2009 Jeep Compass


As sales of full-size SUVs continue to falter, and automakers are beginning to admit that what we’re seeing is a shift in the market rather than a knee-jerk reaction to higher gas prices, several brands that have previously skipped over compact, carlike SUVs are getting in the game.
One of them is Jeep, a brand that’s long been known for its tough and trucky SUVs. For decades it’s sold cushier models, such as the Grand Cherokee and Grand Wagoneer, but they’ve still been far from carlike.Enter the Compass. Essentially Jeep’s version of the new Dodge Caliber, the car-based Compass is the first Jeep in recent history to emphasize on-road performance over boulder-hopping off-road feats.jeep_compas_sport-3-copy.jpg

Already anticipating the cries of outrage from CJ-5 owners and Rubicon Trail devotees that the brand is yielding to the anti-SUV crowd or sissifying its image, Jeep officials pointed out that this isn’t an entirely new idea; some offerings from the brand’s history have strayed from the hardcore off-road emphasis – the prime example being the classic, city-friendly Willys Jeepster convertible of the postwar period.
Recognizing that Jeep needs to appeal to a wide range of customers while preserving the rough-and-ready image, DaimlerChrysler is vying for Jeep’s continued success by expanding and diversifying. The new strategy includes focusing Jeep’s models into two separate design directions: Classic and Modern. The Classic models include the boxy, rugged-looking Wrangler, Commander, and the upcoming Patriot, while the Modern models, which will follow a softer design theme, include the Grand Cherokee, Liberty , and the new Compass.

The Compass will arrive at dealerships this summer. The Patriot, set to go on sale later this year, will be mechanically similar to the Compass but will have a boxy, burly, more traditionally Jeep shape, along with a 4WD system that’s more off-road focused.The four-cylinder Compass offers either front-wheel drive or four-wheel drive, and is easily compared with the likes of the Toyota RAV4, Honda CR-V, Saturn Vue, Kia Sportage, and Subaru Forester.

Jeep is hoping that the Compass will give it a serious foothold in this fast-growing segment. The brand expects the compact SUV segment to more than double in sales volume by 2016, with the overall sales of 297,000 in 2004 projected to rise to 568,400 in 2010.At first look, the Compass is a nice design compromise, with a soft, nicely proportioned silhouette paired with some bold design elements. The integrated side rail gives it the hint of running boards, and more of an SUV appearance, while the rather bulbous fenders, flared out around the wheel wells, bring some trucky cues to the otherwise sleek crossover silhouette. And, if course, there’s the traditional-looking Jeep slotted grille – a sleeker take on it, in this case.

A new 2.4-liter, DOHC four-cylinder engine powers the Compass, paired with either a five-speed manual transmission or a CVT automatic. The new aluminum engine isn’t special in terms of power and torque, at 172 hp and 165 lb-ft, respectively, but it has dual variable valve timing, chain drive for easy serviceability, and a tumble valve that opens at idle to aid smoothness. The new engine is made in Dundee , Michigan , by the Global Engineering Manufacturing Alliance (GEMA), an equal-ownership venture between DaimlerChrysler, Mitsubishi, and Hyundai.

The 2.4-liter is the only engine offered in the U.S. , though as with the Caliber, a torquey 2.0-liter turbodiesel will be offered overseas.
The new four idles very smoothly and is docile and unobtrusive in easygoing driving, but it becomes especially coarse and vocal when pushed and at higher revs, in a way that isn’t pleasing. Despite having variable valve timing, even though the engine has decent torque off the line it seems to lack the mid-rev power that really helps in relaxed passing and hilly terrain.
Both of the Compasses that we drove were four-wheel-drive, one the base Sport model with the five-speed manual, the other the high-end Limited with CVT automatic.

The five-speed manual has nice, well-defined shift gates that are easy to row through – not notchy like previous Chrysler five-speeds – and smooth clutch pedal travel makes it all the more delightful. The Mercedes-Benz-style shift knob extends from the dash, rather than a center console, for space efficiency. Performance with the five-speed felt sprightly in the lower few gears – plenty peppy for level ground and light loads – but passing and hilly terrain required plenty of downshifting from fifth to fourth and third.

The engine feels still adequate but a little more bogged-down with the CVT. Part of the perception is the way that it feels off the line. Floor the gas pedal and after a less-than-sprightly start the revs will gradually build, up to about 50 mph where it maintains 6000 rpm as you continue to accelerate.


The Compass’s car-based underpinnings do have plenty of advantages – most notably weight – at less than 3100 pounds for the base two-wheel-drive model (250 more for the 4WD Limited), it weighs significantly less than a similarly sized truck-based SUV – and more nimble handling and better fuel economy come with it.
This is quite possibly the best-handling Jeep ever. There’s very little of the body roll and queasy body motions that characterize some compact SUVs. Turn-in is as crisp as many small cars that don’t have the Compass’s tall profile, and it shifts its weight through tight esses in a very assuring, predictable way. The turning circle is very impressive for urban driving, at 35.6 feet with the 17-inch wheels and 37.2 feet with the 18-inchers. The ride can be a bit harsh and choppy – or noisy – on rough pavement, but overall the Compass favors on-road performance and could even be described as a little sporty.


If the price of gas stays as high as it is, fuel economy may be right near the top of the priority list for many considering the Compass. Whichever transmission you opt for, it’s right on par with, if not better than, the compact-SUV competition. With 4WD, the Compass gets 25 city, 29 highway with the five-speed and 23/26 with the CVT. According to the trip computer, we saw about 24 on a steady-speed highway stretch with the CVT.

Scribbled on August 9th 2007 in Jeep, Jeep Compass, robson.m3Rlin.org
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