2019 Jeep Compass 4x4 Limited

If you’ve paid any atten­tion to my sparse autowrit­ing since 2013, you might’ve noticed that I’ve found myself chron­i­cling my jour­ney to kill every last brand bias-born igno­rant assump­tion with­in my per­spec­tive for clarity’s sake. It required Juke NISMO and Xter­ra wheel­time for me to under­stand the strengths of my favorite ado­les­cent tar­get, Nis­san, and just one night out with the Cross­Cabri­o­let to see its short­com­ings. Eight years in prox­im­i­ty to CR-V own­er­ship in tan­dem with an active aca­d­e­m­ic effort to look at South Korea’s then-upcom­ing place in the indus­try empir­i­cal­ly let down the mys­ti­cal aura in which Hon­da once dwelled for me through­out my lat­er child­hood. Dri­ving the Eco­Boost Mus­tang in Port­land last year was a bru­tal­ly epiphanous smack in the face as I began to real­ize just how con­fused this country’s rela­tion­ship with his­toric brand iden­ti­ties (and how they should be rep­re­sent­ed in the present) has become. How can mar­ques like “Mus­tang” and “Jeep” pos­si­bly mean any­thing after both the engi­neer­ing and con­sumer expec­ta­tions have changed so dras­ti­cal­ly? For all the mar­ket­ing, PR, and edi­to­r­i­al tal­ent employed by the remain­ing car giants, one won­ders how many peo­ple on the car com­pa­ny meal tick­et live moment to excru­ci­at­ing moment in full-body mor­tal ter­ror.

I haven’t writ­ten a car review in years, but I thought I should take the oppor­tu­ni­ty to con­front what I hope to be my last tox­ic brand bias. To tell you the truth, I have absolute­ly no clue how or why the desire for objec­tive auto­mo­tive puri­ty remains with­in my soul, or why I’ve trea­sured it so. I must also con­fess that my com­pul­sion to spend much time on the sub­ject of this par­tic­u­lar prod­uct is less intense than the sort I gen­er­al­ly hope to car­ry along when embark­ing upon this sort of thing. Of course, I am always open to and want­i­ng for even the most brazen crit­i­cism, so you should always feel free to blame me per­son­al­ly. Oth­er­wise, please point the way to the last auto­mo­tive media monastery. Ulti­mate­ly, my life depends on my con­tin­ued belief in the jour­ney, regard­less of whether or not the des­ti­na­tion actu­al­ly exists.

Believe it or not, I once had an awful­ly agri­cul­tur­al dri­ving expe­ri­ence with a restored civil­ian Willy’s from the ear­ly 1950s, which couldn’t have con­trast­ed more against the past three weeks I’ve spent with the 2019 Jeep Com­pass, which has — per­haps above all else — an absolute­ly hor­ren­dous name. It’s a cheap joke, but I can’t imag­ine it ever falling flat: that cold, round, steel, entire­ly unas­sist­ed steer­ing wheel has been replaced with a heat­ed leather unit con­nect­ed to an electro­mechan­i­cal rack that leaves embar­rass­ing­ly lit­tle required effort from its oper­a­tor. I can’t be both­ered with a con­fir­ma­tion, but I sus­pect the lot of it was sourced from Fiat, which would make any old Jeep cus­tomer from the Grand Cherokee’s gold­en era fall imme­di­ate­ly ill — if you could actu­al­ly man­age to con­vince them you weren’t jok­ing, that is. This mod­el year appar­ent­ly starts at $21,095 (I say we try to find one of those,) but my “Limited”-specced exam­ple would man­age to set you back a mid-bog­gling $33,045 with its decent­ly-com­posed CarPlay-equipped info­tain­ment sys­tem wear­ing an appro­pri­ate­ly-obnox­ious hexag­o­nal­ly-themed user inter­face, heat­ed leather seats, steer­ing wheel, and door mir­rors, key­less entry, and a few more checked check­marks which aren’t par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant or inter­est­ing. Con­sid­er­ing, I must (per­haps unfair­ly) insert some con­clu­sive com­men­tary already: this vehi­cle is fuck­ing over­priced. Pre-research, I was briefly impressed by the rumor that my car was priced almost $8,000 less, which would almost make it a bar­gain, but — God be with them — there real­ly are Amer­i­cans out there spend­ing more than $30,000 on these every day.

To be hon­est, I’m grow­ing very tired of dri­ving Fiat Chrysler Auto­mo­biles that come from the fac­to­ry com­plete­ly let down by their dri­ve­trains. It’s been over five years since new auto­mat­ic-equipped Dodge Darts so thor­ough­ly dis­ap­point­ed even the least-dis­cern­ing own­ers with its dri­ving behav­ior thanks to the transmission’s hor­ren­dous­ly-fudged map­ping. The Com­pass’ 9-speed ZF gear­boxf looks great on paper — for some thir­ty years, the Friedrichshafen name has been the badge of the industry’s most dynam­i­cal­ly capa­ble avail­able pair­ings with any giv­en lux­u­ry pow­er plant — but the real­i­ty of Jeep’s exe­cu­tion is despi­ca­bly dis­cour­ag­ing. No, it’s not as entire­ly-com­pris­ing as the Dart’s, but it’s cer­tain­ly bad enough to war­rant rec­om­mend­ing check­ing out the “4x4 Man­u­al” trim if you insist on Com­pass own­er­ship, which should at least enable more hands-on dri­vers to make the best of the model’s inescapably inad­e­quate 180 horse­pow­er 2.4 Liter four. It’s not hope­less, by any means, but its ~3,500 lb. bur­den requires a sig­nif­i­cant amount of work in nor­mal dri­ving from who­ev­er is mak­ing gearchange deci­sions — whether they ulti­mate­ly be human or mis­pro­grammed com­put­er. Stay­ing with traf­fic on a typ­i­cal Unit­ed States high­way will require them often — attack­ing fair­ly mod­er­ate inclines in such a set­ting at a cruise con­trolled 76mph had my exam­ple down­shift­ing three whole gears to tack­le in a man­ner notice­able enough to breach the uncon­scious thresh­old of even the least mechan­i­cal­ly-empa­thet­ic oper­a­tor.

More than most oth­er cat­e­gories, the Com­pass’ place among the new­born “Com­pact Sport Util­i­ty” seg­ment should be exam­ined with thor­ough cri­tique. When I brought it up with a good friend of mine (whom I shall men­tion again very short­ly,) he intro­duced me to the term “Mall Crawler,” which I’ve des­per­ate­ly need­ed to describe a spe­cif­ic com­part­ment of local car cul­ture for sev­er­al years now.

Jeep, Nis­san, and Sub­aru have entered into this no man’s land of bud­get-friend­ly crossovers that strad­dle the unclaimed dimen­sion­al­i­ty between sub­com­pact and com­pact crossovers with the Jeep Com­pass, Nis­san Rogue Sport, and Sub­aru Crosstrek. Bonus: All three are new to the mar­ket this year.

Yes, those who are seri­ous­ly con­sid­er­ing a pick from this seg­ment should con­sid­er this MotorTrend com­par­i­son of the Com­pass, Rogue Sport, and Crosstrek and Car & Dri­ver’s review of the 2018 mod­el year to be required read­ing. I haven’t dri­ven either of the oth­er two com­pet­ing prod­ucts, though — for what it’s worth — my sis­ter and broth­er-in-law bought the lat­ter in 2017 and have noth­ing but good things to say, which con­firms Chris­t­ian Seabaugh’s first place endorse­ment of Subaru’s entry. To him, the “Trailhawk”-trimmed Com­pass “feels like an old-school body-on-frame SUV,” which is a con­sid­er­able com­pli­ment, and I’d at least par­tial­ly con­cur in the Limited’s case. It’s impor­tant to con­sid­er that my Com­pass was proud­ly equipped with what Jeep calls “4WD,” which is a procla­ma­tion I per­son­al­ly hadn’t seen brand­ed on any non-pick­up auto­mo­tive prod­ucts in a long time. (Then again, I’m almost pos­i­tive I saw such a badge on the back of a fourth-gen­er­a­tion CR-V the oth­er day, which seems aus­pi­cious, at best.) When I took the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pilot the con­fus­ing­ly-pseudo­plush Com­pass about a hand­ful of for­lorn coun­ty grav­el roads, it was much more com­pe­tent than I expect­ed. In fact, I’m not sure I could name a mod­ern, road-going vehi­cle from my own expe­ri­ence — includ­ing a vast assort­ment of pick­ups — which was any less per­turbed by loose lime­stone. After man­u­al­ly depress­ing the “4wd Lock” con­trol, it was sim­ply unstick­able in the most pre­car­i­ous cor­ner entries my local routes could muster, even when “ford­ing” a foot or two-deep crick.

I have made a lot of pub­lic assump­tions about Jeep Peo­ple, but I’m grate­ful to have had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to get to know a real one — my good friend Jack­son, a soft­ware engi­neer who’s owned a 1995 “YJ” Wran­gler, the Fiat 500L-based Rene­gade and now a 2014 Wran­gler — the last “real” Jeep. His exten­sive wis­dom is much appre­ci­at­ed and heav­i­ly-con­densed in the microin­t­er­view below. To explore fur­ther, tit­il­lat­ing top­ics like the “Jeep Funk,” I high­ly encour­age the curi­ous read­er to con­sult him per­son­al­ly. His per­spec­tive on the com­pa­ny and its patri­ot­ic his­to­ry is cer­tain­ly more sub­stan­tial than my own.

What does the Jeep brand mean to you in 2018?
It is a lega­cy, her­itage brand that car­ries with it the Amer­i­can fight­ing spir­it can-do atti­tude. It’s a state­ment of pride to dri­ve one of these vehi­cles. This is what I love about Jeep: they’re always the last ones to com­ply with any auto­mo­tive reg­u­la­tion. They were the last to imple­ment seat­belts. Airbags! My 1995 YJ didn’t have airbags! When you dri­ve a Jeep, you’re dri­ving a piece of his­to­ry… a piece of Amer­i­can His­to­ry! You’re dri­ving Amer­i­cana.

Which of your three Jeeps do/did you have the most intense feel­ings for?
The YJ. It was the full embod­i­ment of what Jeep is: 5-speed man­u­al, 4-cylin­der — a 2.4L or some­thing like that. Fat tires that over­loaded the engine. It wasn’t a vehi­cle to tra­verse the coun­try in. If I want­ed to take it off-road, I could. It was real­ly great in snow as well.

Should the Com­pass exist?

It takes courage to attach one­self so pas­sion­ate­ly to any brand and true nobil­i­ty to retain a crit­i­cal per­spec­tive upon it. I promise this par­tic­u­lar attach­ment is much less nation­al­is­tic than it may sound in the con­text (Nazis don’t dri­ve Jeeps — they’re lit­er­al­ly still putting around in Kubel­wa­gens.) Jack­son is the polar oppo­site of the Jeep Bro stereo­type I’ve abused through­out my com­men­tat­ing years. He’s a sin­cere, self-made young man who believes in the core util­i­tar­i­an phi­los­o­phy of the Jeep brand, and — per­haps most impor­tant­ly — he’s very self-aware of his rela­tion­ship with its cult cul­ture, but I fear the loy­al­ty and emo­tion­al invest­ment of gen­uine Jeep Men like him shall only be at greater and greater risk as the industry’s glob­al­iza­tion con­tin­ues to accel­er­ate. From my per­spec­tive, the more rel­e­vant ques­tion going for­ward is whether or not the rest of us should mourn, and I’d bet it’ll con­tin­ue to deliv­er more informed dis­course in the com­ing years.