2000 Ford Focus SedanEnlarge Photo
As sales of full-size SUVs continue to falter, and automakers are beginning to admit that what we’re seeing is a shift in the market rather than a knee-jerk reaction to higher gas prices, several brands that have previously skipped over compact, carlike SUVs are getting in the game.
One of them is Jeep, a brand that’s long been known for its tough and trucky SUVs. For decades it’s sold cushier models, such as the Grand Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer, but they’ve still been far from carlike.
Enter the Compass. Essentially Jeep’s version of the new Dodge Caliber, the car-based Compass is the first Jeep in recent history to emphasize on-road performance over boulder-hopping off-road feats.
Already anticipating the cries of outrage from CJ-5 owners and Rubicon Trail devotees that the brand is yielding to the anti-SUV crowd or sissifying its image, Jeep officials pointed out that this isn’t an entirely new idea; some offerings from the brand’s history have strayed from the hardcore off-road emphasis — the prime example being the classic, city-friendly Willys Jeepster convertible of the postwar period.
that Jeep needs to appeal to a wide range of customers while preserving the
rough-and-ready image, DaimlerChrysler is vying for Jeep’s continued success by
expanding and diversifying. The new strategy includes focusing Jeep’s models
into two separate design directions: Classic and Modern. The Classic models
include the boxy, rugged-looking Wrangler, Commander, and the upcoming Patriot,
while the Modern models, which will follow a softer design theme, include the
2007 Jeep Compass
The Compass will arrive at dealerships this summer. The Patriot, set to go on sale later this year, will be mechanically similar to the Compass but will have a boxy, burly, more traditionally Jeep shape, along with a 4WD system that’s more off-road focused.
Yes, it’s a front-wheel-drive Jeep
Delphi HQEnlarge Photo
Jeep is hoping that the Compass will give it a serious foothold in this fast-growing segment. The brand expects the compact SUV segment to more than double in sales volume by 2016, with the overall sales of 297,000 in 2004 projected to rise to 568,400 in 2010.
At first look, the Compass is a nice design compromise, with a soft, nicely proportioned silhouette paired with some bold design elements. The integrated side rail gives it the hint of running boards, and more of an SUV appearance, while the rather bulbous fenders, flared out around the wheel wells, bring some trucky cues to the otherwise sleek crossover silhouette. And, if course, there’s the traditional-looking Jeep slotted grille — a sleeker take on it, in this case.
A new 2.4-liter, DOHC four-cylinder engine powers
the Compass, paired with either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT
automatic. The new aluminum engine isn’t special in terms of power and torque,
at 172 hp and 165 lb-ft, respectively, but it has dual variable valve timing,
chain drive for easy serviceability, and a tumble valve that opens at idle to
aid smoothness. The new engine is made in
2007 Jeep Compass
The 2.4-liter is the only engine offered in the
The new four idles very smoothly and is docile and unobtrusive in easygoing driving, but it becomes especially coarse and vocal when pushed and at higher revs, in a way that isn’t pleasing. Despite having variable valve timing, even though the engine has decent torque off the line it seems to lack the mid-rev power that really helps in relaxed passing and hilly terrain.
Both of the Compasses that we drove were four-wheel-drive, one the base Sport model with the five-speed manual, the other the high-end Limited with CVT automatic.
The five-speed manual has nice, well-defined shift gates that are easy to row through — not notchy like previous Chrysler five-speeds — and smooth clutch pedal travel makes it all the more delightful. The Mercedes-Benz-style shift knob extends from the dash, rather than a center console, for space efficiency. Performance with the five-speed felt sprightly in the lower few gears — plenty peppy for level ground and light loads — but passing and hilly terrain required plenty of downshifting from fifth to fourth and third.
The engine feels still adequate but a little more bogged-down with the CVT. Part of the perception is the way that it feels off the line. Floor the gas pedal and after a less-than-sprightly start the revs will gradually build, up to about 50 mph where it maintains 6000 rpm as you continue to accelerate.
2007 Jeep Compass
The Compass’s car-based underpinnings do have plenty of advantages — most notably weight — at less than 3100 pounds for the base two-wheel-drive model (250 more for the 4WD Limited), it weighs significantly less than a similarly sized truck-based SUV — and more nimble handling and better fuel economy come with it.
This is quite possibly the best-handling Jeep ever. There’s very little of the body roll and queasy body motions that characterize some compact SUVs. Turn-in is as crisp as many small cars that don’t have the Compass’s tall profile, and it shifts its weight through tight esses in a very assuring, predictable way. The turning circle is very impressive for urban driving, at 35.6 feet with the 17-inch wheels and 37.2 feet with the 18-inchers. The ride can be a bit harsh and choppy — or noisy — on rough pavement, but overall the Compass favors on-road performance and could even be described as a little sporty.
If the price of gas stays as high as it is, fuel economy may be right near the top of the priority list for many considering the Compass. Whichever transmission you opt for, it’s right on par with, if not better than, the compact-SUV competition. With 4WD, the Compass gets 25 city, 29 highway with the five-speed and 23/26 with the CVT. According to the trip computer, we saw about 24 on a steady-speed highway stretch with the CVT.
The Compass may be a little light in its loafers
with its four-wheel drive system, termed
2007 Jeep Compass
The standard Electronic Stability Program has three modes, Full Mode, Snow Mode (which can aid the 4WD by allowing some slippage), and Full Off, for varied driving conditions. Engaging Snow Mode required a tap on the ESP button, while Full Off requires holding it down for seven seconds. Electronic Roll Mitigation (ERM) is also part of the standard ESP system, helping to anticipate and react to a potential roll situation.
Ready for (some of) the rough stuff
Despite its car underpinnings, the Compass is prepared to tackle a bit more than just muddy backroads or the new snowfall. With the larger 18-inch wheels, ground clearance is 8.4 inches, while approach and departure angles are an impressive 20.6 degrees and 32.2 degrees, respectively, and the breakover angle is 21.0 degrees.
We were able to briefly test the Compass’s off-road
ability on soft beach sand and small dunes on the
Four-wheel disc brakes with ABS are standard on the Compass; the braking system also includes a rough-road detection system, for improved performance on unpaved roads, and hydraulic brake assist for panic-braking. Thanks to the Compass’s light weight, the system does its job extremely well, and pedal feel is firm. Jeep claims a 60-0 dry pavement stopping distance of only 127 feet.
2007 Jeep Compass
Overall the Compass has a very well-designed and conceived interior. Electronic components are styled to look like personal electronics, and the shifter area is designed to look like an open laptop. But when you look at the details it’s a little lacking. As it’s a vehicle that starts in the $16k range, we expected the interior to be done on a tight budget, and it is. There’s definitely evidence of cost-cutting in terms of materials — hard, unyielding plastic is abundantly used inside (the type that looks like it might scratch or gouge easily), including on the door armrest, making it especially uncomfortable. Switchgear feels a bit cheap, but typical for a vehicle in this price range.
One other minor complaint was with noise inside. At 80 mph we noticed very little wind noise. On the other hand, coarse pavement surfaces caused the interior to be very noisy.
The seating position is more SUV-like than carlike — rather upright (it’s two inches higher and one inch forward of the Caliber’s seating position), and there’s good visibility out over the hood though the corners aren’t obvious.
The interior is very spacious in front and in back; there’s plenty of headroom front and back, and Jeep claims class-leading legroom all around. The sliding center armrest helps you get comfortable, while the 60/40-split back seats can recline in several positions (optional on Sport) — in addition to folding flat for cargo space. To assure cargo privacy, there are two different mounting points for the retractable cargo cover.
The goods for a tailgater
2007 Jeep Compass
There are just two trim levels of the Compass—the base Sport and uplevel Limited, and each is available with front-wheel drive or 4WD. Sport comes safely equipped but not generously featured. Big-ticket safety items like side-curtain airbags, ESP stability control, and anti-lock brakes are standard (though front side airbags are optional), as are an AM/FM/CD sound system (with auxiliary input), fog lamps, and aluminum wheels. But air conditioning is optional, as are power accessories that are now considered necessary by most drivers, like power windows and power mirrors.
To help explain why Jeep made these equipment decisions, you need only look at the price; it’s a big selling point for the Compass, starting at only $15,985 for the 2WD Sport and ranging to $21,740 for the 4WD Limited.
The bottom-line price can quickly add up, though. The very extensive options list (especially for the Sport) includes a six-disc CD changer unit with MP3 compatibility, Sirius Satellite Radio, fold-flat passenger seat, passenger-assist handles, driver’s seat height adjuster, the nine-speaker Boston Acoustics Premium Sound Group (which includes the fold-down speakers), a power accessory package, trailer-tow prep, a tire pressure monitoring system, and compass (yes, the compass is optional on the Compass), among other things. A nav system will be a later option on the Limited.
A popular-option package on the Sport includes power mirrors, locks, and windows, keyless entry, air conditioning, the AC power outlet, reading lamps, tinted glass, the seat upgrades, and more.
The Limited takes that popular option package and adds leather seats and leather-wrapped steering wheel, 18-inch alloys and all-season performance tires, bright fascia trim, and driver’s side lumbar support.
While the Compass is competitive with the aforementioned mainstream compact utes, we’d peg the Compass — with its low entry price, upright seating position, and car-based underpinnings — in the same tall and city-friendly category as the Chevy HHR and the PT Cruiser. And a new Jeepster convertible built off the Compass would be a great idea…ya hear?
2007 Jeep Compass
The Compass will appeal more to buyers based on its outward appearance and the Jeep statement. And they’ll value its parking-garage performance more than its professed Rubicon ability. It performs more like a small sedan, with very modest 4WD capability, but outwardly — at least from a distance — appears as something a little more macho.
The bottom line is that the Compass drives more like a car, and is more car than Jeep — er, truck. In all, the Compass is no revelation, but this little crossover brings the Jeep image — and the feeling that you might just be able to take the rough-road shortcut — for a very reasonable sticker price.
2007 Jeep Compass
Base price: $15,985–$21,740
GET CURRENT PRICING
GET AN INSURANCE QUOTE
Engine: 2.4-liter in-line four, 172 hp/165 lb-ft
Drivetrain: Five-speed manual or CVT automatic transmission, front- or all-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 173.4 x 69.3 x 65.2 in
Wheelbase: 103.7 in
Curb weight: 3071–3329 lb
Fuel economy (EPA city/hwy): 23/26–25/29 mpg
Safety equipment: Multi-stage dual front airbags, side-curtain airbags, ESP stability control, anti-lock brakes with Brake Assist and rough-road detection, optional driver and front passenger side airbags
Major standard equipment: Rear defroster, tilt steering wheel, fog lamps, aluminum wheels, AM/FM/CD sound system with four speakers and aux input
Warranty: Three years/36,000 miles
The Car Connection Consumer Review
in your area