Forget about "thinking big." With historically high gas prices driving compact SUV sales, even Jeep, that bastion of Wild West spirit, threw its 10-gallon hat to the wind to launch a new small crossover, the 2007 Jeep Compass. Although the Compass left us cold during a weeklong road test, we wanted to see how Jeep's first crossover handled a year of use and abuse, so we've added a Limited 4x4 model to our long-term test fleet.
We looked for a Compass using the inventory search feature on Jeep's Web site and found, at most, two units on the lot of any nearby dealer. All the vehicles were four-wheel drive (the two-wheel drives hadn't arrived yet), and almost all of them were black. We finally found a colorful Compass within reasonable driving distance of our Santa Monica office at Long Beach Chrysler Jeep, in Signal Hill, California.
Because the Compass is a new model in short supply, the dealership sales manager held firm at MSRP, but he was sincere and polite. Once we agreed, our salesman Randy handled the details with above-the-call-of-duty manners. All this before they knew we were from Edmunds.com. Good job, guys.
For $25,395, our shiny Inferno Red Compass Limited 4x4 came equipped with the optional continuously variable transmission (CVT), as well as leather-trimmed heated seats and the Customer Preferred Package, which includes a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system, Sirius Satellite Radio, a sunroof and those 18-inch chrome wheels.
Standard safety features on the Compass include full-length side curtain airbags, traction and stability control, and a tire-pressure monitor. Front-seat-mounted side airbags are optional, but our vehicle doesn't have them. Despite our paying full price, the Jeep is reasonable; similarly loaded competitors quickly edge toward $30K.
Only one engine is offered, a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine rated at 172 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 165 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm. Quite enough for urban living, but the Jeep is short on highway merging and passing power.
"Merging onto the freeway and passing are full-throttle affairs," Edmunds.com Executive Editor Scott Oldham reported in our full test. "And the CVT doesn't do this four-cylinder any favors. It brings the engine speed up to 6000 rpm and holds it there for as long as you keep your foot down. The problem is that at 6000 rpm, the engine sounds like a bucket of rocks and still feels weak."
Track numbers bear this out. The similarly equipped Compass evaluated for our full test took 10.2 seconds to hit 60 mph and 17.5 seconds to cross the quarter-mile. Our new long-termer should perform the same, but because it hasn't passed its break-in period yet it hasn't been track tested. Once we put some ground behind us we'll test it and report the numbers in an upcoming blog entry.
So it's no rocket ship, but the Compass' performance is comparable to other four-cylinder SUVs. It's the trucks with optional V6 engines, like the 269-horsepower RAV4, that it can't keep up with.
Despite a lack of power, our editors found appealing features. Edmunds Editor in Chief Karl Brauer said, "I like some of the little touches in the cabin, like the auxiliary audio input that's easy to access (some carmakers like to hide these) and the flashlight built into the cargo area dome light. I also much prefer this car's exterior styling over the Caliber."
Also boding well for the Compass is its small-car agility and capable handling. Senior Content Editor Erin Riches admired the suspension, saying the car "feels refined and predictable." But she also noted that, "The dash feels too high or deep, and the windshield seems too short. Together, they take some of the 'command' feeling out of driving a small SUV."
Senior Features Editor Joanne Helperin, who also edits the Women and Family Car Guide, found it surprising that Jeep intends its cute-ute to appeal to women.
"With its angular look, signature grille and giant headlights, Jeep's new vehicle has a more aggressive shape than female-friendly competitors like the Honda CR-V and Saturn Vue," she said. "Cargo room — that hallmark of 'mom practicality' — is stingy. Women also want more color options than black. Even the liftgate speakers struck me as un poco macho. They're a cool selling point for tailgating fans, but they may get less use than the CR-V's built-in picnic table."
She also pointed out that while value-conscious women will be drawn to the EPA-estimated 23 city/26 highway mpg, our long-term Compass averaged only 18.4 mpg so far.
Still, with crossovers all the rage, Jeep's willingness to take some risks with its established fan base by introducing the Compass is both inevitable and laudable. Stay tuned to future updates, where we'll report on the car's real-world fuel economy, functionality and long-term durability.
Current Odometer: 1,163
Best Fuel Economy: 21.3 mpg
Worst Fuel Economy: 15.1 mpg
Average Fuel Economy (over the life of the vehicle): 18.4 mpg
Body Repair Costs: None
Maintenance Costs: None
Edmunds purchased this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.