In fact, you might think of the compact Compass – which is built on the same all-new underpinnings as the recently introduced Dodge Caliber – as a kinder, gentler Jeep. In place of the “Trail Rated” badges that proclaim the off-road capability of other Jeep models, the Compass sports more sophisticated lines and an available all-wheel-drive system that’s probably better suited to the ways in which most SUV owners typically use their vehicles.
While we question the decision to dilute the Jeep brand’s long-established gonna-get-through-come-hell-or-high-water position in the minds of car buyers – a clearly focused brand identity is, after all, the most valuable asset any company can have – we’re here to tell you the 2007 Jeep Compass is still an appealing little trucklet in many ways.
As the Jeep brand’s attempt to target first-time new car buyers, the 2007 Compass is designed to be affordable, without scrimping on important standard features. To that end, the first of the two available trim levels – the front-wheel drive Compass Sport – starts at just $15,985, including a $560 destination charge. For that money you get a fairly well-equipped small SUV with 17-inch painted alloy wheels, front fog lights, variable intermittent wipers, rear window defroster and wiper/washer, outside temperature display, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks, and a stereo with four speakers, a CD player, and an auxiliary input jack for connecting an iPod or other MP3 player. Adding all-wheel drive bumps the Sport’s starting price up to $17,985. While those base prices mean having to settle for such quaint features as crank windows and manually-adjustable mirrors, you can outfit the front-wheel drive Sport with most of the amenities we expect in modern cars and still keep the price under the $20,000 mark.
The top-of-the-line Limited gets more of the good stuff standard including 18-inch alloy wheels, air conditioning, tinted glass, leather upholstery, heated front seats, reclining rear seat backs, power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, keyless entry, a universal garage door opener, cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, and floor mats. Prices start at $20,140 for the two-wheel drive Limited and $21,740 for the all-wheel drive version.
Available options include 18-inch chrome alloy wheels, a continuously-variable automatic transmission (CVT), a power sunroof, an alarm system, Sirius satellite radio, and a premium Boston Acoustics audio system with nine speakers including a pair that flip down and out from the raised rear liftgate to allow you to share your Chamillionaire CDs with a sure-to-be appreciative world. Load it up with all the goodies and a Compass Limited model with all-wheel drive tops out at about $23,500.
Nuts and Bolts
While the family resemblance between the 2007 Jeep Compass and the Dodge Caliber is unmistakable, Jeep product planners and engineers have gone to a fair amount of trouble to make the two vehicles as different as possible. For starters, there’s the attitude of the two models, with the Compass carrying itself more like a small, if citified, SUV compared to the more car-like Caliber. Much of the credit for this different feel goes beyond simple styling cues to actual physical differences. The Compass is four inches taller and a half-inch wider, and features a two-inch higher seating position. And though Jeep officials admit the Compass isn’t intended for serious off-road work, they’re quick to point out that it does feature a respectable 8.4 inches of ground clearance (with optional 215/65R17 all-terrain tires) and improved approach, departure, and breakover angles that make it better suited to the occasional off-pavement excursion.
Like its Caliber cousin, the Compass is powered by a version of DaimlerChrysler’s new four-cylinder “World” engine. This new family of engines, which have been developed in a joint venture with Hyundai and Mitsubishi, feature variable valve timing to produce more power, better fuel economy, and smoother operation than the those they replace. Unlike the Caliber, however, the Compass gets just one member of this new powertrain lineup, but in our experience it’s the best one. The 2.4-liter puts out 172 horsepower and 165 lb.-ft. of torque while turning in respectable EPA fuel economy numbers as high as 25 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway.
Power is applied to the pavement through a standard five-speed manual or an available gearless CVT automatic transmission that allows the engine to operate in its most efficient rpm range to help maximize fuel economy. Limited buyers can also opt for a version of the CVT with the carmaker’s AutoStick manual shift feature that simulates six traditional gear ratios for those looking for a sportier – or just more familiar – shift feel.
Compass is also the first front-wheel drive product in Jeep’s line-up. For those looking for the added peace-of-mind all-wheel drive brings when the weather turns ugly, Jeep offers Freedom Drive I. This all-new system sends most of the power to the front wheels for better fuel economy until sensors detect a possible loss of traction. For negotiating deep snow or dicey off-road stretches, the system also features a “Lock” mode that transfers up to 60 percent of torque to the rear wheels at low speeds.
In order to leave no doubt that the 2007 Compass is a new type of Jeep intended to please a new type of Jeep buyer, designers created a look that toys with the brand’s traditional styling cues in much the same way a jazz musician riffs on a familiar melody. This new design direction, which Compass designers have dubbed “Jeep Modern,” goes out of its way to look more sophisticated and less rough around the edges than the Jeeps of days gone by. But, while many of the classic Jeep styling cues are incorporated into this design, such as the trademark seven-slot grille, the angular wheel openings, and the round headlights, we think the overall effect lacks the solidity and strength we expect from a vehicle wearing the rugged Jeep brand.
Inside, the Compass’ interior features clean lines and attractive materials. Cloth upholstery is standard on Sport models, while Limiteds get leather seating. The cargo area features hard vinyl flooring with a distinctive diamond plate pattern designed to make hauling messy cargo a no-worries affair. The backs of the rear seats are carpeted, however, meaning you’ll still want to have that drop cloth handy when you fold the seats down to transport large loads.
The Compass’ interior also includes many of the same innovative touches we’ve admired in the Caliber, including the Limited model’s front passenger’s seat that folds flat to allow you to carry items up to eight feet long. Other neat details include the center console’s sliding armrest with built-in iPod/cell phone holder and the rechargeable lamp in the cargo compartment that pops out to become a handy flashlight. The interior also features good head and leg room, even in the back seat. But it’s here where you’ll also find the cabin’s biggest flaw in the form of molded-in-place cupholders that suck up all the foot room in the rear seat’s center position. Figure in that center seating position’s lack of a head restraint and the Compass’ cabin is really only suitable for four adults.
On the plus side, Jeep product planners have seen to it that passengers riding in the 2007 Compass are well protected by a full complement of advanced safety features. Multi-stage front airbags and side-curtain airbags designed to reduce the likelihood of head injuries for outboard passengers in both rows are standard. Side-impact airbags, designed to protect the torsos of front seat occupants, are available as an option.
Other standard safety features include antilock brakes with brake assist, a feature that helps bring maximum braking force to bear in panic stops. To help nip an impending skid or rollover in the bud, both Compass models are also equipped with an electronic stability control system with an anti-rollover feature. A tire pressure-monitoring system is available as an option.
If a collision is unavoidable, DaimlerChrysler’s Enhanced Accident Response System (EARS) should help make the best out of a bad situation. After an airbag deployment, the system automatically unlocks all doors, turns on the interior lights, and shuts off the engine’s fuel supply to make it easier for rescue personnel to render aid after a crash.
In keeping with its more civilized character, the 2007 Jeep Compass offers what may be the most refined motoring experience of any Jeep we’ve ever driven. In place of the straight axles and full frames underneath traditional Jeep models, the Compass features unibody construction and a fully independent suspension tuned to provide a comfortable ride on the pavement. While the Compass’ ride quality is somewhat better than its Caliber cousin, its handling qualities are about the same, which is to say competent on both city streets and winding country roads.
We’d also give the Compass a slight edge over the Caliber in the acceleration department. Where we found ourselves wishing for a little more oomph in the Caliber, the Compass never left us wanting for more power. Stopping was a no worries affair, though we’d prefer a little firmer feel to the brake pedal.
As for its off-road credibility, the Compass preformed better than we expected given its suburban runabout leanings. A quick tour of the dunes and beaches along the Oregon coast southwest of Tillamook proved the Compass to be surprisingly capable in off-pavement adventures. While we have to caution against overestimating the Compass’ off-road capability, our experience showed there are at least traces of Jeep DNA here. That brings us back to our original question of whether the 2007 Compass is qualified to wear the venerable Jeep nameplate. Our answer is a qualified ‘yes’ though, as with some of the automaker’s more rough-and-tumble models, you’ll want to make sure you understand its limitations before signing on the dotted line.
I’m looking at both the 2007 Jeep Compass and the 2007 Dodge Caliber – any advice to help me choose between them?
Despite the fact that the two vehicles are built on the same basic platform, they have distinctly different characters. If you’re looking for the kind of everyday practicality a station wagon provides, the more car-like Caliber is the way to go. If you prefer the higher seating position of an SUV and are thinking you might want to do a little mild off-roading, the Compass gets the nod.
Can I take the 2007 Jeep Compass off-road?
Even without the greater ground clearance and improved approach, departure, and breakover angles offered by the taller optional 215/65R17 all-terrain tires, the Compass should easily handle your basic well-graded fire roads. But given the fact that the all-wheel-drive system and unibody construction aren’t up to the rigors of serious trail work, we’d suggest waiting for Jeep’s forthcoming Patriot model if you’re looking for true off-road capability in a similarly-sized package.
What’s with those raised black ridges along the outer edges of the 2007 Jeep Compass’ roof?
This is one of the less attractive features the Compass shares with the Caliber. Essentially, the main purpose of these black plastic ridges is to disguise an awkward seam in the body construction. Compass designers put them to good use, however, as a mounting point for roof rack crossbars.
Test Vehicle: Jeep Compass Limited AWD
Price of Test Vehicle: $23,500 (including the $560 destination charge)
Engine Size and Type: 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder
Engine Horsepower: 172 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 165 at 4,400 rpm
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic (CVT) with manual-shift feature
Curb Weight, lbs. : 3,413
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 23/26 mpg
Length: 173.4 inches
Width: 69.3 inches
Wheelbase: 103.7 inches
Height: 65.2 inches
Legroom (front/rear): 40.6/39.4 inches
Headroom (front/rear): 40.7/39.9 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 53.6 cu.-ft.
Min. Ground Clearance: 8.1 inches
Competitors: Chevrolet Equinox, Chevrolet HHR, Chrysler PT Cruiser, Ford Escape, Honda CR-V, Honda Element, Hyundai Tucson, Jeep Liberty, Kia Sportage, Mazda Tribute, Mercury Mariner, Mitsubishi Outlander, Pontiac Torrent, Pontiac Vibe, Saturn VUE, Subaru Forester, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Toyota Matrix, Toyota RAV4
Photos courtesy of DaimlerChrysler