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2013 Jeep Compass review

Highs

  • Affordable base models
  • Front-wheel drive gets decent mileage for a car of its size
  • Great exterior redesign is more in step with the Jeep brand

Rating

Our Score 6
User Score 10

Lows

  • Coarse CVT takes all the fun out of driving
  • Four-wheel drive fuel economy is pretty dismal
  • Not a true off-road warrior
  • Bland interior is about as exciting as watching paint dry
The 2013 Jeep Compass is a peculiar beast. It strives to deliver car-like ride quality (it is based off the defunct Dodge Caliber after all) and while it is indeed successful in that respect it’s simply too uninspiring to recommend to anyone but the most ardent Jeep fans.

The 2013 Jeep Compass slots below the Wrangler and acts as a gateway to the automakers more established nameplates.

Jeep has positioned the Compass as a jack-of-all trade’s type of car, aimed at getting decent gas mileage, exhibiting car-like performance, and a capable character off-road.

Buyers beware though, as with any car labeled “entry-level,” expect to encounter lots of compromises because cost savings usually come at a price. In the case of the 2013 Jeep Compass, compromises abound with performance, off-road capability, and a sparse sprinkling of technology.

But is it enough to steer you away from the Compass?

Limited tech on board

The 2013 Jeep Compass isn’t a technology showcase by any stretch but it had just enough to keep me satisfied. The Latitude model I jumped in came with Chrysler’s Uconnect multimedia system, with a 6.5-inch high-resolution touchscreen that looked sharp and responded well to my prodding.

Oddly, my car didn’t come with a navigation system despite the large display, although drivers can option one in a Compass Limited.

2013 jeep compass interior driver side

On top of your standard AM/FM radio, CD/DVD player, and SiriusXM Satellite Radio, the system supports hands-free calling and audio streaming via Bluetooth.

Pairing my phone was simple, albeit a little more involved than it should be. My pride kept me from reaching for the car’s manual but after some trial and error, I figured out the voice command to initiate the pairing process.

Placing calls was straightforward, requiring a simple press of the steering wheel-mounted “talk” button. Uconnect will also download your contacts photos adding a more personalized touch.

The steering wheel mounted controls didn’t take much time getting used to either and sport Chrysler’s signature nipple design…

Streaming music wasn’t much of a fuss either but for some reason Uconnect didn’t want to play nicely with my Windows 8 phone. There were times when I could stream music from Pandora and Spotify without any issues and others times where it would constantly hiccup. However, when I switched to an iPhone, everything worked fine.

Uconnect has a feature where it will read aloud text messages you receive but that wasn’t compatible with my Lumia 920 Win8 celly. I’ve yet to run into this issue with other cars I’ve been in but I’m sure this isn’t Jeep specific. Again, switching to my iPhone cleared this right up.

Of course, if you’d rather not fiddle with your phone to get your musical merriment, the multimedia system’s has a built-in 40GB hard, of which 28GB are available for file storage. With the car’s remote USB port, I was able to transfer my music files from a thumbdrive and blare my favorite KISS songs all night and ev-er-y-day.

The compass comes with a base four-speaker sound system, which was surprisingly decent, however audiophiles should opt for the upgraded Boston Acoustics system, which comes with an eight-channel, 368-watt amplifier and two-channel 90-watt subwoofer.

Big bland box

Remember when you were kid walking down the cereal aisle at the grocery store, eying that shiny box of Lucky Charms, only to be handed a dusty bag of Malt-O-Meal branded Marshmallow Mateys instead? No? Well, your parents obviously loved you (unless you got All-Bran).

While I’m no doubt the first and likely the last person to compare the interior of a car to a cereal, it’s really the only way I could think of to describe the 2013 Jeep Compass’ flavorless interior: like a lukewarm bowl of Marshmallow Mateys, it gets the job done but it won’t excite you.

Everything from the steering wheel and dash layout is unassuming but practical. The large dials used for HVAC controls are, well, large and easy to operate. The steering wheel mounted controls didn’t take much time getting used to either and sport Chrysler’s signature nipple design (little nubs for controlling volume and track selection) just behind the steering wheel.

But like its boxy exterior, there are virtually no curves to be found, only cloth seats, sharp lines, and hum-drum materials. The interior is a budget box on wheels and nothing more.

For drivers that don’t want to fuss with all the fancy materials other modern cars come with, I can see the Compass being a hit but there isn’t much to fall in love with here. In fact, the features that excited me the most were the small cutout above the glovebox, which proved a perfect spot for my phone and wallet, and the illuminated cup holders. Yup, illuminated cup holders.

That said, ride height was good and the seats were comfortable. The cabin never felt cramped and the Compass fits four full-size adults even if second row legroom is a little sparse.

The 2013 Compass has a max cargo capacity of 62.7 cubic feet, definitely enough for grocery hauls and weekend getaways.

Well, you’re a handsome fella

Despite the moral high ground I take when it comes to cosmetic surgery, if there was ever a car in need of Beverly Hill’s finest it was the old Compass. Jeep finally addressed this glaring issue in 2011 and the nameplate – along with my eyes – thank them for it.

Up front, the Compass finally looks like a “real” Jeep and not some low-fi, far-east knock-off. The new chiseled jaw brings it line with the Grand Cherokee, itself a crowd pleaser, while the rest of the body retains the same boxy frame Jeep is known for.

No matter what angle you view the Compass; you’ll know it’s a Jeep – and that’s a good thing.

Front-wheel favoritism 

Under the hood, the 2013 Jeep Compass isn’t the rough and tough grizzled explorer we’ve grown to know and love. The entry-level nature of the compact SUV ensures it comes with a number of power and drivetrain options that limit its utility but raises fuel economy. Oh joy!

The Compass is available in three different models: Sport ($19,495), Latitude ($21,795), and Limited ($24,495). Front-wheel drive is standard across the board (four-wheel drive options exist, too); with the Sport and Latitude models featuring a 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine generating 158 horsepower, 141 pound-feet of torque. Not exactly a king’s ransom worth of power for drivers looking to take their Compass offroad but enough to brave treacherous trips to Costco every weekend.

2013 jeep compass exterior motion 1

Thankfully, my Latitude review car included the upgraded 2.4-liter four-cylinder, which increases hp to 172 and lb-ft of torque to 165. With the 2.4-liter, the Compass is a lot more eager off the line than I expected but it’s still nothing worth writing (texting?) home about.

Hitting the accelerator was only ever a moderate lesson in patience and like virtually all CVTs leaves a lot to be desired when called on for that extra bit of vroom. The Compass’ CVT is slightly better than most I’ve encountered but I felt I was more likely to find the fabled lost city of Atlantis before I got a quick boost of acceleration off the line or out of corners.

Engine noise is also a problem. I’ve (somewhat) learned to tune it out but it’s still there. Thankfully it sounds more like a dying badger than the walrus-moans of other CVTs — so I suppose I’ll count that in my “win” column.

Decent fuel economy is a trait Jeep wanted badly for the Compass but couldn’t quite navigate toward despite its best efforts. Front-wheel drive models return an EPA-rated 23/30/25 when paired to the manual and 2.0-liter, while the FWD CVT version boasts 22/28/24.

2013 jeep compass exterior motion 3

Things get even worse when stepping up to the 2.4-liter, especially when paired with the Freedom II Off-Road Package (more on that in a sec). Even with the 2.4-liter’s 16-valve dual VVT (variable valve timing) technology, fuel economy is abysmal, mustering 20 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway, which is worse than some larger SUVs.

Ironically, VVT’s generally help fuel economy by freeing the constraints placed on the engine’s valves, allowing them to lift at variable times during the engine’s operation. Standard engines use valves at fixed points so regardless of the driving demands, the placement stays the same. This has a negative effect on performance and fuel economy because regardless of how much air is being taken in, the fixed valves don’t allow for any variation.

The more modern VVT system automatically adjusts the valves’ movement for optimal performance and efficiency, however the system is more complex.

Operation Freedom Drive

The 2013 Jeep Compass is based off the now defunct Dodge Caliber which means driving dynamics are much more car-like. Both the steering and suspension are tuned nicely and kept me connected to the road. While the Compass isn’t particularly spry, as a highway cruiser it gets the job done. Cornering isn’t spectacular but it manages to keep its composure.

Front-wheel drive is standard across the Compass lineup but there are two four-wheel drive options.

The patriotically named Freedom Drive I is more front-wheel focused and sort of an on-demand system. It automatically accounts for wheel slippage during corners or gravel-strewn roads and sends power accordingly to the rear wheels. Engaging the Compass’ 4WD Lock, however, ensures that maximum torque is sent to the rear axle for improved traction without having to wait for the onboard computer to detect wheel slippage.

2013 jeep compass exterior motion 2

Freedom Drive II is a little more involved in that it features an electronically controlled coupling attached to the rear differential. The electronics system detects and processes signals sent from both the wheel sensors and accelerator pedal, which tells it how much torque to transfer to the rear wheels.

The Compass isn’t really meant for serious off-roading adventuring but drivers wanting to do so should op for FD II, which Jeep says is more suitable for “moderate off-road situations.” However, for people hauling and treks up to the mountain FD I will suffice.

Finish Line

The 2013 Jeep Compass is a peculiar beast. It strives to deliver car-like ride quality (it is based off the defunct Dodge Caliber after all) and while it is indeed successful in that respect it’s simply too uninspiring to recommend to anyone but the most ardent Jeep fans.

The Compass’ barren interior and groaning CVT also make it less than ideal as a daily driver despite fuel economy reaching up to 30 mpg in some models.

The limited nature of its off-road capabilities doesn’t help matters either; meaning what you’re left with is an entry-level crossover that isn’t particularly stylish, fun to drive, or equipped to tackle anything but the most unitimidating off-road conditions.

No, what you’re really buying here is the Jeep name; a Jeep that compromises too much in its quest to be a little bit of everything. With so many excellent alternatives like the Toyota RAV4 and the Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, you’re better off letting your compass guide you elsewhere.

Highs

  • Affordable base models 
  • Front-wheel drive gets decent mileage for a car of its size
  • Great exterior redesign is more in step with the Jeep brand

Lows

  • Coarse CVT takes all the fun out of driving
  • Four-wheel drive fuel economy is pretty dismal
  • Not a true off-road warrior
  • Bland interior is about as exciting as watching paint dry

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