It’s only natural to expect a Jeep to be off-road capable, but the Compass is leading Jeep in a new direction. The brand isn’t going soft or dropping out of the traditional all-terrain segment, but rather it is diversifying its lineup with a car-based crossover that foregoes off-road capability in favor of urban maneuverability.
The Compass is essentially a Jeep version of the Dodge Caliber, and it is available in front-wheel or all-wheel drive. Starting prices begin at $15,985 for the Sport and $20,735 for the Limited.
The Compass competes with vehicles such as the Honda CR-V, Saturn Vue, Toyota RAV4 and Subaru Forester. Jeep expects the sales of compact SUVs to nearly double from 297,000 in 2004 to 568,400 by 2010.
The engine is a 2.4-liter, 172-horsepower four-cylinder that is capable of achieving 30 miles per gallon on the highway with a five-speed manual transmission. A continuously variable automatic transmission is optional.
DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi jointly developed this engine. It features variable valve timing, four valves per cylinder and dual overhead camshafts.
The CVT, which is more fuel-efficient than a four-speed automatic transmission, has been calibrated to feel a lot like a normal automatic transmission. Off-the-line acceleration is rather sluggish.
The CVT in the Limited has an AutoStick feature that enables the driver to select six gear ratios manually.
In addition to the standard front-wheel drive, the Compass can be equipped with full-time, four-wheel drive. Drivers can lock the center coupling for all-wheel traction in rough weather.
The Compass features Jeep’s seven-slot grille, round headlamps, trapezoidal wheel openings and uniquely sculpted fenders. The windshield is steeply sloped for less wind resistance. Seventeen-inch wheels are standard and 18s are optional.
The seats are high for good visibility, and getting in and out is easy. The instrument panel has light-faced gauges and brushed-silver or body-color panels on the center stack. The gearshift is mounted on the lower section of the instrument panel. The center armrest has a holder for an iPod or cell phone built into the top section.
Young buyers like affordably priced cars such as the Compass because they’re flexible enough to accommodate active lifestyles and small enough to be easily maneuvered. The all-wheel-drive option makes the Compass a good choice for winter climates or outdoor adventure seekers.
The split-folding rear seat yields 53.6 cubic feet of cargo space with the seats folded flat. An optional folding right front passenger seat can be used as a table or for space to carry long objects.
Like the Dodge Caliber, the Compass is available with a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system that includes two tailgate speakers that swing down and face rearward when the tailgate is open. That’s a fun idea for tailgating or listening to music while loading outdoor gear.
Another clever item is a rechargeable interior lamp that can be removed and used as a flashlight. There’s also a 115-volt outlet in the center console for powering laptops and other small electronic devices.
Safety items include side-curtain airbags, traction control, anti-lock brakes, brake assist and a vehicle stability program.
The base price of the test vehicle was $15,985. Options included metallic paint, premium cloth bucket seats, continuously variable transmission, Sirius satellite radio, tire-pressure monitor, universal garage door opener and an auto-dimming rearview mirror. The sticker price was $20,535.
Three years or 36,000 miles.