainly improved the Compass, starting with a more handsome look reminiscent of the brand's Grand Cherokee flagship. Better quality materials in a few key areas also helped mitigate the interior's cut-rate feel. Finally, the addition of an available Off-Road option package gave it increased four-wheeling potential with an inch of additional ground clearance, all-terrain tires, skid plates and a four-wheel-drive system with low-range gearing.
Taken together, all these changes have helped the 2012 Jeep Compass chart a course toward the heart of the crowded compact crossover segment. However, that doesn't mean it's reached its destination, as it's still far from being on even footing with the best small SUVs on the market. Notable weaknesses remain, including lackluster powertrains that fall short in terms of acceleration, fuel economy and overall refinement.
As such, we'd recommend checking out the Compass' many competitors. If it's true off-road capability you're after, the Jeep Wrangler and Nissan Xterra are worth a look. For around-town use, the Honda CR-V, GMC Terrain, Kia Sportage and Subaru Forester (just to name a few) all offer all-wheel drive for increased traction in bad weather with much better handling, performance and refinement in everyday driving.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2012 Jeep Compass is a five-passenger compact SUV that's offered in three new trim levels: Sport, Latitude and Limited.
Standard equipment on the entry-level Sport model includes 17-inch alloy wheels, foglamps, heated mirrors, roof rails, full power accessories, keyless entry, cruise control, air-conditioning, 60/40-split-folding rear seats, a tilt-only steering wheel and a four-speaker sound system with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack.
Stepping up to the midrange Latitude model gets you heated front seats, a height-adjustable driver seat, a fold-flat front passenger seat, a reclining rear seat, a household-style 115-volt auxiliary power point and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls.
The top-of-the-line Limited trim level adds the larger 2.4-liter engine, 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, a six-way power driver seat, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, satellite radio and a six-CD changer.
The Latitude and Limited models are available with a number of different packages. The Security and Cargo Convenience Group adds front seat side-impact airbags (available separately on Sport), a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a trip computer, remote ignition (not available with manual transmission), a USB audio jack and Bluetooth (available separately on all trim levels). The Sun and Sound Group includes a sunroof and a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics audio system (available separately) with two speakers that flip down from the raised liftgate. The Media Center 430 option adds a touchscreen interface, digital music storage and a USB audio jack. A navigation system with real-time traffic and other information can be added to this on the Limited trim.
The Freedom-Drive II Off-Road Group available on all trims with four-wheel drive includes an upgraded four-wheel-drive system, a low-range mode for the transmission, 17-inch alloy wheels, all-terrain tires, skid plates, tow hooks, an engine oil cooler, hill descent control, hill start assist, and on the Sport, a height-adjustable driver seat.
Powertrains and Performance
Every front-wheel-drive 2012 Jeep Compass Sport and Latitude model comes with a 2.0-liter four-cylinder that produces 158 horsepower and 141 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard on the Sport. A CVT is optional on the Sport and standard on the Latitude. Fuel economy estimates range from 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway and 25 mpg combined with the manual to 23/27/24 with the CVT.
A 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that puts out 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque is standard on the Limited and all four-wheel-drive Compasses. It is optional on the others. The transmission choices are the same as with the 2.0-liter, with the Limited getting the CVT standard. Fuel economy ranges from a decent 23/28/25 with the manual and front-wheel drive to a pretty dismal 20/23/21 with the CVT and four-wheel drive.
Front-wheel drive is standard across the Compass lineup. Of the two available four-wheel-drive options, the light-duty "Freedom Drive I" system operates in front-wheel-drive mode under normal conditions and automatically sends power to the rear wheels only when needed. The "Freedom Drive II" Off-Road package includes a low-range mode for the CVT that makes it much more capable on the trail.
In Edmunds testing, a four-wheel-drive (Freedom Drive I) Compass with the 2.4-liter engine and CVT accelerated to 60 mph from a standstill in a leisurely 10.3 seconds. Properly equipped, the Compass can tow trailers up to 2,000 pounds.
Standard safety features on the 2012 Jeep Compass include stability control with a rollover sensor, full-length side curtain airbags and traction control. Antilock brakes are standard on every Compass; however, the front-wheel-drive Sport and Latitude come with rear drums whereas the other trims get rear discs. Front-seat side-impact airbags are optional.
In Edmunds brake testing, a four-wheel-drive Compass Limited came to a stop from 60 mph in 120 feet.
Interior Design and Special Features
The passenger cabin of the 2012 Jeep Compass received a minor makeover last year and now sports better-quality materials in key spots like the front doors and the armrest between the front seats. Still, the Compass still feels a bit downmarket compared to its many rivals. Also, the front seats still aren't all that comfortable and legroom is scarce for rear seat passengers.
The interior does have a couple of neat features including a rechargeable LED cargo light that pops out for use as a flashlight, and optional speakers that flip down and out from the raised liftgate to play tunes during your tailgate party.
However, tailgaters will find that the cargo hold is on the small side, with 22.7 cubic feet of space behind the 60/40-split rear seats, and it expands to just 53.6 cubic feet with those seatbacks folded down. This is only a little less than in smaller compact crossovers like the Kia Sportage, but bigger ones like the CR-V and Forester top 70 cubic feet.
When it comes to drivability, the 2012 Jeep Compass' performance is hampered by its powertrains. Even the larger 2.4-liter four-cylinder delivers lackluster acceleration, especially when mated to the noisy CVT. The suspension gives the trucklette ride and handling qualities that are just passable. Together, these shortcomings lead us to suggest that potential buyers carefully compare its road manners with some of the better car-based crossovers out there before signing on the dotted line. Should you be looking for some off-roading potential, the Nissan Xterra would be a more capable choice.