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Jeep purists hate the 2007 Jeep Compass. Well, not all of them. Some loathe it, many despise it and quite a few have settled on simple unadulterated detest.
Hard to believe, but it isn't even the styling of Jeep's first car-based crossover that has the brand's loyalists retching all over the Rubicon. Instead, it's the fact that the Compass is Jeep's first car-based crossover, the first Jeep with absolutely no real off-road ability.
Backlash be damned says Jeep, which hopes to make its base happy with an all-new Wrangler later this year. "Compass is a new type of Jeep vehicle for nontraditional Jeep buyers," says George Murphy, senior vice president of global marketing at Chrysler Group. "It allows the brand to compete in the fast-growing compact SUV segment, where there is increasing market demand for fuel economy, ride comfort and efficient packaging in an SUV." In other words, Toyota sells a heck of a lot of RAV4s and Honda moves oodles of CR-Vs, and we want a piece of the action.
Not even mud-slingin' Jeep Jamboree regulars can blame Jeep for that, but after a week of living with this Inferno Red Compass Limited 4x4, we're not so sure the brand's first crossover delivers what young urbanites are looking for.
Dodge Caliber DNA
Essentially a rebodied Dodge Caliber, the Compass shares nearly all of itself with Dodge's Neon replacement. It's a car. Period. And not a large one. At 173.4 inches long, the Compass is 7.7 inches shorter than a Toyota RAV4.
Our tester was a top-of-the-line Limited 4x4 model, which carries a base price of $21,740 when you include the $560 destination charge. Not a lot of scratch for a vehicle with standard 18-inch wheels and tires, heated front seats, leather-trimmed upholstery, keyless entry, side curtain airbags and stability control.
Options drove the Jeep's sticker price to $23,575. They were the Inferno Red paint, which costs $225, the continuously variable transmission (CVT) with Autostick, and a stereo upgrade called the Boston Acoustics sound group. It adds nine Boston Acoustics speakers, including a subwoofer and two speakers in the liftgate that swing down boom-box style. It's meant to turn the Compass into a tailgater's delight and is a good buy at $460.
Hard plastic gone wild
Although generally well laid out, the Jeep's interior is an endless sea of hard plastics. There isn't a soft panel to be found. Even the armrest on the driver's door panel has the compliance of a cinder block and it doesn't feel good on the ol' elbow after a while.
The interior of our test car was also plagued with a few fit and finish issues like misaligned trim, manufacturing flash and bunched carpeting. The result is an interior that screams "rental car," which is a shame, because the seats are unquestionably comfortable and the driving position is excellent. Duct tape some padding to the door panel and the Compass could be driven cross-country in perfect comfort.
Visibility could also be better. Thick A-pillars and oversized rear-seat headrests block more of the driver's view than they should, but the Compass is smaller than most of its competition, and doesn't feel very large from behind the wheel. This is not a very intimidating vehicle to drive, even in tight spaces.
Despite its small shadow, the Compass does seat five fitness freaks or four fast-food junkies, and there's enough headroom for Carmen Miranda and her fruity hat. It's also very easy to fold the rear seat flat, plus the passenger seat folds, so you don't have to strap your new ladder to the roof. The cargo area is small, however, measuring just 22.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 53.6 cubic feet with two folks aboard, which is less than a Ford Escape, the Toyota RAV4 and even the tiny Hyundai Tucson.
Faster than a speeding...lawn mower
Here it is hard and fast: The Compass needs more power. Despite its double overhead cams, 16 valves and variable valve timing, its 2.4-liter four-cylinder just doesn't cut it. Its output peaks of 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 165 pound-feet of torque at 4,000 rpm don't sound that bad, but just aren't enough to move the 3,400-pound Compass with any gusto.
At the track, zero to 60 mph takes a sleepy 10.2 seconds, and the quarter-mile is mercifully completed in 17.5 seconds at 81 mph. Around town, we wouldn't call the Compass underpowered, but merging on the freeway and passing are full-throttle affairs.
And that's when the continuously variable transmission comes into question. The CVT seems to sap power from the four-cylinder as it brings the engine speed up to 6,000 rpm and holds it there for as long as you keep your foot down. The problem is that at 6,000 rpm, the engine sounds like a bucket of rocks and still feels weak. Just trying to stay ahead of that closing semi causes such a cacophony from under the hood, passengers start to ask if the car is going to self destruct. The transmission's Autostick feature allows manual downshifts, but does nothing for acceleration.
That much full throttle also kills your fuel mileage. Despite a 23 city/26 highway EPA rating, we average 19.5 mpg during our week with the Compass. The good news is it runs on regular.
Good ride, good handling
Mechanically the Jeep's best feature is its suspension, which is a four-wheel independent design with front and rear stabilizer bars. It works with the Jeep's large 18-inch tires and its full-time all-wheel-drive system, which Jeep calls Freedom I, to supply surprising agility. Although its 0.72g skid-pad performance and 60.6-mph slalom speed aren't going to worry anyone at Ferrari, the Jeep feels tossable and responsive. It's easy to drive, and it never feels tippy.
The ride is just firm enough to feel sporty without being uncomfortable. Quick steering and fade-free four-wheel disc brakes, which stop the Compass from 60 mph in 128 feet, also contribute to the Jeep's sharp feel. Although road noise from those big tires is noticeable on the highway, it's not enough to be a problem.
We did do a little light off-roading — it is a Jeep after all — and the Compass handled a few dusty trails as well as we expected. The Jeep's all-wheel-drive system features a lockable center coupling for such conditions, so we locked it with the little chrome lever on the console, and the Compass proceeded to climb a few grades and drive over tall weeds without any issue. Admittedly, we avoided hairy obstacles, simply because we wanted to avoid a call to the Auto Club.
Looking for love
Jeep says the majority of Compass buyers will be females with a median income of $60,000. They're also single or recently married professionals in their early 20s to early 40s and half will be college educated. "Upscale, fashionable and refined items fit their lifestyle," says the Compass press kit.
Must be nice.
Trouble is, we're not convinced the Compass fits that bill when compared to its ever growing list of competition. And honestly, we're not surprised. Just a couple of months ago, we gave the Caliber a lackluster review, chastising it for its plasticky interior, questionable fit and finish, and lack of power. Shock. The Compass suffers from the same problems. But the Jeep, like the Caliber, is also generally satisfying to drive, quite affordable and sometimes fun. Comfortable, too. But upscale? Fashionable? Refined? Ah, not so much.
And that is why the Compass may get lost in a very crowded market.
The manufacturer loaned Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
System Score: 8.0
Components: Our 2007 Jeep Compass came with the optional Boston Acoustics sound package. It adds $460 to the Compass' price tag, which is $60 more than the same setup for the Dodge Caliber R/T. The 458-watt, upgraded sound package gets you nine Boston Acoustics speakers, including a subwoofer and the same flip-down rear speakers that are optional on the Dodge Caliber. The standard Compass Limited audio system comes with steering-wheel-mounted audio controls and an auxiliary jack for plugging in portable MP3 players, and there's even a flip-up compartment to hold that MP3 player right in the center armrest. However, if you order the six-disc CD changer, you lose the auxiliary jack.
Performance: We've been pleased with Boston Acoustics sound systems before, and the same is true for the optional system in the Compass. It doesn't sound as good as a similar stereo in the Chrysler 300C, but sound quality overall is still better than average.
Where this optional stereo really shines is in the reproduction of high and midrange vocals and instruments. The sound is clear and very pleasant. The bass is also very good, thanks to the subwoofer that comes with the Boston Acoustics sound system. The lows hit with authority, and most of the time the bass is sharp and well-defined, but occasionally it turns muddy, especially on tracks that have a lot of electric bass guitar.
This Boston Acoustics system sounds great for loud, in-your-face rock, rap and even R&B and country; but more delicate types of music, like bluegrass or some folk, don't sparkle the way they would on other upgraded audio systems. With more complex recordings and overdubbing, there is little separation, which can be a little taxing to listen to after awhile.
Even if you never flip down the rear speakers, you'll still get a decent system. But we really like the flip-down speaker feature — it's both novel and useful. Even if you step a few yards from the car, the music still sounds good and has more than enough volume to liven up any tailgate party or beach BBQ. Maybe keep a set of jumper cables handy though, you know, just in case.
Best Feature: Flip-down rear speakers.
Worst Feature: Lack of separation, even with the Boston Acoustics speakers.
Conclusion: The Boston Acoustics sound system adds $460 to the price of the Compass but the improvement in sound quality alone is probably worth it. Skip the CD changer if you have an iPod. — Brian Moody
Senior Road Test Editor Josh Jacquot says:
I drove the Jeep compass exactly 86 miles. I know this because my commute to Santa Monica, home of all things Edmunds.com, is precisely 43 miles. Quite often, this round trip of head-to-the-wall traffic slogging isn't enough to generate a keen observation, witty opinion, or even a snide remark.
This is particularly true in a car (SUV? SAV? Crossover?) like the Compass, which is about as involving as a three-letter crossword puzzle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. In fact, the Compass did a perfectly fine job of getting me home in comfort and safety. Its suspension didn't offend or inspire, and its steering was neither vague nor crisp. Better yet, should I have been in an accident that deployed the airbags, I could sleep soundly knowing that DaimlerChrysler records all critical vehicle data for two seconds before the deployment — a very American ass-covering strategy that suits today's litigious automotive game well enough.
These are the things I learn about a car when I only spend 86 miles behind the wheel and have just enough time before hitting the keyboard for a blast through the owner's manual. Well, that and the fact that I'll never like continuously variable transmissions. Especially in a pedestrian Jeep Compass.
Road Test Editor Kelly Toepke says:
Take away the badge and Jeep's signature round headlamps, and the 2007 Jeep Compass doesn't seem any different from the rest of the compact sport-utes. Not that I think that's a bad thing. I happen to like the convenience of the small-size cute utes, but I expected something a little more rugged from a vehicle carrying the Jeep name. More Wrangler, less Commander, I guess.
I admit I didn't take it crawling down the Rubicon Trail, but I was still expecting some other Jeepy sign from a vehicle that, by name alone, is supposed to be pointing me in the right direction.
At 103.7 inches, the Compass' wheelbase measures 6 inches longer than the Ford Escape's, but their cargo capacity is vastly different — the Ford has 8 more cubic feet than the Jeep. But the Compass wins in horsepower, with nearly 20 horsepower more than the Escape.
Still, if I had my heart set on a small domestic SUV, I might have to forgo the Compass' extra power for the extra space in the Escape. I make take some heat from the boys, but to me, cargo capacity in a mini-ute trumps horsepower.
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