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2019 Jeep Cherokee vs. 2019 Jeep Compass: Which Jeep Is the Better Compact SUV?

Car and Driver logo Car and Driver 5/20/2019 Eric Stafford
a car driving down a dirt road: The 2019 Jeep Cherokee faces off against the 2019 Jeep Compass for bragging rights as the brand's best compact SUV. © Michael Simari - Car and Driver The 2019 Jeep Cherokee faces off against the 2019 Jeep Compass for bragging rights as the brand's best compact SUV.

2019 Jeep Cherokee High Altitude AWD

Highs: Optional V-6 power, class-leading towing capacity, decent ride quality.

Lows: Lumpy seats, inflated price, sporadic transmission behavior.

Research the Jeep Cherokee | Look for a Jeep Cherokee close to you

2019 Jeep Compass High Altitude AWD

Highs: Mini Grand Cherokee styling, nimble in tight spaces, decent cargo capacity.

Lows: Sluggish performance, poor ride quality, poor cabin ergonomics, poor value proposition.

Research the Jeep Compass Find a Jeep Compass close to you

With their seven-slot grilles and considerable packaging similarities, the 2019 Jeep Cherokee and the 2019 Jeep Compass crowd into the highly competitive compact-SUV segment with more than just a fair amount of overlap between them. The slightly larger Cherokee gains a fresh face and other enhancements for 2019 but is otherwise much the same as when Jeep resurrected the nameplate five years ago. The Compass was comprehensively redesigned for 2017, although even a modest revision would have been a meaningful update over the thoroughly unsatisfying previous-generation model. While they have some notable differences and obvious similarities, which of these compact utes is the better small Jeep?

a close up of a car: The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass © Michael Simari - Car and Driver The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass

The Matchup

Although the Cherokee and Compass share a showroom and compete within the same class of compact crossovers and SUVs, they have distinctly different proportions and personalities. The Cherokee measures about 10 inches longer than its smaller sibling and has nearly three inches more between its axles. However, both vehicles have similar interior measurements, with the Cherokee's 103 cubic feet of passenger space and 28 cubes of cargo volume only slightly bettering the Compass's figures. While both models come standard with a naturally aspirated 180-hp 2.4-liter inline-four, the Cherokee also offers the options of both a torquey turbo 2.0-liter four making 270 horsepower and a 3.2-liter V-6 good for 271 horses. A nine-speed automatic transmission is standard on all Cherokees and most Compass models, although the latter can be had with a six-speed manual in its base front-wheel-drive form. Compared with the Compass and other compact utes, such as the Honda CR-V and the Toyota RAV4, the Cherokee's 4500-pound maximum towing capacity when properly equipped makes it a heavy hauler in this class; the Compass can only tug up to 2000 pounds.

Battling over the real estate between Jeep's subcompact Renegade and mid-size Grand Cherokee, the Compass starts at $23,340, and stepping up to the Cherokee will set you back at least $26,785. Most trims offer all-wheel drive for $1500. Many optional bells and whistles-including $1595 panoramic sunroofs and bundles of active-safety gear-can significantly inflate either of their window stickers further. The Compass High Altitude seen in these images rings in at a significant $37,360 and the Cherokee pictured, also a High Altitude model, at a dear $41,510. For reference, competitive well-optioned entries from Honda, Subaru, and Toyota top out around $35K.

a car parked in a parking lot: The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass © Michael Simari - Car and Driver The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass

On the Road

Although both of our Jeeps have about eight inches of ground clearance and all-wheel drive with selectable settings, they lack the locking rear differentials and other off-road hardware found on their more rugged Trailhawk versions. Instead, both vehicles wore 19-inch wheels wrapped with all-season tires that cater more to commuting than rutted trails, even though the Cherokee's knobby Bridgestone Dueler tires produced an audible thrum at speed. While the 7.2-second zero-to-60-mph time we recorded for a previous all-wheel-drive Cherokee V-6 is merely adequate, its engine does emit a more pleasing sound than its four-cylinder peers do. The optional turbo engine is quicker still in our testing, needing only 6.6 seconds to reach 60 mph. The performance from either engine shames the sluggish 8.4-second run to 60 mph returned by the quickest Compass we tested, a 2017 Sport model with a manual transmission and all-wheel drive. In part because it has 830 fewer pounds to lug around, the Compass's 176-foot stop from 70 mph and 0.82 g of grip on the skidpad are slightly better than the Cherokee's rather long 184-foot stop and so-so 0.80-g measurement. The all-wheel-drive Compass takes fuel-economy honors with a 25-mpg EPA combined fuel-economy estimate versus the all-wheel-drive Cherokee V-6's 22 mpg, although that latter estimate climbs to 24 mpg if you opt for either the 2.4-liter or the optional 2.0-liter turbo. Given the relative porkiness of the Cherokee, though, we'd skip the base four-cylinder.

a car parked on the side of a vehicle: The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass © Michael Simari - Car and Driver The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass

Both of the Jeeps' driving experiences are dominated by the lethargic and dim-witted behavior of their nine-speed automatic transmissions, but the Compass is definitely the less satisfying of the two to pilot with its floppy body control and bouncy and unrefined ride quality. Its chassis is less stiff than the Cherokee's, transmitting shudders through the cowl and steering column when hitting large bumps, and the steering feels light and disconnected. The Cherokee's portly feel, soft suspension, and significant body roll in corners earn it little praise on the road as well, but it does feel more composed than the Compass, thanks to its linear steering and relatively decent ride comfort.

The Inside View

The cabins of both of the examples we drove benefited from Fiat Chrysler's intuitive and responsive 8.4-inch Uconnect touchscreen infotainment system. The Cherokee's interior features a more cohesive overall design and improved interior accents, but its uncomfortable front seats are hard to ignore. Taller folks also should be aware that the optional panoramic sunroof reduces the Cherokee's front-seat headroom by 1.5 inches versus only 0.6 inch in the Compass. Front and rear passenger space is surprisingly similar in both Jeeps. But the Compass has fewer soft-touch surfaces and sacrifices about two inches of rear-seat legroom to the larger Cherokee, which also features optional ventilated front seats and adjustable back seats that are unavailable on its lesser sibling.

a car parked on the side of a vehicle: The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass © Michael Simari - Car and Driver The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass

It's simply more difficult to find a comfortable driving position in the Compass, and it features clunkier ergonomics for its switchgear and primary controls. With only a single cubic foot separating their cargo volumes with their seats raised, neither Jeep has a big statistical advantage. We managed to fit seven carry-on suitcases in the back of the Cherokee and six inside the Compass, with those figures increasing to 17 and 19, respectively, with both vehicles' rear seats folded. Along with a slightly taller lift-over height for loading cargo through the rear hatch, the Compass also has significantly less interior cubby storage. Its center console has a small bin underneath the armrest, but otherwise a pair of cupholders is about it.

The Bottom Line

Despite both the Jeep Compass and Cherokee coming from the same manufacturer and having similar amounts of usable interior space, they feel like vastly different vehicles. As Jeeps, both are arguably more attractive in Trailhawk guise for the added capability that trim level brings. But given the breadth of players in this class that offer better combinations of road manners, value, and comfort, neither is a compelling choice at their higher price points, particularly the Compass. While Jeep would be wise to consolidate its focus on one entry in this highly competitive segment, the Cherokee's greater towing capacity, somewhat nicer interior, more powerful engine options, and better overall execution make it the smarter choice over its smaller sibling.

a police car parked in a parking lot: The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass © Michael Simari - Car and Driver The Jeep Cherokee Takes on the Jeep Compass

Research the Jeep Cherokee | Look for a Jeep Cherokee close to you
Research the Jeep Compass Find a Jeep Compass close to you

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