Jeep's compact, car-based Compass lacks the offroad chops its larger siblings boast, but it can tread lightly off the beaten path thanks to optional all-wheel drive. Changes for 2008 include a few more standard features and a dressier dashboard; the drivetrain has also been calibrated for smoother operation and less noise. Compass competitors include the Honda Element and Nissan Rogue.
Built on a new, car-based platform shared with the Dodge Caliber, the Compass is one of two front-wheel-drive models from Jeep — the other being the compact Patriot. Both cars are examples of why so-called crossover vehicles are supplanting traditional truck-based SUVs. The Compass is easier to get into, and it's almost certain to ride and handle more like a car than a truck.
Trim levels include the base Compass and better-equipped Compass Limited.
The Compass looks like the child of the previous-generation Liberty and the current 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 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 is standard, but 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.
The dashboard adds a bit more chrome for 2008; it now graces the door locks, door handles and radio knobs. Other changes include increased satellite radio programming and an optional navigation system on the Limited.
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 continuously variable transmission. 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 jumps sequentially from one arbitrarily preset ratio to another.
The Compass and Patriot are Jeep's first models with four-wheel-independent suspensions. The brand's other SUVs 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 airbags. Seat-mounted side-impact airbags are optional for the front occupants.