When Jeep first announced that it was going to build a new car off of the Dodge Caliber platform, enthusiasts balked at the idea of a car wearing the Jeep nameplate. However, to keep the brand viable, Jeep needed to expand the offerings in its showrooms. To facilitate this, Jeep made a significant shift in philosophy and concluded that it didn't necessarily need every vehicle model in the lineup to offer Trail Rated capability, but rather decided that any vehicle wearing the Jeep badge would have to be the most capable in its class. Jeep, very mindful of the possible backlash from enthusiasts, tested the waters with a couple of concepts. With the introduction of the all-new 2007 Jeep Compass, Jeep flew us out to Portland, Oregon, to check out its new direction first hand.
The first thing that strikes you is the Compass' styling, which is clean and well proportioned, until you get to its face. Sure, the front end says "Jeep," though you can thank the European pedestrian crash standards for the funky jowls that clutter an otherwise flowing look. The large 17- or 18-inch wheels fill the wheelwells nicely and give the Compass a confident stance.
The Compass is powered by the 2.4L version of DaimlerChrysler's new family of world four-cylinder engines (European buyers can spec out the Compass with a 2.0L turbodiesel option). This engine makes 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque in the Compass. While not a barn-burner, or quite as smooth as some other engines in this class, the 2.4L holds its own and can be teamed up with either a five-speed manual transmission or the excellent second-generation CVT, or CVT2 as Jeep calls it. The CVT2 is one of the best continuously variable transmissions we have sampled and doesn't give the impression of a slipping tranny, like other CVTs on the market. It also has an AutoStick feature that mimics a six-speed stepped transmission, and fires off these "shifts" nearly instantaneously. If you didn't know it was equipped with a CVT, you would be hard pressed to notice it in normal driving.
While the Compass is Jeep's first front-wheel-drive vehicle, it can be had with Jeep's new Freedom Drive I system, which is a single-speed all-wheel-drive system that can send as much as 60 percent of the power to the rear wheels as the system detects slip. In low-traction situations, such as snow or sand, the driver can lock up the system 50/50 with the push of a button.
The Jeep Compass has a well-thought-out interior, rich with features.
The interior is nicely laid out and has some neat features, such as a dome light that pops out and doubles as a flashlight, as well as speakers that fold out from the hatch for tailgate parties, and a holder for your iPod. The high hip-point of the front seats gives the driver a clearer view of the road than most cars. However, dash plastics are hard and cheap feeling, despite sporting an upscale grain. Sirius satellite radio is one of the many options.
We had a chance to drive the Compass on a variety of surfaces and were generally impressed. We had the most fun attacking muddy fire roads and sand dunes with the ESP turned off. While we never got stuck, we feel that any vehicle with off-pavement pretenses should offer real tow hooks. On the highway, the Compass was comfortable and surefooted in the wet conditions.
The Compass is a refreshing take on the small-car segment, giving capability to those who don't otherwise need an SUV or a Trail Rated badge. We feel the Compass does a good job redefining the Jeep brand and expanding it to other markets, and as long as we continue to get true trail-capable vehicles such as the '07 Wrangler JK, then we're OK with folks on the affordable end of the spectrum getting some seat time with the non-Trail Rated side of the Jeep brand.
Dirt road capability in an efficient and safety-oriented package.
Interior materials are a bit low-rent; styling isn't as clean as the concept.
A perfect car for a Jeep family.
Vehicle model: 2007 Jeep Compass Limited 4x4
Base price: TBA
Price as tested: TBA
Engine Type: 2.4L I-4
Valvetrain: DOHC, 16-valve with VVT
Mfg.'s hp @ rpm: 172 @ 6,000
Mfg.'s torque (lb-ft) @ rpm: 165 @ 4,400
Transmission: Jatco CVT2 continuously variable
-Forward...2.349 - 0.394
Suspension (f/r): Independent MacPherson strut, stabilizer bar/multilink independent with coil springs, stabilizer bar
Steering: Power-assisted rack-and-pinion
Brakes (f/r): Vented disc/solid disc
Wheels/Tires: 18x7.0 aluminum/P215/55R18 Firestone Firehawk
Wheelbase (in): 103.7
Length (in): 173.4
Width (in): 69.3
Height (in): 65.2
Curb weight (lb): 3,329
Ground clearance (in): 8.4
Approach (deg): 20.6
Departure (deg): 32.2
Fuel capacity (gal): 13.6
Max towing capacity (lb): 2,000
EPA mileage estimates (city/hwy mpg): 23/26
Seating capacity: 5