There’s no mistaking the 2021 Compass for anything but a Jeep—although we do think this is one of the prettier Jeep designs—and its ability to actually survive off-road is uncommon in this class. However, even though it wears the company’s unmistakable seven-slot grille and has the hardware to handle some rugged terrain, its ride and interior quality are less refined than many of its direct rivals, such as the Mazda CX-5 and Honda CR-V. Likewise, it doesn’t offer as much towing or off-road capability as the Jeep Cherokee. We’re also not fond of its underpowered four-cylinder engine and the lethargic automatic transmission that’s assigned to all-wheel-drive models. Although the 2021 Compass offers loads of technology and practical cargo space, it’s one of the least desirable compact crossovers.
What’s New for 2021?
The Compass enters 2021 with minor changes. There’s a new 80th Anniversary Edition that’s based on the Latitude trim level and features Granite Crystal 19-inch wheels, leather seats with contrast stitching, a power-adjustable driver’s seat, remote start, an 8.4-inch touchscreen, a 115-volt power outlet, and more. Other flourishes include trim-specific badging, an oak medallion key fob, and piano-black and gunmetal interior accents. The Limited and Trailhawk trims both add more standard active safety features, such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
Engine, Transmission, and Performance
The four-cylinder engine that powers every Compass is lethargic and the optional nine-speed automatic transmission is slow to execute shifts. All front-wheel models are equipped with a six-speed automatic. Buyers who choose all-wheel drive will enjoy a variety of terrain-conquering drive modes. An automatic setting allows the car to direct torque to the wheels as it sees fit, while Snow, Sand, and Mud modes allow varying amounts of wheel slip for improved traction. Trailhawk models add a low “crawler” gear ratio and a Rock mode, which keeps the Compass in first gear and directs torque only to the wheels that can find grip. The Compass feels more agile than its tall, boxy profile would suggest, responding ably to inputs from the nicely weighted steering wheel. There is some lean during tight cornering, but overall the Compass feels well-controlled, solidly planted, and capable on the road. An off-road course we braved when we first drove the Compass revealed that it can hold its own at least over moderate obstacles, and we noticed nary a stumble from the all-wheel-drive system.
Interior, Comfort, and Cargo
The interior of the Compass is comfortable, functional, and has enough space for four adult passengers. The cabin materials are average at best, and no match for those found in class leaders such as the Honda CR-V or Mazda CX-5. The back seat of the Compass is neither the largest nor the smallest of the cars in this diverse, small-crossover class. It’s hardly a luxury sedan, either, but high seat bottoms in the back seat mean that passengers’ legs are fully supported, and even long rides can be comfortable. Despite its boxy exterior and what at first appears to be competitive cargo volume, the Compass is not the roomiest of its set. It has enough luggage space for an airport run but long trips could be a squeeze, and in-cabin storage space is somewhat lacking. The rear seatbacks angle slightly upward when folded, and the Compass held only 17 carry-on suitcases with the seats stowed.