The 2009 Jeep Compass is available with a cabin tech package that we've come to love: Chrysler's UConnect system. With hard-drive-based navigation and media storage, there's a lot to like about the UConnect suite.
However, even the option of UConnect doesn't do much to overcome the bad first impression made by the Compass' chintzy interior and poor performance.
On the road
Our Compass was fitted with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine (172 horsepower, 165 pound-feet of torque), which is the larger of the two engines available. On the road, the Compass felt seriously underpowered, its engine wheezing and whining as the vehicle lethargically made its way up hills. At highway speeds, mashing the accelerator or slapping the Autostick shifter caused the continuously variable transmission (CVT) to select a lower virtual gear and make considerably more mechanical noise, but actual acceleration was all but absent.
The Compass' 2.4-liter engine just doesn't have the power to move the crossover without drama.
Odd whistling and rattling coming from the engine bay with only 4,000 miles on the odometer had us questioning the Jeep's build quality.
Being a 4x4 model, our Compass was equipped with Jeep's electromagnetically controlled Freedom-Drive I full-time four-wheel-drive system. During highway driving, the system sends nearly 100 percent of available torque to the front axle in a bid to boost stability and fuel economy. When things get slippery, the system is capable of instantly transferring torque to the rear wheels if necessary.
If a lack of power wasn't enough to discourage spirited driving in the Compass, the suspension is also ill suited for all but the most leisurely driving patterns. While the sloppy suspension and uncommunicative steering don't give the driver any valuable information about the vehicle's grip, they do transmit quite a bit of noise and harshness into the cabin. Hitting a bump midturn unsettles the suspension, making handling unpredictable, even with the 4x4 system.
The Compass severely needs a larger engine option (or perhaps better gearing of the CVT), but, unfortunately, the only other engine option available is a smaller 2-liter power plant that makes even less power (158 horsepower, 141 pound-feet of torque). This smaller engine is only available in the 4x2 configuration.
Our 4x4 Compass with the 2.4-liter engine is EPA rated for 21 city/24 highway mpg. Stepping down to the less powerful 2-liter 4x2 configuration will push the Compass to 23 city/27 highway mpg. The thriftiest Compass configuration is the 2.4-liter engine paired with a 4x2 manual transmission, which nets 23 city/28 highway and causes us to question why Jeep even offers a 2-liter configuration.
In the cabin
Jeep/Chrysler's UConnect suite of cabin tech is available on the Compass. UConnect tunes and studios add a 30GB hard drive for digital-media storage and Sirius satellite radio, respectively. UConnect nav brings GPS navigation with traffic data supplied by the system's Sirius integration, and UConnect phone adds Bluetooth hands-free calling to the mix. As the newcomer to the suite, UConnect web adds a 3G wireless connection and an Autonet router for rolling Wi-Fi access. UConnect web and studios are subscription-based services.
Our Jeep Compass Sport 4x4 was only equipped with UConnect studios, so we had to make do with the basic single-disc CD/AM/FM receiver. We weren't completely stuck in the dark ages, though, thanks to the CD player's MP3 capabilities and an auxiliary input.
The standard stereo features a monochrome green display that makes browsing for songs or stations difficult.
We found the single-line, monochrome display and knob-based interface of the basic receiver to be clunky when browsing MP3s or satellite radio stations. The unit can also be controlled via steering wheel-mounted controls for volume and fast-forward/reverse, but the rocker switches that control these functions are located on the back of the steering wheel and are unlabeled.
As part of a Sun and Sound package, which also included a power sunroof, our Compass was equipped with a premium Boston Acoustics audio system. The system is incorrectly labeled on Jeep's promotional materials as a six-speaker system, but we found that there are actually nine speakers, including a small powered subwoofer, a pair of dash-mounted tweeters, and a pair of liftgate speakers that swing down for tailgating.
Audio from the Boston Acoustics system was very boomy and bass-heavy, but lacked clean punch to the low-end. Highs from the two upward facing tweeters and midrange sound were easily overpowered by the heavily distorted bass. A three-band EQ allowed for some tuning of the sound, but anything played above the lowest volume setting will have the bass at center stage.
Other neat convenience features included a 120-volt AC outlet in the center console and a removable cargo lamp that doubles as a flashlight.
The Compass' driver will find himself in a cabin that is composed of materials that feel well below the crossover's $19,495 base price, which is saying a lot. Cheap plastics and coarse fabric abound and every surface feels hollow to the touch. Backseat passengers praised the Compass' rear leg room, but complained that the seats were uncomfortable. The Compass Limited is available with leather seating surfaces, which does a little to class-up the interior.
Our 2009 Jeep Compass Sport 4x4 weighed in at an as-tested MSRP of $24,555. This includes the 4x4's $19,465 base price and a $2,125 preferred package with features that should be standard (power windows, power locks, keyless entry, folding seat backs, etc.). The $1,295 for the Sun and Sound package includes the power sunroof, Sirius satellite radio, and Boston Acoustics stereo system with the liftgate speakers. Finally, we added $1,100 for the CVT transaxle and $500 in destination charges to reach our final price.
To even gain the privilege of adding the UConnect nav system, you have to step up to the Compass Limited which is a $2,235 investment in addition to the $1,200 sticker on the GPS. Fortunately, you get leather heated seats and bigger wheels with better tires as part of the deal.
However, at that point, you're dangerously close to the $30,000 mark, where many superior vehicles can be found, offering similar levels of cabin tech with much better performance and build quality.