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2014 Jeep Compass has improved style and performance but begs a question

2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4 with Freedom Drive II is Trail Rated
2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4 with Freedom Drive II is Trail Rated
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2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4

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The 2014 Jeep Compass five-passenger compact SUV comes to market with restyled and improved interior and exterior elements, additional features including available 18-inch wheels and more capability in the power train – enhancing its off-road appeal.

2014 Compass style cues from Cherokee and Grand Cherokee
2014 Compass style cues from Cherokee and Grand Cherokee
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We recently tested a 2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4 for a week and came away with mixed impressions about the vehicle itself and questioning why, Jeep Brand, after killing the Jeep Liberty to introduce the seriously all-new and very capable mid-size Jeep Cherokee, decided to keep two compact SUV’s in the product line - the Compass and the Patriot.

The Jeep Compass comes in three trim levels – Sport (2WD MSRP $18,595), Latitude (2WD MSRP $22,295) and the Limited (2WD MSRP $25,895).

The 2014 Jeep Patriot is essentially (mechanically in particular) the same vehicle as the Compass and offers the same three trim levels - Sport (2WD MSRP $15,995), Latitude (2WD MSRP $20,495) and the Limited (2WD MSRP $24,395).

The upcharge to go to a 4x4 (from 2WD) on the two models and trim lines will cost $1 - 2,000 additional depending on the trim line.

At first look, you see two different vehicles that each take their design cues from different branches of the Jeep family.

The 2014 Compass presents upgraded styling cues that come from the 2014 Grand Cherokee (large SUV) and 2014 Cherokee (mid-size SUV) series vehicles but, in doing so, give it more of a cross-over (CUV) vehicle look that mimics too many other offerings in the segment.

The 2014 Patriot takes (or keeps) it’s classic Jeep styling cues from the Wrangler line and, frankly, gives it the traditional Jeep off-road look that is still seriously in demand, especially at a lower price point.

Looking closer we see that the power trains and off-road capabilities are the same between them. They both come in 4x2 and 4x4 Trail Rated configurations.

The old CVT automatic transmission has been scrapped (thankfully) for an available new six-speed PowerTech automatic transmission or the Jeep Freedom Drive II 4x4 Off-road Package which includes a second-generation continuously variable transaxle with low range (CVT2L) that engages when the off-road mode is activated.

Both have the same power plant offerings with the (standard on Sport and Latitude) 2.0-liter I-4 World Gas Engine which produces 158 horsepower and 141 lb.-ft. of torque or the 2.4-liter I-4 World Engine (standard on the Limited) producing 172 horsepower and 165 lb.-ft. of torque.

Other relative measurements between Compass and Patriot show their tow capacities as a maximum 2,000 pounds with payloads of 925 pounds, curb weights and wheel bases about the same, and about 3 cubic feet less interior room in the Compass with expected slightly smaller passenger spaces than the Patriot, but with cargo capacity (rear seats folded down) just about the same.

So we ask why Jeep would continue to have two offerings in 2014 for the compact (small) SUV segment.

Our thinking is that one of the two is going to go away leaving Jeep with just one entry in the small or compact SUV segment, but that Jeep decided to stay with both (at least for 2014) in order to still offer a 4x4 Jeep for under $20,000 (the Patriot at $18,295) and to, if you will, cover their bets given the late arrival and a bit of hiccup in getting the new mid-size Cherokee – with its Grand Cherokee styling cues - launched.

Now that the Cherokee is out there and selling pretty well already – over 40,000 units in first 90 days in North America with a European launch (and a diesel power plant) coming later this year – we think Jeep will have confidence they have the mid-size segment covered.

We think they will drop either the Compass or the Patriot in order to concentrate on a single, very off-road capable, with lots of amenities and features Jeep that they can offer in the range of $18 – 20,000.

Our view is that Patriot should be the surviving offering with its, all-important, looks and performance in the manner of a classic Jeep that offers an attractive price point just beneath Wrangler (MSRP $22,395) or Wrangler Unlimited (MSRP $26,195).

We think the market is still looking for their compact SUV offering to have the distinctively Jeep classic look and performance – with a still lower price point.

Looking at the 2013 sales history (U.S. only) for the Compass and the Patriot, we see that Compass sold just under 53,000 vehicles with Patriot selling 62,000 and Liberty closing out with just 6,000 units. The year prior (2012) Liberty, which was also styled with classic Jeep DNA style cues, sold 75,000 vehicles suggesting that a low priced Jeep classic look vehicle would still be high in demand for true Jeep look and performance lovers

Getting back to our test drive of the 2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4, our vehicle was equipped with the 2.4L I-4 engine and the Jeep Freedom Drive II with its second-generation continuously variable transaxle with low range (CVT2L). We expected a lot more around town and on highway performance from this power train, but were very disappointed. We own a 2009 Jeep Patriot with the old CVT and comparing the two, the 2014 was, maybe, not even as good. We will note that we did not get to run this powertrain off-road, so we will give it some grace that it performs better there.

Overall, the new Compass is nice looking inside and out and is pretty comfortable, but does not stand out from the crowd.

Starting with a base price of $24,295, our Latitude came with the following options:

Freedom Drive II Off-Road Group for $550 which made this Compass ‘Trail Rated’ and added bright exhaust tips, Hill Start Assist, 17-inch all terrain tires, Brake Lock Differential, Hill Descent Control, Full Size Spare, skid plates for engine, transmission and fuel tank, tow hooks, engine oil cooler, all-season floor mats and trailer tow harness.

Sun/Sound Group Package for $1,295 which included power sunroof, nine Boston Acoustic speakers with subwoofer, two articulating lift gate speakers (cool for tailgating) and SiriusXM Satellite Radio.

Security and Cargo Convenience Group for $595 which added security alarm, tire pressure monitoring and electronic Vehicle Information Center (VIC) among other items.

ParkView Rear Backup Camera Package for $895 that included the rear backup camera, 6.5-inch Touch Screen Display, Uconnect 430 Infotainment System and remote start.

The Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth was $395.

Delivered, out test Jeep Compass priced at $29,020.

Though we were not overly impressed with this 2014 Jeep Compass Latitude 4x4, we would like to give either the Compass or the companion Patriot another look – next time with the new fully electronic 6F24 six-speed automatic transmission which Jeep says was independently developed by PowerTech and refined for application to the 2014 Jeep Compass and Patriot and, they say, provides better fuel economy and performance.

We will let you know our impressions when we get that drive test done.