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2007 Jeep Compass Limited 4x4

The Cheap Jeep?

About.com Rating 2 Star Rating

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2007 Jeep Compass Limited 4x4

Assertive lines and sharp angles abound all over the Compass, giving it a bigger look and feel in photographs than it has in real life.

Photo © Jason Fogelson
When your read the name "Jeep," what comes to mind? American GIs bouncing over rutted roads. Rugged outdoorsmen fording streams. Thrill-seeking surfers spraying sand across the dunes. How about brave shoppers parking at malls, child seats latched in the back seat? Well, adjust your expectations -- I just finished a week with the 2007 Jeep Compass Limited 4x4. The 2007 Jeep Compass Limited 4x4 has a base price of $21,675 ($23,750 as tested), a 3 year/36,000 mile warranty and an EPA estimate of 23 mpg city/26 mpg highway. The Jeep heritage is jammed in there somewhere, too -- I'm sure we'll be able to find it together.

First Glance

When does market saturation turn into dilution? Jeep lends its name to a bunch of non-automotive products. You can buy Jeep radios, Jeep toolboxes, Jeep shoes, Jeep gloves and hats, Jeep bicycles. For all I know, you can buy Jeep leg warmers. Putting the Jeep logo on a consumer item gives it an air of durability and go-anywhere prowess. The Jeep brand is extremely strong. But I'm worried. Jeep may be diluting their brand with the current crop of SUVs in the lineup. The Wrangler is pure Jeep, and I'm willing to accept the Grand Cherokee into the fold as well. The Commander -- well, okay, that can be a Jeep, I guess. But I start to balk at Liberty. I really don't get Patriot. Which brings us to Compass. Ah, Compass.

Let's take a look at this so-called Jeep. Okay, I recognize the famous six-bar grille and the big round headlights. That's a Jeep trademark. After that, I don't see much Jeep at all. Oh, sure, it says "Jeep" in chrome letters on the hood and on the tailgate, but this is a re-badged Dodge Caliber. No one can accuse the Compass of mildness. In fact, assertive lines and sharp angles abound all over the vehicle, giving it a bigger look and feel in photographs than it has in real life. A rising beltline makes for tiny windows on the rear sides and a rear-heavy appearance, with a bigger rear countenance than the front. Compass's tailgate is plain relatively unadorned, with the "Compass" name and logo embossed on the bumper cover, "Jeep," "Limited" and "4x4" displayed in tasteful chrome.

Continued below . . .

In the Driver's Seat

The Omni, I mean, Compass dash is pretty straightforward.

Photo © Jason Fogelson
Ugh. Remember the old Dodge Omni from the 1980s? I had an Omni flashback when I got into the Compass. The "el-cheapo" feel is unmistakable, from plasticky dash and door panel materials to flimsy switchgear. The "Limited" trim package includes leather-trimmed seats. It's hard to find the real leather, the pleather is so prominent. "Sport" trim levels are available with a special high-tech antimicrobial fabric that's got to be more pleasant to the touch.

The Omni, I mean, Compass dash is pretty straightforward. It's got analog rotary gauges gathered under an eyebrow above the steering wheel, and a center stack that houses audio and climate controls. There's a blank cubby in the center stack if you choose to forgo the navigation package, amplifying the cheapness quotient.

The gearshift hangs off of the middle of the center stack, not a position that you'll find in many sports cars, and for good reason. My test vehicle was equipped with a manual transmission (more on that later), controlled via a short lever with a chromed top. I'm glad that the weather was mild during my test drives -- experience has shown that a hot car can turn a chromed shift knob into a real Raiders of the Lost Ark kind of moment -- remember when that Peter Lorre-looking Nazi guy grabs the amulet out of the fire at the Siberian bar?

On the Road

Another ugh. I'd be more inclined to praise the Compass's 2.4 liter in-line four-cylinder if it delivered great fuel economy, but 23 city/26 highway doesn't qualify as great in my book. 172 hp and 165 lb-ft of torque get the Compass moving, but not in any way that's exciting. That high-mounted gear shift lever conspires with a clutch that gives little feedback to create a frustrating, uncomfortable driving experience. The angle of the shift pattern and the rubbery feeling of the linkage brings me back to the Omni again. While a light clutch can be good, in this case it's so light that it doesn't give a good feeling of connection. I'd like to try the Continuously Variable Automatic Transmission (CVT) that's optional equipment for Compass -- I'm a big fan of the CVT with four-cylinder engines, as the CVT can keep the little guys in the powerband with less effort and greater efficiency than a manual.

Compass's handling is okay, with four-wheel independent suspension smoothing the road. MacPherson struts up front and a multi-link rear are proven, low-tech approaches, very durable and easy to upgrade for better performance. I don't know if there's a sway bar set for the Compass yet, but I'd get one to control body roll better -- Compass's high center of gravity works against it on the curves. Standard traction control and four-wheel anti-lock disc brakes are great features, as are the supplemental side curtain front and rear air bags and multi-stage front air bags.

Journey's End

No one can accuse the Compass of mildness.

Photo © Jason Fogelson
If you're looking for cheap transportation, you can get a stripped-down Compass, without modern conveniences like air conditioning, power windows and door locks, keyless entry and passenger assist handles -- a $2,500 option package on the $15,425 base price Compass Sport 4x2. I don't imagine that Jeep is building many without that option.

There are plenty of other compact, car-based SUVs on the market worth looking at. Check out the Dodge Caliber, Compass's cousin in the DaimlerChrysler family. Mechanically identical, the two SUVs are cosmetically differentiated by their trim and options. Mitsubishi's Outlander shares some corporate parts as well, but in a very different package.

The big boys on the compact SUV block are the Toyota RAV4 and Honda CR-V. They have grown in size and refinement over the years, but still dominate the category. Hyundai's Tucson and Kia Sportage are zippy little utes, both very nicely equipped and worth consideration. The Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute/Mercury Mariner SUVs are more conservative-looking, and are available with hybrid powerplants, a feature not offered on the Compass. Suzuki's Grand Vitara is the sleeper in the segment, a very refined vehicle that's better than you expect it to be.

If you've always wanted a Jeep, keep looking. Wrangler is the icon, and it's a completely different animal with only a name and some insignificant parts in common with Compass. I guess Liberty is a "real" Jeep, though many would argue. Even though it boasts 8.4" of ground clearance, Compass is a branding exercise, not a real expansion of the lineup.

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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