2023 Jeep Compass Quick Spin: New Engine Sends SUV in the Wrong Direction

When we first drove the redesigned 2022 Jeep Compass, reviewer Brian Normile noted that the compact SUV’s high-quality cabin and upscale tech features were among its only redeeming attributes. I agreed in a subsequent review, placing much of the blame on its slow, awkward powertrain. Now it’s time to triple down: Even though the Compass got a new standard engine for 2023, this is still what’s holding it back from being good.

For 2023, the previous 177-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine has been replaced with a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder that makes 200 hp. The new engine pairs with an eight-speed automatic transmission instead of the previous six- and nine-speed automatics. The 2023 Compass has standard four-wheel drive, and a 10.1-inch infotainment screen, drowsy-driver monitor and rear-seat reminder are also newly standard.

On paper, all of these extra standard features sound impressive, and you’d think they’d help the Compass stand out in the compact SUV class — but not so fast.

The Little Engine That Couldn’t

I had high hopes for the Compass’ new engine, which adds an extra 23 hp and 49 pounds-feet of torque over the SUV’s previous lethargic powertrain, but it’s not enough. Weirdly, the new 2.0-liter engine manages to feel both peppy and sluggish.

From a stop, acceleration is definitely livelier than the outgoing setup. The new powertrain’s responsiveness is a big step up from the old one, but power delivery is a problem. It lacks smoothness; after a bit of lag, takeoffs feel abrupt and are tough to modulate. The combination of that lag and the Compass’ hair-trigger gas pedal makes it hard to accelerate smoothly. Stopping is no better thanks to a touchy brake pedal. The result is an unsettling jerkiness that’s compounded by the Compass’ shuddering engine stop-start system.

The previous Compass I drove had an unpredictable nine-speed automatic transmission, with shifts that were sometimes lazy and sometimes hasty. At no time, however, were they smooth. Like a bad case of deja vu, the new eight-speed automatic echoes this behavior. After rushing through the lower gears at takeoff, midrange power delivery was inconsistent and often left me waiting. The new eight-speed transmission sometimes holds gears too long, and its delayed shifts made me wonder if I was accidentally in manual-shift mode. (I wasn’t.)

What’s more, this new engine sounds very strange. At idle, there’s an unrefined clatter and vibration that’s reminiscent of a diesel. It quiets down once you get up to speed, but when you decelerate, it burbles like a wounded sports car.

One bright spot is the Compass’ fuel economy, which is improved for 2023. The new powertrain gets an EPA-estimated 24/32/27 mpg city/highway/combined, up from the 4WD 2022 Compass’ 22/30/25 mpg.

Those new gas mileage estimates put the Compass more in line with competitors, including base AWD versions of the Honda CR-V (27/32/29 mpg) and Toyota RAV4 (27/34/30 mpg). However, the 2023 Compass’ fuel economy is still well below the Nissan Rogue’s EPA-estimated 28/35/31 mpg with AWD.

It’s Not All Bad

As with the 2022 version, there’s a lot to like inside the 2023 Compass. I tested the Latitude trim level, and its cabin was lovely, with convincing imitation-leather upholstery and classy gray fabric trim with blue contrast stitching on the doors and dash. Everything looks and feels high-quality.

That carries over to the infotainment system, which has long been a favorite of mine. As with the 2022 model, the 2023’s Uconnect 5 touchscreen system is easily the best thing about the Compass. The bigger 10.1-inch screen is now standard, and it’s highly customizable, responsive and straightforward to use. What’s more, the standard wireless smartphone connection was seamless, and the system can connect multiple devices via Bluetooth for extra flexibility.

The Compass’ other controls are still refreshingly simple, with on/off buttons for the SUV’s safety systems placed under the screen and large climate-control buttons below them.

What’s Next?

With the new turbo 2.0-liter engine for 2023 after significant updates for 2022, it’s unlikely the Compass will see any more big changes in the short term. That said, the addition of an EV to the Compass lineup could help its powertrain woes, and there are signs that one might be in the works.

Chrysler, one of Jeep’s sibling brands under parent automaker Stellantis, has announced plans to electrify its lineup in the coming years. Though nothing specific had been announced as of this writing, there is a Compass 4xe plug-in hybrid available in Europe.

An electrified Compass would make sense; many competitors are adding hybrid and all-electric powertrains to their compact SUV lineups: The CR-V is available as a hybrid, the RAV4 can be had as a hybrid or plug-in hybrid, and a Chevrolet Equinox EV is coming for 2024.

The previous Compass’ powertrain was long overdue for an overhaul, but the 2023’s new engine only creates more problems. This Jeep continues to lag its compact SUV competitors when it comes to drivetrain responsiveness and refinement, sending this Compass spinning in the wrong direction.