PORTLAND, Ore. (SNS) – When it comes to getting out of
the wilderness, the first automotive name that springs to mind is
For current times, when $3.00 per gallon gasoline
prices underscore a trend toward less-expensive commuter vehicles,
small-family haulers, or active-lifestyle fun SUVs, Jeep has a new
answer: the 2007 Compass.
What could be a more appropriate name than Compass
to lead buyers who are lost in the auto-buying wilderness?
At the media introduction of the Jeep Compass, it
seems some other automotive journalists muttered that the Compass is
too cute to be taken seriously as a Jeep. Hmmm…have we reached the
level of sophistication that we don’t want out vehicle to look good?
I’m not a subscriber to that theory.
I think that if the Compass happens to offer a fresh
look that attracts more young, active singles or just-married types,
or – careful now – female buyers, that’s not a problem; it’s an asset.
If guys find the attractive looks and smooth lines
beneath their macho standards, then that’s a guy problem. More
self-assured guys will appreciate getting nearly 30 miles per gallon,
having their four-wheel drive come from a front-wheel-drive platform,
and being "forced" to spend about half – under $20,000 for most models
– for a Compass that is comfortable and enjoyable to drive on the
The problem is that the Jeep name is one of the most
recognizable in the world, and it has stood for rugged, uncompromising
off-road vehicles since Willys-Overland first made the "Quad" vehicle
for the U.S. military in 1941 – 65 years ago. Those vehicles became
known as Jeeps after 368,000 of them were used during World War II.
The company, now owned by DaimlerChrysler, continues
to make the Wrangler, which is the traditional successor to the first
Jeeps. A larger and more civilized vehicle called the Cherokee and now
the Grand Cherokee was joined by the Lilberty to give Jeep three
nameplates in recent years.
But by the time the 2007 rollout is complete, Jeep
will be up to seven vehicles.
The new and larger Commander, introduced this year,
and a redesigned Wrangler, are joined by a Wrangler Unlimited –
lengthened and with four doors -- now being joined by the Compass. A
new Patriot will be coming by the end of the year to make it seven.
In reality, the
Patriot may be a more rugged version of the Compass, because Jeep
is aiming at two different brackets – traditional and modern. The
Patriot will go for the traditional Jeep buyer, and the Compass is
aimed modern, at people who may have never considered a Jeep
before, but will find it meets their demands for size, style,
price, fuel-efficiency, and capability.
While fitting in well in performance and capability
with any compact SUV, the Compass also seriously undercuts almost all
of them in price. The base two-wheel-drive model starts at $15,995.
The base 4x4 model starts at $17,585. Moving up to
the fancier models, with an impressive list of features and options,
the Compass Limited starts at $20,140, and the Compass Limited 4x4
starts at $21,740.
The Compass starts out on the same platform, and
with the same drivetrains, as the new Dodge Caliber, which has been
wildly successful since its introduction.
But the Compass has an entirely different look, and
From our preliminary introductory drive, the Compass
can easily handle the casual, or active-lifestyle off-roading
challenges that most people this side of serious rock-crawlers will
At the introduction, we drove from downtown Portland
westward to the Pacific Ocean. We had lunch at Pacific City, where
halibut fish and chips could be enjoyed at a neat restaurant called
the Pelican Pub at Cape Kiwanda, looking out at an awesome off-shore
Haystack Rock is taller than Seattle’s Space Needle,
and is actually a mile offshore, even though it appears to be about
100 yards out.
After that, we headed north, entering a carefully
protected sand-dune area, where we joined a flock of off-road buggies
to challenge some major ridges and hills and terrain that amounts to
mountains of soft, sinkable sand.
It was there that I became very impressed with the
Compass’s CVT2 – continuously variable transmission.
The Compass uses the new, Michigan-built,
corporate 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, originally designed in a
joint venture with Hyundai and Mitsubishi.
Hyundai engineers came up with the most efficient
original design adopted as meeting world-class standards for
technology and power – 172 horsepower and 165 foot-pounds of torque. A
transverse mount allows a shorter hood length and efficiently mounts
on a transaxle to make it Jeep’s first front-wheel-drive vehicle.
The engine, with dual overhead camshafts and
variable valve timing, adapts well to Freedom Drive I, a new 4x4
system that transmits power back to the rear axle, as conditions
demand. It also runs through a base stick shift, or an automatic,
which includes the optional continuously variable transmission.
This CVT2 is ingeniously designed to allow
hand-shifting the AutoStick, which actually squeezes the continuously
shifting belt to put you in a different gear ratio.
That worked well on the highway, where I wanted to
pass a slower vehicle. Knowing a CVT might be tardy in building up
extra torque, I manually downshifted two gears and our Compass
sprinted away on its assigned task. But in those sand dunes, it really
Driving with a specialized instructor in the
passenger seat, we easily climbed some normal sized dunes. Then he
asked me to try to conquer one that he had never even tried. When
scaling the icy slopes of Duluth, I’ve learned that the same instincts
work in off-roading. When you get some momentum, you keep it.
At one point, the Compass wheels were churning and
throwing sand, and I honestly thought we would go no higher.
With a stick, I would have let off for fear of
over-revving the engine, and we’d have been stuck. Instead, I stayed
on the power, sawed the steering wheel back and forth, and, let the
CVT select its own self-adjusting point of adequate power, and we made
it to the top.
The instructor was impressed, and I could only think
how well the Compass would work in January, scaling those steep ice
and snow covered avenues in Duluth. We had an awesome vista of the
Pacific Ocean from atop that dune, then we drove down onto the beach
and actually drove through some shallow surf. No problem.
The Compass interior is contemporary and
ergonomically efficient. You sit higher than the Caliber, which is
less-designed for any off-roading. The Compass roof is 2 inches
higher, and you actually sit 4 inches higher than the seat point in
The Compass also has 8.4 inches of ground clearance,
a 20.6-degree approach angle, 32-degree departure angle, and 21-degree
breakover angle – all better than the Caliber.
There is a switch to lock the four-wheel-drive in
place for serious off-roaders, and traction and stability controls all
contribute to the Compass’s directional balance and control.
From an appearance standpoint, the Compass has a
little reverse pillar at the rear that adds flair, and bulging rear
wheelwells add a serious look, but up front, the "cuteness" also has
the traditional Jeep grilled and forward look, with a clamshell hood
Standard 17-inch wheels are standard, with
18-inchers on the Limited upgrade models.
A fold-down rear seat that also is recline-able, and
spacious footwells, with a sizeable cargo area in the rear, provides a
You can add things like a nine-speaker Boston
Acoustics audio upgrade, with large speakers in the rear doors, and
6x9 inch speakers up front. Leather seating comes standard on the
Jeep is marketing the Compass at younger buyers,
maybe single, and both male and female. The primary aim is
active-lifestyle types, but on a starting income. Average household
income of $60,000, and age targets of 25-35, quite likely buying their
first new vehicle, all fit into the demographics.
Of course, those targets mean nothing if you happen
to be old, experienced, wealthy, or not wealthy, but you simply like
what it will do for a bargain price.
If you wanted the top of the line Compass, loaded
with every option possible, you could probably get it up to $23,000.
But a budget-minded shopper could get a well-appointed 4x4 version for
For that, you get technology, good power, good
mileage, electronic roll mitigation, antilock brakes, and off-road
capabilities that seem surprising because of how impressive the
Compass is on the road and for normal creature-features.
If the Compass also happens to look good, compared
to some of the more rugged-faced Jeeps, well, that’s just something
buyers will have to put up with.
Editor's note: John Gilbert writes weekly auto reviews. He can be
reached at email@example.com.