Base Price: $19,495

Price as Tested: $26,885

This week, we're driving Jeep's 2013 Compass Latitude 4x4, a compact SUV and part of the Jeep legend that dates back to World War II. As lone survivor of the former American Motors Corporation (AMC), Jeep is now a successful piece of Chrysler's pie and a still a favorite of 4x4 enthusiasts.

With an overabundance of 4x4 vehicles to choose from these days, Jeep still is one step ahead of the curve. Thanks to creative marketing and the production of "in demand" vehicles, Jeeps are driven by everyone from 18-year old "off road" lovers to senior citizens who desire safe, secure transportation.

Starting at just $19,495 in 4x2 Sport trim, Compass is known as Jeep's "small Grand Cherokee," which is easily distinguished when viewing 2013 Jeep exteriors. Unlike Patriot, Liberty and Wrangler, which still adhere to the legendary front end design and a boxier look, Grand Cherokee and Compass feature more modern, aerodynamic styles outwardly.

Available engines in the Compass Sport line include a 2.0-liter, 158 horse inline four or, if you order any of the 4x4 Compass models, the bigger 2.4-liter, 172-horse inline four. A transmission choice is available with the Sport 4x4, where either a five-speed manual or a CVT automatic is available. On Latitude ($21,495 base) and Limited ($24,495 base) the only transmission available is the CVT automatic.

As for fuel mileage, Sport's 2.0 engine with a five-speed manual delivers 23 city and 30 highway, while the five-speed 2.4-engine delivers 23 and 28, respectively. The 2.4-liter with the CVT, however, reduces MPG to 21 and 26. Accordingly, this info might suggest choosing the 2.0 engine with the manual if looking for best MPG, but the major tradeoff is 2.0's lackluster performance.

Compass 4x4 features Jeep's "Freedom Drive I" system, which is perfect for most buyers. For $550 more, however, Jeep offers a "Freedom Drive II" 4x4 improvement that enhances off-road utility, adds skid plates, a full-size spare tire in place of a "donut spare," and a one-inch higher ground clearance. Considering the cost of a new full-size tire on a wheel these days, I'd say this option is a must.

Inside, the improved interior is nice, the front seating is firm and there's ample room for rear passengers considering the compact classification. Adequate is perhaps the best adjective for the cabin.

On the standard list are 60/40 rear recline split seats, heated front seats with fold flat passenger seat, all the powers, stereo AM/FM/CD/MP3 with four speakers, tilt steering, rechargeable and removable lamp, air, keyless entry, cruise and leather steering wheel with audio controls.

Options on our tester include $695 for a Customer Preferred Package that adds front seat mounted side air bags and a few other incidentals; Premium Sound Group for $650 that adds nine Boston Acoustics speakers with subwoofer; $695 stereo upgrade with 6.5-inch display and 40 gig hard drive; and $475 for Uconnect Voice Command with Bluetooth, Sirius XM (one year free), USB port, and remote start. Many of these features, like USB, Sirius, side airbags and remote start should somehow be worked into standard features for a few hundred more on the base.

Safety features include four-wheel discs with ABS, fully independent suspension, electronic stability control, brake assist and much more. Your Jeep dealer will gladly explain all offerings in detail.

Important numbers include a wheelbase of 103.7-inches, 3,261 lb. curb weight, 2000 lb. tow capacity, 13.5 gallon fuel tank, 8.1-inch ground clearance, and up to 56.3 cu. ft. of cargo space.

Jeep's Compass fills a void where lower-cost 4x4 trustworthiness meets high consumer demand, and does so nicely. I may not like the engine noise, but Compass in any variety will get you there safely and with better fuel mileage than past efforts.

Likes: Price, looks, bloodline, better MPG.

Dislikes: Side air bags should be standard, loud engine, back seat stiff.

(Greg Zyla is a syndicated auto columnist).