Full 2008 Jeep Compass Review
What's New for 2008
The 2008 Jeep Compass gets a handful of equipment changes. Air-conditioning and chrome interior accents become standard in all models, and a navigation system is a new option for the Limited. Jeep has also made mild revisions to the engines and transmissions to promote smoother, quieter operation and introduced a limited lifetime powertrain warranty.
Although one could legitimately credit Jeep as the creator of compact sport-utilities, only recently did the company begin building the kind of small SUV that most of today's consumers want to buy: a small, docile, car-based crossover. Introduced last year, the Jeep Compass represents a huge departure from traditional Jeep values. It's not trail-rated -- meaning Jeep makes no guarantees about its ability to survive California's famed Rubicon Trail. It doesn't have a true dual-range four-wheel-drive system. And the largest engine you can get is a 2.4-liter four-cylinder rated at 172 horsepower. But unlike most other Jeeps, the Compass really does ride and handle like a car, allowing it to slip easily into the urban grind.
This easygoing nature is a product of its car-based underpinnings. Much of its hardware is also used for the Dodge Caliber, the Jeep Patriot and, to a lesser extent, the Mitsubishi Outlander. Jeep has attempted to differentiate the Compass from its siblings primarily through styling. It features the brand's traditional seven-slot grille and round headlamps as well as more modern design elements. In terms of ground clearance and approach and departure angles, it slots between the street-focused Caliber and the slightly more rugged Patriot. The Compass offers an optional automatic 4WD system ("Freedom Drive I") that allows the driver to lock torque between the front and rear wheels for improved traction on slippery terrain. This gives it light off-road capability, but Freedom Drive is intended mainly for winter-weather use.
On paper, the 2008 Jeep Compass meets the minimum requirements for a compact crossover SUV. It's easy to drive, set up pretty nicely with features and doesn't cost that much. But drive it back to back with other small, relatively inexpensive sport-utilities or wagons and you'll find the Compass falls well short in important areas like acceleration, ride comfort and quietness, interior build and materials quality, cargo space, and overall refinement. Among four-cylinder sport-utilities, the Honda CR-V, Nissan Rogue, Subaru Forester and Toyota RAV4 are simply superior vehicles. And for the money, six-cylinder versions of the Hyundai Tucson/Kia Sportage twins, Mitsubishi Outlander, Saturn Vue or Kia Rondo are also solid choices.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Jeep Compass is a small car-based SUV with seating for five passengers. Both front-wheel-drive and four-wheel-drive configurations are available, and there are two trim levels: Compass Sport and Compass Limited. The Sport comes with 17-inch alloy wheels, air-conditioning, a CD/MP3 stereo with an auxiliary audio jack and an easy-to-clean cargo load floor. Conveniences like power windows and mirrors, keyless entry and cruise control are all optional. You get these as standard on the Limited as well as 18-inch wheels, privacy glass, leather upholstery, heated front seats, reclining rear seats, satellite radio, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and a 115-volt outlet.
Available options, depending on trim, include all-terrain tires, chrome wheels, a sunroof, a six-disc CD changer, a premium Boston Acoustics speaker system, Bluetooth connectivity, a navigation system and stain-resistant cloth upholstery.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2008 Jeep Compass comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of 172 hp and 165 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional. Available on front-drive Compass Sport models only is a 2.0-liter four-cylinder rated at 158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque. The smaller engine comes only with the CVT and is bundled as part of an expensive option package. It does serve as a more fuel-efficient alternative to getting the CVT with the 2.4-liter, however.
Four-wheel-drive models operate in front-wheel drive in normal situations and automatically and seamlessly apply power to the rear wheels when needed. The system can also be locked, with up to 60 percent of the engine's torque supplied to the rear wheels for better off-road traction. For a 4WD Compass with a CVT, expect a rather pokey 0-60-mph acceleration time of 10.2 seconds and a mediocre 20 mpg city/24 mpg highway EPA mileage rating. Getting a manual transmission or the 2.0-liter engine raises those figures to 22-23 mpg in the city and to 27 on the highway.
Standard safety features include stability control with a rollover sensor, full-length side curtain airbags and traction control. Front seat side airbags are optional. In government crash tests, the 2008 Jeep Compass earned four out of five stars for driver and front-passenger protection in frontal impacts and five stars for side-impact safety.
Interior Design and Special Features
Although generally well laid out, the Jeep's interior is ultimately defined by a sea of hard, low-quality plastic and inconsistent fit and finish. The front seats are well-cushioned, but an overly high beltline and dash, combined with the lack of a telescoping steering wheel, makes for an awkward driving position, especially for shorter adults. In addition, the vehicle suffers from uncomfortable front head restraints and significant blind spots caused by its thick D-pillars and rear head restraints. Those of taller stature will appreciate this SUV's voluminous headroom, however.
The Compass also offers a respectable number of useful storage slots, including an iPod-sized holster that pops out of the center console lid. It's also very easy to fold the rear seat flat, and fold-flat capability for the front-passenger seat (standard in the Limited, optional in the Sport) allows you to carry longer items inside the vehicle. The Jeep's removable and easy-to-clean cargo-area floor is another nice touch, but the cargo area itself is small, measuring just 22.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 53.6 cubic feet with two people aboard, which is less than every other small SUV on the market.
Although 172 hp is pretty decent output for a four-cylinder engine, the Compass feels sluggish during merging and passing maneuvers, especially when equipped with 4WD and the CVT. In addition, full-throttle acceleration results in the CVT holding the engine's rpm at redline, at which point both four-cylinders make an irritating racket. For these reasons, we'd steer most buyers toward a front-wheel-drive Jeep Compass with the manual gearbox.
Compared to other small SUVs, the 2008 Jeep Compass is not the most relaxed highway cruiser. Although the ride is fairly comfortable over smooth blacktop, the cabin is not well isolated from wind and road noise. Around town, the Compass is a bit more enjoyable, as its large wheel and tires, direct steering and compact dimensions make it quite maneuverable, even mildly entertaining. The Jeep's structure lacks rigidity, however, and it tends to flex and feel insubstantial when driven over broken pavement.