Full 2009 Jeep Compass Review
What's New for 2009
After only two years on the market, the 2009 Jeep Compass gets a thorough interior overhaul, including a redesigned dashboard and upgraded materials. More sound deadening has been added, along with revised exhaust tuning. Some of the Compass' optional features have been modified, especially the now-optional hard-drive-based digital music storage and USB audio jack.
The idea of a smaller, more-fuel-efficient Jeep should be a recipe for success in the current climate, right? Americans will always connect with the iconic brand's macho image, so a four-cylinder-powered model with a more realistic on-road nature is bound to be a winner. In the end, though, it doesn't really matter that the Jeep Compass was a good idea in theory -- possibly even a prophetic one. Even after a thorough interior overhaul, this small SUV is so poorly executed in almost every area, it is impossible to recommend.
The 2009 Jeep Compass, like its boxier Patriot brother, is based on the Dodge Caliber hatchback, which isn't a good place to start. Its powertrains are noisy and slow and don't offer particularly impressive fuel mileage. Although the Compass features SUV height and ground clearance (and therefore the SUV classification), its interior space is more like the Caliber's, with less maximum cargo space than any other small crossover SUV. Unlike past Jeeps, the Compass at least rides and handles more like a car -- just not a particularly pleasant car.
One of the previous Compass' worst offenses was its poorly constructed interior. Almost every surface consisted of low-buck plastic pieces. This is no longer the case for the 2009 Jeep Compass. Dash materials are now smoother in both texture and in shape, while the driver's armrest is now suitable for actually resting one's arm. However, this takes the Compass from awful to passable -- almost every competitor still offers a more welcoming environment. On the upside, at least the Compass now gets the latest Chrysler entertainment options, like hard-drive digital music storage, a touchscreen interface and a USB port.
On paper, the Compass seems to have many of the compact SUV attributes buyers are looking for: decent size, carlike driving experience, ample features list and low price. But drive it back to back with its competitors and you're likely to discover the many shortcomings we noticed in the 16 months and 16,000 miles we spent with a very disappointing long-term Compass test car. We suggest checking out the class-leading Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Mitsubishi Outlander, Nissan Rogue and Subaru Forester. If you're looking for a budget buy, the Hyundai Tucson and Kia Sportage are much better choices than the Compass. Sometimes, good ideas don't end in successful reality.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2009 Jeep Compass is a five-passenger compact SUV available in Sport and Limited trim levels. Standard equipment on the Compass Sport includes 17-inch alloy wheels, roof rails, foglamps, air-conditioning, a tilt steering wheel and a four-speaker stereo with a CD player and an auxiliary audio jack. The "E" package adds full power accessories, cruise control, keyless entry, driver-seat height adjustment, reclining rear seats, a removable flashlight, passenger assist handles and stain-repellent upholstery. All of the "E" stuff is included with the Limited, which also adds 18-inch alloy wheels, heated front seats, leather upholstery, a leather-wrapped steering wheel, satellite radio and an in-dash six-CD changer (the latter is optional on the Sport).
There are a number of packages available on both trims. The security and cargo convenience group adds front side airbags, heated cloth seats (Sport), a cargo cover, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and Bluetooth (Limited). The sun and sound group adds six upgraded speakers, flip-down tailgate speakers, a subwoofer, a sunroof and, on the Sport, satellite radio. Uconnect Tunes adds a touchscreen audio interface, a hard drive for digital music storage and a USB audio jack. A navigation system can also be added to the Limited.
Powertrains and Performance
Front-wheel drive is standard on the Jeep Compass, while a four-wheel-drive system is optional. It operates in front-wheel-drive mode in normal situations and automatically applies power to the rear wheels when needed. It can also be locked, with up to 60 percent of the engine's torque supplied to the rear wheels for better off-road traction.
Every Compass comes standard with a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and a continuously variable transmission (CVT) is optional. With this engine and the CVT, a four-wheel-drive Compass we tested went from zero to 60 mph in a glacial 10.6 seconds -- and made a horrible droning racket while doing it. Fuel economy with the automatic and 4WD is 21 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 22 mpg combined. The manual or front-wheel drive improves these numbers by a few mpg.
Optional on the Compass Sport is a less powerful but more-fuel-efficient 2.0-liter four-cylinder. It makes 158 hp and 141 lb-ft of torque and comes only with the CVT and front-wheel drive. Fuel economy is 23/27/24 mpg.
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 2009 Jeep Compass received four out of five stars for frontal crash protection and five stars for side protection. When equipped with front side airbags, the Compass received the best rating of "Good" in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's side crash test, while a Compass without the side airbags got the second-worst "Marginal" rating.
Interior Design and Special Features
The endless blocky hard surfaces that fit together with all the exactness of build-it-yourself lawn furniture have thankfully been thrown into the dump for 2009. The new design features smoother surfaces and less abrasive plastic materials, while the armrest will no longer ding your funny bone. However, the Compass is still at the bottom of its class in terms of materials quality and construction. The switchgear remains the typical unimpressive stock Chrysler components, and the poorly shaped steering wheel doesn't seem designed for human hands. Also unchanged are the rock-hard front head restraints and flat, shapeless seats, along with the fixed rear head restraints and huge D-pillars that obstruct rear visibility.
The Compass offers a respectable number of useful storage slots, including an open bin on the passenger side of the dash.. 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 cargo area itself is small, though, measuring just 22.7 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 53.6 cubic feet with two people aboard, which is less than that of every other small SUV on the market.
Although 172 hp is pretty decent output for a four-cylinder engine, the 2009 Jeep Compass is slothlike 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 sound like aggravated cows. For these reasons, the manual is the better choice.
Compared to other small SUVs, the 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 (although more sound deadening for 2009 should help this somewhat). Around town, the Compass is a bit more enjoyable, as its large wheels and tires, direct steering and compact dimensions make it quite maneuverable. The Jeep's structure lacks rigidity, however, and it tends to flex and feel insubstantial when driven over broken pavement.