CC Rental Review: 2018 Jeep Compass Limited FWD – Another Point (Of View)

Upon opening my laptop on Monday morning I saw R. Henry’s excellent review of his rental Jeep Compass Trailhawk.  When I first saw the headline I thought “Oh no, there goes my post idea!”, but then as I read it I started to wonder if we had really rented the same vehicle, as my recent experience had turned out to be quite different.

As with many things, both points can be true.  We had in fact rented the same “basic” vehicle, but they were very different versions from each other and as a result (notwithstanding the inherent subjectivity of different people) our results differed.

My trip to the Dallas/Fort Worth area last weekend was undertaken with my 9-year-old airplane fanatic son with the simple goal of spending a few days in an area that is rife with airplane and helicopter manufacturing and the history thereof, containing several excellent museums on the subject.

As a bonus, my son’s favorite airline is Southwest and he wanted to A) fly into Love Field which is their home airport and B) see their HQ building.  Decked out in his Southwest T-shirt, he worked his magic and chatted up the staff for our flight pre-boarding and was invited to the cockpit for a visit as we walked down the jetway where he proceeded to ask the pilots if they were aware they were on a Boeing 737-700 etc.  Once we eventually chose seats and sat down, he was (morbidly) excited to all of a sudden come to the realization that he had unwittingly chosen seat 14A, the seat that was the scene of Southwest’s only in-flight fatality several months ago (Yes, he knows this stuff).  I decided to tighten our belts a little more than normal and looked in my bag for my free drink coupons.

I had booked our car rental through Costco (who knew?) and reserved a “Standard 2/4dr, ex. Kia Soul” for the (excellent in my opinion) all-in price of $89 for four days from Alamo.  Upon presenting ourselves at the rental counter early in the morning after our late-night flight we were shown a selection of vehicles in a row marked “Executive” and told to pick what we wanted and then just drive out through the gate.  This is by far my favored rental scenario (picking your own) as opposed to just the usual random rental car lottery result.

Our choices consisted of a Hyundai Elantra, two Hyundai Tucsons, three old-style but new Dodge Caravans, a Nissan Rogue in absolute base trim, another Nissan Rogue in absolutely loaded trim (gee, which to pick of those two?), a base level Nissan Murano, a Jeep Wrangler Sport 4-door (JKU) and then our eventual selection, this Jeep Compass. It took us about an hour to decide, I let Riley sit in every vehicle and he ended up making this decision.  Notice that only one of the vehicle choices was a sedan.

First impressions were favorable.  Although decked out in typically boring Billet Silver paint it had a contrasting black roof, and appeared fairly loaded as well as only having 5260 miles on it.  Leather seats, a large touchscreen, and well-inflated Continental tires gave a good welcome.  Opening up the luggage area for our bags presented the first surprise relative to RH’s review, as this one had a power liftgate which is a $595 option on this model.

The Limited trim model is the second highest in the line-up (just below the Trailhawk) but seems to be on sort of a lateral mission compared to that one, focused more on a luxury dynamic.  Base price for the Limited trim is $27,890, which is $1,100 less than the Trailhawk but only equipped with FWD at that price as compared to the Trailhawk’s standard AWD.  If one were to add the AWD and nothing else, it would result in a higher price than the Trailhawk by several hundred dollars.

Looking at the “Build and Price” tool on the Jeep website, our rental includes the following options:  The Safety and Security Group (Blind Spot Assist, Rear Park Assist, Automatic Wipers) for $745, Navigation System for $845 which includes/incorporates the UConnect4 8.4″ central touchscreen system and 18″ Wheels with 225/55-18 Tires (no charge).

Additionally, the aforementioned Power Liftgate for $595, black leather seats with perforated leather inserts (no charge), and our paint combination (also at no charge), makes for a grand total of $30,425 before destination etc.  This initially seemed like a lot of money to me but does include a lot of content.  It appears roughly in line with similarly equipped competitors.  Note that it is still FWD at that price.

Someone commented on RH’s review that they would prefer the Cherokee due to its size over this, however I realized that with the Compass, the Cherokee, and the Renegade, Jeep really has three small vehicles that very much overlap in different areas.  Height, width, and interior room dimensions seem to vary in different ways between the three models so that the actual seating position and your view out can easily give the perceived “smaller” model an advantage.

It’s not as easy as saying the Renegade is smaller than the Compass which is smaller than the Cherokee.  The Compass is the second rung up Jeep’s ladder above the Renegade but did not seem significantly (if at all) smaller than a Cherokee.  Or perhaps the Cherokee feels smaller to me that I thought it would.  Either way, I wouldn’t just pick a Jeep based on its position in the lineup, I’d look at all of them due to the overlap.

All Compasses are powered by the same 2.4l “Multi-Air” 4-cylinder engine producing 180hp@6400rpm and 175lb-ft of torque at 3900rpm but the transmission differs depending on AWD vs FWD models.  I found the 6-speed automatic unit built by Aisin in my FWD variant to be excellent.  It was unobtrusive, shifted smoothly when it made sense to and was notable more for its ability to not be noticed rather than anything else.  Exactly what you want.

Clearly the 9-speed in the AWD version still has issues (Or it’s a “learning” type of transmission that has to re-learn with every renter, who knows), but the 6-speed had no such foibles.  Here in Colorado I don’t think we would see many FWD examples of the Compass but in the Dallas area I don’t see why you’d really ever need or want AWD and the added expense of it.  Additionally, playing around in the Jeep “Build and Price” website shows that you can even get a Compass with a manual transmission but only on certain trim levels which I was not aware of previously.

I didn’t drive as far as RH did, instead only adding a little over 200 miles to the odometer reading over our four days.  However, we did incorporate a lot of city driving and a fair amount of higher speed Freeway/Expressway driving in that time.

My biggest issue with the car (by far) was the driver’s seat.  Initially comfortable enough, after a few miles I found that the headrest was causing me discomfort.  At the next stop I made sure it was extended all the way up (limited to at most a couple of inches of travel) but soon realized that the problem was more with the seatback itself being very short with the result being the headrest literally starting at and digging into my upper shoulder area.

This seemed odd but no adjustment (tilting the headrest forward or back, raising it, lowering it, adjusting the seat itself) solved it.  I’m almost 6’2″ with a 32″ inseam for reference and weigh around 220lbs.  The rest of the seat was great for me, just not the very upper back/headrest area.  Someone of different stature may well have a very different experience, especially if shorter in the torso.

Visibility wasn’t as good as it could be either.  The car has various thick pillars and the Blind Spot Warning System did its job more than once for me.  Navigating a strange town always has its dangers and the DFW area is currently experiencing a lot of road construction and differences relative to the navigation system’s maps, necessitating several heroic dives across lanes to reach the desired ramp etc., causing quick glances over the shoulder to be frustrating when the path of vision is then less than clear.

Handling was very good, I recall remarking to myself that the cornering abilities of this were excellent for a vehicle of its nature and really more like a much lower and sportier hatchback.  It didn’t wallow very much, took a good set and was frankly fun to drive.  The suspension was well buttoned down, not wallowy, and damped road imperfections well.

Power was more than adequate at Dallas’ elevation (430 feet).  No, the engine is not constantly going to light the tires up but it accelerated to the flow of traffic on freeway on-ramps without issue, and didn’t require an abnormally heavy foot in general driving either.  As I said before, this transmission worked well in this case, and the engine had easily enough power to be at least class competitive.  Note that it was just myself and a 9-year-old and carry-on luggage at most in the car.  With four adults and more luggage, that extra weight may have been more of an issue.

As RH stated, the back seat was plenty roomy.  By the end of our trip, my son had staked out the center position so he could see better out the front but I tried sitting “behind myself” and had no issues.  It’s no Suburban, but it’s perfectly manageable for the size that it is.  Our car did not have a sunroof so no headroom issues front or back.

The power liftgate seems to have the same issue that I disliked on the one in the Grand Cherokee, that being that its “close” button is inside the cargo area instead of on the tailgate itself.  In our case it wasn’t a huge issue since we didn’t have much luggage but if the cargo area was stuffed it could have been.  In the picture above the button is on the left side about halfway up.

However you still have to reach in and then duck out of the way of the tailgate as opposed to if it was on the tailgate itself.  Thinking about it now I realize I probably could have used the keyfob instead which includes that button (as well as lock/unlock and remote start), however that didn’t occur to me at the time.

The air-conditioning worked very well in our up-to-100 degree weekend and was used heavily.  All controls fell readily to hand and as usual, the large UConnect touchscreen is my favorite of the genre.  I did not use the voice command feature but did select various destinations on the navigation screen manually with success, it was easy to use.  The system has enough redundant knobs for commonly accessed features (fan speed, temp controls etc.) making it a very usable device.

The navigation system did have one weird foible that I experienced – see the picture above indicating a turn at NE 28th St.  It decided that should be pronounced/instructed as “Turn left at Nebraska 28 Tee Aitch Street” instead of “Turn left at NorthEast 28th Street”.  (To non-North American readers “NE” is the abbreviation the State of Nebraska).  It took me a few second to figure out what was going on and then I took the picture while waiting for the light to change.

I didn’t notice issues with the plastics in the cabin, but then again I am currently used to the interior of a Wrangler…But really, the Compass lineup starts at around $21,000, the bits that aren’t commonly caressed aren’t going to be swathed in alcantara or something.  I only had the rental for four days so a longer test period may cause certain areas of cost-cutting to become more evident, however the overall impression of my “Limited” trim cabin was very favorable.  For those who care, there are many soft-touch areas in the cabin with most of the dash and much of the door trims being “soft”.

RH’s review did take issue with the storage cubby in front of the gearshift in his car.  As my rental was FWD it had a larger cubby due to not needing space for the Terrain Management Menu knob.  My iPhone 8Plus as well as the keyfob bundle both fit in there together without issue (laid sideways).  At other times I also used the cupholder for those items, I didn’t even realize the cubby could be an issue until I read his review.

Assuming the fuel tank was full when we received it (who really knows) we filled it up before returning it and calculated that we had gotten around 23mpg.  For driving around town, being stuck in a few traffic jams, and hitting speeds of 75mpg on the freeway along with some full-throttle acceleration runs, this seemed acceptable.  As with RH, we found the stop/start system annoying but just ended up pushing the little button aft of the gearshift to defeat it (every time we started the car).

I am fairly sure I came across the menu item to defeat it for good in the UConnect menu while I was looking for a particular setting for the navigation system but didn’t end up going back to it in there (and could be wrong as it wasn’t my focus at the time).  The start/stop wasn’t the smoothest system and reduced the A/C output when stopped which wasn’t desirable in the heat of our days there.

All in all however, I came away quite impressed with this Compass.  I found it quick, nimble, and well built.  I have actually driven a Trailhawk model briefly (and only off-road) at a media event when it was introduced and while my time with it was extremely short I had a worse impression of the Compass then based on that than I do now based on this rental.

Going into this rental I had an eye open for it possibly being a decent vehicle for my teenage daughter to drive and since she is shorter than me the seat may not be an issue for her.  Based on that criteria my rental made me think very highly of the Compass, for myself to drive it and be happy with it long-term something would have to change with the seat.  On average however, I think it was/is a good vehicle and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others to at least explore further.

I certainly don’t take issue with any of R. Henry’s findings in his review, while on the surface we had the “same” car, in actuality they were quite different (trim level, transmission, options, features, weight) and as such we had different perceptions.  What I realized is that even if there is a vehicle I may not enjoy for whatever reason, a different version of that same vehicle may end up providing a different experience depending on what exactly the issues were.