We got some seat time in Jeep's latest foray into the asphalt jungle. Jeep isn't just about that "Trail Rated" badge that appears on the Grand Cherokee, Wrangler, and Commander anymore. The Compass touches Jeep lovers with only the whispered suggestion of off-road adventure. This is a vehicle bred for the streets, with a little bit of four-wheel drive (more akin to all-wheel drive) thrown in.
The Compass comes in two trim levels, Sport and Limited, and offers a 2.4L I-4 engine coupled to either a continuously variable transmission (CVT2) or a five-speed manual. We spent most of our time in the CVT2-equipped, 4x4 Limited driving through Oregon dairy country, from sunny Portland to the rainy coast. The Compass handled fine in a compact city center and on the roads that wind through rural pastures. It felt solidly built, emitting no rattles or creaks, and the cabin is pretty well insulated from exterior noises except for the commotion that came from the rear tire wells. It didn't help that our journey took us over roughly textured roadways that buzzed like bees in a megaphone. Seating was remarkably roomy for a small car, even in back, as was cargo capacity. Interior styling looked very Jeepy in its angularity. The iPod holder in the center console was a nice touch, as was the 115-volt auxiliary power outlet. A flashlight stands ready in the cargo area, and speakers in the rear hatch can fold down to entertain tailgaters (a feature the Compass shares with its platform mate, the Dodge Caliber).
Apparently, traffic flow on Oregon's freeways is sensibly moderated by aggressive policing - which was fine, because the four-banger is supposed to be a sensible powerplant that's oriented toward fuel economy, lower price, and utility, and not tearing up asphalt. Neither the manual nor the CVT2 do anything to change that, other than to create entirely different driving experiences. Everyone knows what a stick is like, so we won't go into that much except to say that the little hook at the tires you expect from putting a manual in gear and lifting the clutch just didn't exist. There's no torque to be had, really, so shifting up and down felt just as sedately functional as a traditional automatic. The CVT2, on the other hand, operated smoothly and efficiently, as any tranny of its type should, but it was a bit manic. Pushing the accelerator from a stop sent the motor straight to a hair's width from redline, where it stayed until we eased on the accelerator once we reached our desired speed. This isn't necessarily a bad thing...just different, and it may be one of those paradigm-shifting realities introduced by a new technology, as is the attempt to simulate the existence of five gears by shifting the CVT2's Auto Stick from 2nd, 3rd, and so on. It kind of works (mainly when driveline braking while downshifting) but it seems quaintly anachronistic.
We tested the Freedom Drive 1 four-wheel drive on a huge, sandy expanse of coastal dunes, where the vehicle handled just fine. The sand was never deep enough to bog down the Compass, but the Freedom Drive did manage to help the Compass maintain handling and control. This isn't a true four-wheel drive in that there is no two-speed transfer case. Folks at Jeep said it was almost all-wheel drive. In its default mode the system's brain tries to put almost 100% of the torque to the front wheels, but it will transfer up to 60% of the torque to the rear as needed. Pushing the locking switch distributes the torque 50/50.
The basic Compass Sport 2WD model runs $15,985, or $17,585 for the 4WD version. The Limited package starts at $20,140 for 2WD or $21,740 for 4WD. Options that were installed on the Limited 4WD include the nine-speaker Premium Sound Group, the CVT2 transmission, and the Auto Stick. These bumped the price up $1,610.
The Compass's target customer skews female. It retains Jeep legacy styling in the front end but exhibits the genteel teardrop aeros that city dwellers have become accustomed to seeing from crossovers. Not that manly men need to feel left out. Jeep wasn't going to make two versions of this vehicle, but market research showed that there was money to be made by offering a more assertive design. That would be the bulgier, more traditionally styled Patriot, which has yet to hit the streets.
Price (as tested)
$23,350 with destination
172@6,000 rpm SAE
165@4,400 rpm SAE
CVT2 (continuously variable transmission) with manual mode that simulates five speed shifting
SuspensionIndependent MacPherson struts with coilovers and stabilizer bar (f); multi-link independent with coils, link-type stabilizer bar (r)
11.5-inch rotor, 1-piston caliper (f); 10.4-inch rotor, 1-piston caliper (r); 4-wheel ABS, traction control, stability control
37.2 ft (with 18-inch wheels)
20.1 deg (with P215/60R17 tires)
31.4 deg (with P215/60R17 tires)
21 deg (with P215/60R17 tires)
Minimum Ground Clearance
8.4 in (with P215/60R17 tires)
Max Trailer Weight
53.6 cu ft (behind 1st row, 2nd row folded, no 3rd row);
22.7 cu ft (behind 2nd row, no 3rd row)