Cancel the drum roll. This is not the all-new Alfa Romeo–based compact crossover we’ve been hearing rumors about for some time now. The current Jeep Compass, introduced in 2007 and updated with a Grand Cherokee–like nose in 2011 will soldier on just a bit longer—but with some improvements.
On paper, at least, the idea of leveraging the highly recognizable Jeep brand into a front- or four-wheel-drive soft-roader that addressed America’s desire for smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles seemed like a good idea at the time. But as delivered on the showroom floor, the resulting “street-savvy” Jeep Compass suffered under then-owner DaimlerChrysler’s belief that American small cars had to be cheap cars. The resulting vehicle came off as slow, noisy, clunky-handling, and with cheap-looking plastic trim inside straight from the dollar store. Making matters worse, the small, urbanized Jeep struggled to reach a 30-mpg EPA highway fuel-economy rating.
To address some of these shortcomings, Jeep’s been making continuous improvements over the past few years. The 2011 face lift that gave the Compass a miniature Grand Cherokee front-end and strategically upgraded some of the more egregious hard-plastic transgressions in the cabin helped a lot. Jeep’s addition of the Patriot’s Freedom Drive II off-road package to quell criticism the Compass wasn’t a true Jeep also was beneficial.
The improvements continue for 2014. A new acoustic-laminated windshield quiets some of the clatter coming from under the hood. New standard seat-mounted side airbags should help keep Compass’s side-impact rating from deteriorating under tougher IIHS testing. Exterior upgrades include 18-inch aluminum wheels, chrome bezels surrounding fog lamps, and projector-beam halogen headlamps on Limited models; while all models will get body-color side mirrors. Inside, Compass Limiteds gain a much-needed backup camera (its blocky D-pillars obfuscate rear three-quarter visibility), and perforated leather seats, while lesser models share a vinyl-wrapped console cover and door panels, as well as satin-chrome accents on the doors, dash bin, center stack, and shifter.
But the big change this year is in the new Compass’s driveline. For 2014, Jeep replaces the often-criticized continuously variable transmission that’s been used in the Compass since its introduction with a new Hyundai-designed six-speed step-gear automatic. It’s standard on the mid-level Compass Latitude and range-topping Limited trims, and optional on the base Sport model. Jeep has gone to the unusual length of stating it is using noise-resistant gears to promote quiet operation throughout the gear steps in the new six-speed, likely addressing the reputation the CVT has had for whirring noises and whiney operation. The new six-speed also features standard a manual shifting mode, and its final-drive ratio is shorter than that of the CVT it replaces, which should provide a slight boost to acceleration performance. The CVT remains in the lineup, but oddly enough only as the required gearbox in the optional Freedom Drive II off-road package. The five-speed manual continues as the standard transmission in the base Compass Sport.
Jeep hasn’t released 2014 EPA mileage estimates for the new six-speed autobox, which is available with both the 158-hp, 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s standard on Sport and Latitude models and the 172-hp, 2.4-liter four-holer that powers the Limited. And inasmuch as the previous CVT was essentially a mileage play, it’s unlikely the better-performing, more aesthetically pleasing six-speed auto will do any better than the CVT did last year (a best of 22/28 mpg).