The toughest, the raunchiest, the gnarliest terrain a Jeep Compass is ever likely to encounter is a crowded parking lot at your local shopping mall. On a snowy day, say in December as the Christmas rush descends.

Standout cabin design and brilliant Uconnect interface. (Shown: 2018 Jeep® Compass Limited).

The Compass, if we’re being fair and honest, is a faux Jeep, a station wagon with ground clearance, from a brand whose image was built on the Rubicon Trail and Normandy’s war-ravaged beaches. The Compass, you see, is as much a bush-whacker as Honda’s CR-V, Toyota’s RAV4, Ford’s Escape and the rest of the compact SUV/crossover class that absolutely dominates new vehicle sales in Canada.

(Dominates? Canadians buy four times as many small SUVs as midsize sedans. Heck, Canadians buy more little Compass-like rigs than big pickup like the Ram. Last year, one in five new vehicles sold in Canada was a station wag…uh, compact SUV.)

In defiance of derision and snarky questions about the Compass’s authenticity, Jeep types say this rig is trail-ready and my tester had a perfectly capable four-wheel-drive system undermined by a less exuberant suspension that wallowed through corners. Most of all, I fear the Compass would snap or collapse into itself if challenged to climb a small boulder, ford a babbling brook or conquer a log the size of a Christmas tree. The Compass is no Wrangler.

Room for your stuff.

And it’s not a bargain big family runabout, either. My tester, a Compass North 4×4 with an as-tested sticker of $37,295, boasted plenty of glitz: Bluetooth streaming audio; HD radio; Gun Metal cabin accents; GPS navigation streamed through an 8.4-inch touchscreen; all sorts of electronic driving aids; very shiny wheels; a remote start system and more.)

Yes, Jeep sells a base Compass that starts at $22,750 (including $2,500 in current factory discounts). Maybe you’ll want it, front-wheel drive and all. You might be smitten by the design, in fact. Because every version of the Compass looks the part of a Jeep, even if none of them is what you might call the Bear Grylls (Man vs. Wild) of compact crossovers.

This is about as close as you’ll want to get to bush-whacking in a Jeep Compass.

On the plus side, the Compass is roomy and my tester had seats built to comfort you in commuter hell – firm but not too much, supportive but not like a park bench. As well, Fiat Chrysler’s Uconnect infotainment interface is a work of simple, logical brilliance. Uconnect is intuitive and the touchscreen is big and clear, with fun-looking icons of incomparable clarity. I love this interface and you will, too.

What I didn’t like was driving this lumpy wagon. Sure, it’s adequately powerful (180 hp four-cylinder/nine-speed automatic gearbox), but the numb steering is embarrassing in 2018. In a straight line, all is well. Cornering? Not so much. That’s the best I can say.

I’d also like to say something positive about Jeep quality, but I cannot. Consumer Reports ranks the Jeep brand second from the bottom, ahead of ONLY Fiat. CR does not recommend a single Jeep model, mostly because of quality issues.

Easy-to-use controls.

And it’s not just CR picking on Jeep. J.D. Power and Associates’ ranks Jeep fourth from the bottom in its latest long-term Vehicle Dependability Study — just above Fiat, Land Rover and Chrysler. Not good. Not good at all.

So I cannot recommend the Compass and not because it’s a city Jeep. Indeed, who can argue against the modern styling, the great seats and that incomparable Uconnect system? The brand is wonderful, evoking the greatness of an America under stress and duress in the worst of time.

The problem is simple: for years now, the general quality of Fiat Chrysler vehicles has been a big problem. It’s shocking and shameful that FCA has failed to improve its woeful third-party results – as Hyundai Motor (Hyundai and Kia brands) has done.

My Compass prescription: tighten up the suspension, put some feel into the steering and get serious about building trouble-free vehicles.

2018 Jeep Compass North 4X4.

Price as tested: $37,295.

Engine: 2.4-litre four-cylinder (180-horsepower/175 lb-ft of torque).

Transmissions: 9-speed automatic.

Drive: four-wheel drive.

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.8 city/7.8 using regular fuel.

Comparables: Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Ford Escape, Nissan Rogue, Hyundai Tucson, Mazda CX-5, Chevrolet Equinox, Volkswagen Tiquan, Subaru SV Crosstrek, Jeep Patriot.


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