Light Compass
Light Compass

2009 Jeep Compass – A Jeep for the Urban Jungle

Like the Dodge Caliber hatchback, also launched as a 2007 model, the Compass uses a continuously variable transmission (CVT) as an alternative to the standard five-speed manual gearbox. In fact, the Compass and the Dodge Caliber share the same basic structure. Built on a passenger-car chassis, the Compass lacks the “Trail Rated” status granted to other Jeeps, and its off-road capabilities are on the mild side. Unlike Dodge’s Caliber, though, Compass has a 4WD-Lock button, for use on slightly rougher terrain.

Nearly all models hold a 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, developing 172 horsepower and 165 pound-feet of torque. A Compass may have either front-drive or all-wheel drive. Jeep offers a smaller (2.0-liter) engine as a credit option, only for the lower-cost Sport model with front-drive. An AutoStick feature for the CVT permits manual selection of simulated “gears.” Start-offs with the CVT are rather leisurely. Highway passing response isn’t bad: nothing to induce driving excitement, but the Compass gains speed with pleasing steadiness.

Engine noise is a problem, but it’s not troubling as you approach the desired velocity. Manual mode with the AutoStick feature works almost like the real thing, providing quick “upshifts” from the virtual “gears,” but downshifts may be trickier at times. Downhill, it helps keep speed down, though not like a serious off-road vehicle or one with manual shift. The five-speed manual gearbox is on the vague side, thus not inviting to use. The Compass clutch doesn’t engage so nimbly either. In addition, the engine sounds noisy in each lower gear, without delivering much more energy than the CVT manages.

For 2009, each Compass got a redesigned interior, including a reworked instrument panel and a center console with a split lid. Chrome accents the new round climate-control vents. Padded armrests are new, along with LED-illuminated cupholders. More insulation was installed to reduce noise, and suspension tuning was revised. Sport models include air conditioning, a tilt steering column, split-folding rear seat, stereo with MP3 capability, fabric upholstery, foglamps, and 17-inch alloy wheels. Limited editions add leather-trimmed, heated bucket seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls. Also on the Limited are 18-inch aluminum wheels and “uconnect tunes,” which includes a 30-gigabyte hard drive for storing music files.

Front seats have short bottoms and a somewhat hard seatback, and don’t feel abundantly cushioned. Despite compact external dimensions, occupants enjoy plenty of front headroom and elbow space. Backseat space is abundant for two, with tall headroom but limited leg space. The center rear position is bearable, but that rider must straddle cupholders at the rear of a long console. Seatbacks are stiff, too. Unlike the front seat, the back feels generally cramped and overly cozy. Gauges are modest in size on a basic instrument panel, but they’re easy enough to read. The average-size glovebox is easy to reach, with an open compartment above.

Full-length roof rails are standard, along with a high rear spoiler and “clamshell” hood. Rigid vinyl cargo-area flooring removes and washes easily. The standard 60/40-split rear seatback reclines in Limited models. Standard safety features include curtain-type airbags, plus all-disc antilock braking with rough-road detection (which alters braking effect) and electronic roll mitigation. The three-mode Electronic Stability Program can be set to full-on, semi-on, or full-off.

Ride quality is quite lovely on glassy-smooth roads. Moderate bumps and holes undeniably interfere with ride comfort, but a Compass behaves quite well on gravel surfaces. Rather light steering is accompanied by easy maneuverability. The Compass takes curves without excessive body lean, though it’s not absent, either. Road noise can annoy on certain surfaces.

Fuel economy is a strong point. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) gives manual-shift models with either 2WD or AWD an estimate of 23 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway. With the CVT, estimates dip to 21/25 mpg for 2WD and 21/24 mpg with AWD. A Sport model with the smaller engine and CVT gets a 23/27 mpg estimate.

Despite its limitations, this Jeep qualifies as a generally enjoyable vehicle. Compass competes against a group of small crossover-type SUVs, including the Toyota RAV4, Kia Sportage, Honda CR-V, and Hyundai Tucson. Target buyers are in their late 20s, likely making their first new-vehicle purchase. Prices start at $19,095 (including the $630 destination charge) for a Sport model with front-drive and a manual transmission. The continuously variable transmission adds $1,100. An all-wheel-drive Limited model with manual shift stickers for $25,205. A navigation system and Rallye Group package are available.

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