2009 Jeep Compass Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
May 31, 2009

The Jeep Compass steers the brand toward a new on-road audience but falls short, pleasing neither off-roaders nor drivers who never hit the trails.

TheCarConnection.com's editors drove the new Jeep Compass in order to give you an expert opinion. TheCarConnection.com has also researched available road tests on the new Jeep Compass to produce this conclusive review and to help you find the truth where other reviews might differ.

The 2009 Jeep Compass is closely related to the Dodge Caliber, along with the boxier Jeep Patriot, and it has essentially the same instrument panel as the Patriot. The 2009 Jeep Compass wears a traditional Jeep face, but this SUV (or car) could be from any automaker, and it lacks a strong identity.

For 2009 Chrysler has tried to spruce up the Compass, already plenty drab inside. The Jeep Compass now features a redesigned instrument panel with a smoother look and chrome accents brightening new, round vents, shift bezel, door spears, and cluster rings. A new center console has a split lid for added storage space, while new door trim panels feature padded armrests. A new engine compartment and interior floor insulation reduce noise, while revised suspension tuning helps provide a smoother, more comfortable ride.

TheCarConnection.com’s editors note that the Compass is not particularly quick with the larger 2.4-liter, 172-horsepower engine, compared to the smaller 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 158 horsepower—so draw your own conclusions about the impact of 14 fewer horsepower and 24 fewer pound-feet of torque on acceleration. Additionally, there is no fuel economy gain for the smaller engine when the larger engine is equipped with the five-speed manual transmission.

Review continues below

The smaller 2.0-liter Compass is also available with an optional CVT. The CVT, however, tends to exacerbate the unrefined nature of Chrysler's small four-cylinder engines. Jeep does offer an AutoStick shifting function that makes the gearbox shift more like a traditional fixed-gear transmission.

Comfort is more than acceptable for this size vehicle, with plenty of room for four and even five in a pinch. The roof is tall, and this helps enhance the spacious feeling, though problems do exist inside the cabin of the 2009 Jeep Compass. Simply, there are systemic issues with the plastic surfaces, which don't have a high-quality feel. Worse, there are several prominent areas where the edges show and are not well finished.

Hard-core off-roaders will want to steer clear of the Compass, but surprisingly for a crossover, when you opt for the Freedom Drive I, the Compass can actually tackle light off-road situations. One editor from TheCarConnection.com drove on some West Coast sand dunes and quite enjoyed himself.

Performance in most government crash tests was good. Standard safety features on the 2009 Jeep Compass include: side curtain airbags, Brake Traction Control, driver-controlled three-mode Electronic Stability Program (ESP), Brake Assist, Electronic Roll Mitigation, and Anti-lock Brake System (ABS) with rough-road detection. Front-seat-mounted side airbags are optional.

The very extensive options list on the Compass includes Bluetooth connectivity, Sirius Satellite Radio, 18-inch wheels, all-terrain tires, a moonroof, and an upgrade audio system with six-disc CD changer.

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2009 Jeep Compass

Styling

With more rounded corners and a carlike appearance, the 2009 Jeep Compass is a softer version of the Jeep Patriot.

The 2009 Jeep Compass has an uncharacteristic style that’s not pleasing to most reviewers. Editors at The CarConnection.com prefer the exterior styling of the Patriot to the 2009 Jeep Compass. Inside, the interior is stark, but purposeful.

The exterior style of the Jeep Compass shares some elements with the entire 2009 Jeep line, including round headlights and the familiar slotted vertical grille. Most viewing angles will reveal uncharacteristically rounded corners and some bloated proportions that are "unusual" and "not rugged," according to Edmunds; "Jeep Modern" is the phrase chosen by Kelley Blue Book. Cars.com mentions that the aluminum trim pieces on the bumpers and doors help distinguish the Jeep Compass from the other small crossovers in the segment. The Jeep Compass shares its architecture with the Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Patriot. Of the Jeep variants, Kelley Blue Book characterizes the Compass as suited to the buyer looking for a more carlike small SUV and says the 2009 Jeep Compass "looks exactly like what it is—a cross between a station wagon and a sport utility vehicle, made by Jeep."

The 2009 Compass has bargain-basement interior styling like its Patriot and Caliber cousins. Vast quantities of hard plastic lead the editors of Edmunds to describe the cabin of the 2009 Jeep Compass as "less inviting" than its Japanese and Korean rivals, a sentiment shared by ConsumerGuide. Cars.com finds more metallic accents, with standard chrome accents added to the door locks, door handles, and radio knobs, which give a little pizzazz to the Compass. Jeep equips the Compass with a two-tone interior as well, to help break up the monotony created by a monochrome interior. Kelley Blue Book has nothing bad to say about the interior, simply referring to it as "contemporarily styled" and "straightforward" in design.

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2009 Jeep Compass

Performance

The 2009 Jeep Compass models offer only modest power but with a well-controlled ride.

The 2009 Jeep Compass suffers from subpar powertrains, but compensates with decent road manners.

All the Jeep Compass models tested by ConsumerGuide score significantly below the peer averages on their rating scale for acceleration. No V-6 is offered, but there is a choice of two four-cylinder models: a 2.0-liter four-cylinder with 158 horsepower and a 2.4-liter four-cylinder with 174 hp. Edmunds describes even the larger engine as weak. Kelley Blue Book is less critical of the 2.4-liter, stating that the "172-horsepower engine works well in the Compass platform and returns above-average gas mileage," but "passing takes planning" due to the engine's small size.

ConsumerGuide only tests all-wheel-drive models, but even with the five-speed manual transmission merely managed a 0-60-mph time of 9.3 seconds. Transmissions, apparently, are the best way to extract performance from the 2009 Compass. ConsumerGuide notes slightly better performance from the manual transmission, but one of their testers had a "ragged clutch action." Kelley Blue Book describes the optional CVT as an automatic that "takes some getting used to" due to the transmission's ability to keep the engine at a full boil, without the distinct shift points of a traditional automatic transmission. Edmunds describes the optional CVT as noisy and "not one of the better applications of this technology."

Although the 2009 Jeep Compass is not available in a Trail Rated version like the Patriot, this model offers a simple solution for those who just need additional traction as weather demands. Kelley Blue Book describes the optional 2009 Jeep Freedom Drive I, which is a full-time, fully automatic all-wheel-drive system that can distribute up to 50 percent of the engine's power to the rear wheels as conditions warrant. AutoWeek finds its locking differential superfluous in a street-oriented vehicle such as this, with the standard traction of the 4x4 sufficient for even deep snow.

The EPA ratings for the Compass range from 21-23 mpg city, and 24-28 mpg highway, depending on engine and transmission configuration. ConsumerGuide rates the Jeep Compass models as just about average for the class for fuel efficiency, with actual fuel use of regular-grade gas that ranges from 17.2 to 24.4 mpg. Edmunds mentions the 2009 Jeep Compass might be a viable alternative for suburbanites willing to trade power for fuel efficiency.

Performance improves when it comes to the revised suspension settings for 2009. Edmunds describes the car-derived fully independent suspension as providing a smooth ride with "stable handling around corners." Cars.com mentions the Compass and Patriot are Jeep's first models with four-wheel-independent suspensions. Ride quality is one area where ConsumerGuide rates the Compass highly, and even with the optional 18-inch wheels, they find the ride to be comfortable and stable. Although the Patriot is not sporty in feel, ConsumerGuide also considers the steering to be accurate and the brakes to have good feel. Car and Driver describes the new Compass from testing in 2007 as "bred for suburban streets...slaloms like a car," which is a notable achievement for a brand so devoted to off-road prowess.

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2009 Jeep Compass

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Jeep Compass’ cheap interior and lack of storage space limit its appeal despite decent passenger space and comfort.

The 2009 Jeep Compass has comfortable seats and sufficient seating space, but suffers from cheap interior materials and lackluster cargo space.

ConsumerGuide is a fan of the interior space offered by the Jeep Compass, describing the headroom and legroom of this 2009 Jeep as "adult-size." They also like the softness of the seating, faulting only the level of support offered by the flat seats. Cars.com mentions the standard cloth upholstery is stain-resistant. Edmunds characterizes the interior of the Jeep Compass as spacious and comfortable. Nearly all testers like the passenger accommodations of the Compass. This model offers plenty of room for four occupants, with five not being uncomfortable.

Kelley Blue Book is impressed with the abundance of storage options, stating, "Plenty of on-board storage spots are available to stow water bottles, CDs and what-have-you,” but they are the only ones to offer positive comments. ConsumerGuide rates the Jeep Compass about average for cargo room, with the handy fold-flat seats and a removable floor liner for easy cleaning offsetting the marginal space with the seats up. Edmunds is less complimentary regarding cargo capacity, which is at the lower end of the spectrum for vehicles in this class at only 53.6 cubic feet with the rear seats folded.

"Cut-rate" is an often-used term when characterizing the interior of the 2009 Jeep Compass. Edmunds warns, "Cut-rate interior materials pose a significant liability." ConsumerGuide also describes the interior of the Jeep Compass as having a "cut-rate feel." In addition, Edmunds notes unfortunate "build quality issues" in their Compass test vehicles, with visible edges of poorly fitting interior pieces.

Regarding cabin noise, ConsumerGuide points out some unrefined engine growl when accelerating, deems wind noise to be under control, and finds the 2009 Jeep Compass to be quieter than the mechanically similar Dodge Caliber.

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2009 Jeep Compass

Safety

TheCarConnection.com scores the 2009 Jeep Compass slightly harsher than the similar 2009 Jeep Patriot due to a lower crash-test rating for the front passenger.

The 2009 Jeep Compass has good standard safety features and crash-test ratings, but poor driver visibility.

Although the Compass has not been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), the 2009 Jeep Compass receives four of five stars from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on front impact protection for the driver and passenger as well as rollover resistance (both 2WD and 4WD). The Jeep Compass receives five stars for side-impact protection for both driver and rear passengers.

Sharing the same platform as the Jeep Compass and Patriot is the Dodge Caliber, which receives a "good" rating for the frontal offset crash test and a "marginal" rating for both the side impact and rear crash protection tests. It is likely that the Jeep Compass will have a similar IIHS rating, but this is not yet confirmed.

Jeep equips the Compass with stability control and full-length side curtain airbags, both of which Edmunds refers to as "important safety features." Kelley Blue Book says traction control is standard. Side airbags are an option on the Compass. The 2009 Compass also has many standard safety features like ABS, front airbags, and a tire pressure monitoring system.

ConsumerGuide notes faults with visibility, saying, "Visibility to front corners and over-the-shoulder is impeded by thick roof pillars, and to the rear by tall headrests." Kelley Blue Book finds the rear view most obscured, warning, "Drivers must deal with rear quarter blind spots."

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2009 Jeep Compass

Features

The 2009 Jeep Compass has a good—but not great—set of standard features, though its options list is vast.

The 2009 Jeep Compass has a broad range of up-to-date features—including some especially innovative ones such as tailgate speakers—though it loses points because most of the desirable features are added-cost options.

Although Edmunds describes the base Jeep Compass as pretty basic, they point to the MP3 player input jack as a nicety. Motor Trend likes the sporty 17-inch aluminum wheels, which are much more desirable than styled steel wheels or wheel covers that adorn some other base models. Although standard equipment on this 2009 Jeep omits some of the features of its peers such as power windows, it does come with some unconventional items.

A notable feature in the Jeep Compass is the redesigned center console with a split lid, adding storage space for items such as MP3 players or cell phones—handy for all the iPhone fans. Motor Trend deems this feature "excellent" and says their editor's iPods and Treos fit the area perfectly, but larger devices such as the BlackBerry might not. When it comes to options, however, Edmunds is impressed with the Limited model, which includes leather upholstery and seat heaters. This trim level also offers a navigation system. There are many available options for both the Sport and Limited. Both trim levels can be outfitted with Bluetooth and upgraded audio, which features Boston Acoustic speakers and a speaker bar that can swivel down for tailgate parties.

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