The new 2007 Compass sport utility vehicle is Jeep's first front-wheel-drive model, built on a new car platform developed in partnership with Mitsubishi and shared with the Dodge Caliber compact hatchback.
The Compass is a great example of why so-called crossover vehicles are supplanting traditional truck-based SUVs. The popular Jeep Liberty is a traditional compact/midsize SUV with a heavy duty frame and full offroad capability, but it is almost identical in size to the new Compass, which is considered a compact. The Compass is within 2 to 3 inches of the Jeep Liberty in exterior dimensions except for height, where it is 6 inches shorter. Likewise, the cabin volume measurements are within 1 cubic foot of each other, and front-seat headroom and legroom are almost identical. The Liberty's maximum cargo volume is 69 cubic feet versus the Compass' 60.7 cubic feet.
So where's the difference? Weight, for one thing. Comparable versions of the Liberty weigh as much as 700 pounds more. This means the Compass is sure to get notably better fuel economy, though EPA mileage estimates aren't yet available. This model is also easier to get into, and is almost certain to ride and handle more like a car than a truck. If there's a drawback, it's in the areas of off-roading and towing, which aren't relevant for the majority of buyers — yes, even Jeep buyers.
The Compass simply looks like the child of a Liberty and a Grand Cherokee. From the front, it most resembles the Liberty, while the rear bears Grand Cherokee-style taillights. However, the side has creased fender bulges that recall the Dodge Dakota pickup. Is it possible the Dakota delivers the mail to the Jeep household? Just a thought....
In this sea of look-alike crossover vehicles, what distinguishes the Compass — or at least the Limited trim level — is aluminum-look trim on the exterior. It's anchored by a rear-bumper overlay that's debossed with the Compass name. A similar panel is on the front bumper, minus the name. The doors have matching moldings that dress up a deliberate accent groove.
Even on the Limited, the side mirrors and door handles are black rather than body-colored. The standard wheels are 17-inch aluminum; the Limited has 18-inch aluminum wheels, which are an option on the lower trim level. The Limited's also come in chrome.
The Compass' unibody platform and respectable but less ambitious ground clearance make its floor lower and its cabin easier to enter than any of the other Jeeps'. The standard upholstery is a stain-repellent cloth, and leather is an option; either can be equipped with seat heaters. The interior is two-tone, but the base Compass is short on convenience features. Air conditioning and power windows, mirrors and door locks are optional. A tilt steering wheel is standard, and the center console armrest is designed to slide forward 3 inches to serve shorter drivers — yet a driver's seat height adjustment is optional.
A 60/40-split, folding, reclining backseat and a fold-flat front passenger seat are both options. An AM/FM/CD stereo is standard; a six-CD changer is optional. High-level options include a tire-pressure-monitoring system, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a leather steering wheel with stereo controls and a Boston Acoustics premium sound system with a two-speaker module that can be swung down from the raised liftgate to aim backward and really annoy the picnickers next to you.
Under the Hood
All Compasses are powered by a 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine equipped with variable valve timing for adequate pull at all engine speeds. It powers the front wheels through a five-speed-manual transmission. Four-wheel drive is optional; in line with the Jeep parlance, it's presented as 4x4, but the system is basically a light- to medium-duty all-wheel-drive system. It has a lock function that splits power 50/50 between the front and rear axles, but there's no additional low gear for true off-roading. Traction is aided by antilock-brake-based traction control. The ABS, traction control and an electronic stability system are all standard.
The optional automatic transmission comes in the form of an efficient CVT, continuously variable transaxle. It grants a wide range of gear ratios, but without the stepped shift feel of a conventional automatic. Even so, the AutoStick manual-shift mode — an option on the Limited — jumps sequentially from one arbitrarily preset ratio to another.
The Compass is Jeep's first model with four-wheel independent suspension. The other models retain the solid rear axle that offers advantages in some offroad situations. Still, Jeep emphasizes the Compass' 8-inch ground clearance and decent approach and departure angles.
Jeep didn't skimp on the Compass' standard safety features. In addition to the more common ABS and traction control are an electronic stability system and side curtain-type airbags. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional for the front occupants.
The Compass will be built alongside the Dodge Caliber in the Belvidere, Ill., assembly plant that formerly built the Neon.
Chrysler's 2.4-liter four-cylinder provides just enough vim to keep the scenery passing, but lead-footed drivers will probably be disappointed. The five-speed manual transmission shifts smoothly. The continuously variable transmission takes a few moments to reach its powerband, but it delivers adequate performance once there. High-speed stability is good.
Interior materials are sub-par, and the climate controls aren't particularly intuitive. Front seats offer ample cushion support, but some of the manual adjustments take considerable effort.