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 2007 Jeep Compass comes with a single-disc, non-MP3 enabled CD player with auxiliary input jack as standard.
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.
A foldout cell phone/MP3 player cradle mounted in the center armrest is a good idea, but when deployed, it obstructs access to the shifter and the parking brake.
Aside from the stereo, there is little else of note in terms of cabin electronics. According to Jeep, the Compass will offer a Mopar navigation system as a "late-availability" option toward the end of this year. The Compass Limited does come with a commendable selection of other comfort tech, including heated front leather seats, air conditioning, and an auxiliary 115-volt power outlet in the central console for powering electrical devices on the move.
One final tech feature that we like is the integration of a removable flashlight into the cargo area's interior light: perfect for searching the cooler for another can before the night game begins. The 2007 Jeep Compass has an exterior design that combines sporty and rugged elements. Jeep's distinctive seven-slot grille is framed by color-coded front fenders housing circular fog lamps, which along with a front air dam give the car a rally-type character. As-standard 18-inch alloy wheels and strips of faux brushed metal (beneath the front grille, below the doors on each side, and across the back) also serve to give the Compass a look that is much sportier than any other Jeep to date. Chrome-clad 18-inch wheels are available as an $825 option for those wishing to add some bling. Flat-topped flared fenders and a high ground clearance make the Compass look like it is ready for the trials of the trail.
However, all this is little more than cosmetic, as the Compass is a car that feels neither sporty nor rugged from behind the wheel. DaimlerChrysler's 172-horsepower, 2.4-liter World engine is the only option available for the Compass in both its Sport and Limited incarnations, and the car feels conspicuously underpowered, especially when fully laden.
One reason our tester delivered such a lackluster ride may be its continuously variable transmission (CVT)--a sizable $1,150 addition to the sticker price. While this advanced technology (which relies on infinitely variable ratios rather than discrete gears) is great for fuel efficiency and ride smoothness, the effect in the Compass is a very sedate ride, with the driver getting little direct control over engine inputs. The CVT option on the Compass Limited comes with an ice cream cone-shaped Autostick, which gives some drive flexibility through adjusting the CVT ratio either up or down; these pseudo shifts are far less responsive than with a manual--or even manumatic--stick. For those wanting to avoid the CVT and save money, a lower-tech 5-speed manual transmission comes standard on the Compass.
The 2007 Jeep Compass Limited comes with the option of a continuously variable transmission with Autostick.
The one feature that gives the Compass a chance at claiming some off-road credibility is its integration of Jeep's Freedom Drive I four-wheel drive system, which responds to wheel slippage by sending torque to the wheels that have the most traction. In normal drive mode, the system works automatically to divide power input according to where it's most needed, and for more challenging environments, the system includes a lockable central coupling--activated by a T-shaped lever in the central console--to ensure that torque is distributed to all four wheels. The Compass also comes with an impressive suspension configuration comprising independent MacPherson struts on all four wheels as well as multilink rear suspension.
Jeep's electronic four-wheel-drive system can be locked using a T-shaped lever in the central column.
Nevertheless, in our experience driving the Compass on some of San Francisco's rougher streets, we found it a jarring ride with minimal damping over potholes. Our advice is to crank the bass up and keep this urban cruiser on the asphalt. If you do, you can expect to get a creditable EPA-rated 23mpg in the city and 26mpg on the highway. Passive safety is the one area in which the 2007 Jeep Compass stands out from its competitors. In addition to multistage front airbags, the Compass offers standard side-curtain airbags for both front and rear seats (optional on the 2006 Rav4 Sport, a crossover competitor), and three-point seat belts for all five passengers. Supplemental front seat side airbags are available for an additional $250.
Remote radio controls behind the steering wheel enable drivers to change radio channels, skip CD tracks, and adjust volume without taking their hands from the wheel.
The Compass comes with an electronic stability program and traction control to moderate braking and throttle inputs when the car detects a loss of control. Antilock four-wheel disc brakes and electronic roll mitigation also come standard. The NHTSA gives the Compass four stars for frontal impact ratings and five stars for side impact: it is not yet rated for rollover safety.
The 2007 Jeep Compass Limited comes with a 3-year/36,000-mile basic limited warranty, which includes limited towing assistance.