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The 2007 Jeep Compass marks a new chapter in the Jeep story: it is the first front-wheel drive Jeep ever, and also the first not to be "trail rated"--the imprimatur with which Jeep has trumpeted its off-road prowess to date. Instead, the Compass is a contender for the first Jeep to be "town rated." With sharp exterior styling; a high-tech, fuel-efficient engine available; and a range of novel interior design accents and features, the Compass is taking the marque in a more intelligent, on-road direction. After all, how many Jeep drivers have ever taken their Grand Cherokees off the beaten track? The Compass's urban cool does come, however, at the price of some old-fashioned drivability. The Compass feels conspicuously underpowered, and while the continuously variable transmission (CVT) is a commendably advanced transmission system, it makes for reduced throttle responsiveness.
Equally underwhelming is the Compass's road handling, which combines drowsy understeer with a rough, boxy ride. Our 4x4 Compass Limited tester came with Jeep's Freedom Drive I electronic four-wheel-drive technology to ensure that engine power is directed to the wheels with the most grip. While this gives the new runt of Jeep's litter some chance in the wilds of off-road terrain, we would recommend limiting any trailblazing in the underpowered Compass to gravel paths and possibly the odd grassy knoll. Inside, the Compass feels roomy, with lots of headroom and cargo space, although rear seating can be a squeeze for six-footers.
From a tech standpoint, the Compass Limited is unsurprisingly spartan. Sirius Satellite radio is available as an option for $195 and Chrysler's UConnect Bluetooth interface is a $275 extra, although neither was included on our test car. Jeep will be offering navigation as an option on models later this year, but for now, drivers will have to make do with an auxiliary input jack and a removable flashlight for their techie fix.
Our Compass Limited 4x4 was the top-of-the-range model and came complete with a nine-speaker Boston Acoustics sound system ($460), continuously variable transmission ($1,150), and metallic paint ($150). All together, including a $550 delivery fee, our Compass navigates its way off the parking lot for a reasonable $23,500. The front seats in the 2007 Jeep Compass are a comfortable place to be. The high roofline of Jeep's first crossover utility vehicle gives the driver plenty of overhead clearance and decent forward visibility. Rear- and three-quarter visibility is less impressive, as the huge triangular D-pillar creates a wide blind spot, and the high rear window in the hatchback limits the view via the rearview mirror.
While the Compass's rear seating is just about adequate for six-footers, the car's high roof gives the impression of a roomy backseat. Straps located at the outside of the rear seats can be used to make the seats recline slightly, giving rear occupants a little more leeway. An optional power sunroof will set you back an additional $800.
The Compass's blocky plastic dash is functional and simple, with HVAC and audio controls intuitive and easy to navigate. Like other DaimlerChrysler models we've tested, the Compass comes with audio controls mounted on the rear of the steering wheel, which take some getting used to but provide a user-friendly way to control music without removing your hands from the normal driving position. Our tester came with the standard stereo head unit, a single-disc CD player with AM/FM tuner, CD changer controls, and a generic auxiliary input jack. We were disappointed to find that the CD player couldn't read MP3 or WMA files.
The standard stereo was hooked up to an upgraded Boston Acoustics audio nine-speaker audio system ($460), complete with subwoofer and foldout tailgate speakers, which we found more noteworthy for its tremendous volume range rather than its level of audio quality. Two huge speakers in the front doors and a meaty subwoofer in the cargo area make for an immersive bass-heavy sound with little midrange refinement--perfect for pregame tailgate parties. As with the Dodge Caliber--a car with which the Compass shares its platform and a good deal of its DNA--the standard stereo comes with an auxiliary input jack, which is not included with the $320 upgraded six-disc changer head unit (presumably because the latter plays MP3 discs and so an interface for portable MP3 players is deemed superfluous--a strange logic, but that's our best guess).
To complement the aux-in jack, the Compass has a unique armrest-mounted cradle in which to place an MP3 player or a cell phone for ease of use and access. In theory, this is a good idea, as it provides a stable, accessible platform for an iPod or a cell phone connected to the Compass's optional UConnect Bluetooth interface (which wasn't included with our tester). In practice, we found that the foldout holster had one critical flaw: when deployed, it obstructed easy use of the shifter, parking brake, and two central cup holders.