2008 Jeep Compass – Click above for high-res image gallery
We weren't really sure what direction Jeep was heading when it introduced the Compass in 2007. Built on a shared platform with the Dodge Caliber, the Compass goes against what we normally think a Jeep should be – rugged, tough, capable, and... well... square. The departure from classic Jeep styling hasn't received rave reviews, and the interior has been a source of complaints, as well. Does the Compass deserve the criticism it's been receiving? We aimed to find out and secured a 2008 4x2 Sport model for the Autoblog Garage.
All photos Copyright ©2008 Drew Phillips / Weblogs, Inc.
We weren't sure what color our Compass would be, but we sure weren't expecting Sunburst Orange Pearl. The color is new for 2008, and while we don't think it'll be checked off very often on options list, it did start to grow on us after a few days. Other upgrades for the 2008 model year include chromed lock knobs, interior door handles, and radio knobs, as well as a tire pressure monitoring system, available navigation system on the Limited model, and the AutoStick feature now comes with the CVT2 transmission. Our particular Compass was optioned with the Group "E" package ($2,115) that adds premium cloth bucket seats, remote keyless entry, carpeted floor mats, illuminated entry, and more. The Security and Convenience package, CVTII transmission, and all terrain tires brought the total MSRP to $22,265.
With the exception of the Wrangler, the Jeeps we've driven in the past have all had solid road manners. The Compass is no exception and provides a smooth and quiet ride befitting a more expensive vehicle. Even the all terrain tires were fairly inaudible and the cockpit remained conversation-friendly at freeway speeds. The Caliber underpinnings ensure car-like handling, and it does so surprisingly well with responsive, direct steering. An argument for a car-based Jeep? Perhaps.
We had heard rumors of the lackluster interior quality in the Compass, and perhaps it was our low expectations that had us thinking it wasn't really that bad. Granted, the plastics that cover the dash and door panels are rock hard and unpleasant to the touch, but the construction and build quality seemed fairly solid. Those truly concerned with any quality issues will be glad to know that Jeep is offering a refreshed interior for the 2009 model year. We did like the dash layout, which is simple and well organized, and we loved the storage compartment on the dash in front of the passenger seat. We also found the cloth seats to be extremely comfortable and supportive. Oh man, are we starting to like this thing?
Powering the Compass is the 2.4-liter 16-valve inline four-cylinder World Engine rated at 172 hp and 166 lb-ft of torque. The motor feels fairly zippy and more than sufficient around town, but definitely struggles at higher speeds on the freeway. The Compass felt like an asthmatic kid who needed a few puffs of an inhaler, and passing cars required pegging the throttle for far longer than we would like. Part of the problem is the continuously variable CVTII transmission that is slow to bring up the revs and quick to drop the RPMs at the slightest hint of throttle letup. We were actually glad to have the AutoStick function, and ended up using it whenever we needed to keep the revs high. The good news is that the Compass gets decent gas mileage. The CVT-equipped model is rated at 21 city and 25 highway, and we averaged nearly 24 mpg overall. A more modern engine, some aerodynamic tweaks and a transmission optimized for fuel efficiency could push that number even higher.
Those who are budget minded might forgive the sub-par interior and mediocre powertrain because of the attractive price tag, but we're guessing it's the exterior of the Compass that will cause most potential buyers to shy away. Jeep calls the styling "sleek and sophisticated" that epitomizes modern Jeep design, but we found it to be mostly awkward and confused. That's not to say Jeep can't produce an attractive modern design – we love the Renegade Concept – but the Compass suffers from a combination of awkward angles and curves. Both the front and rear view don't look bad, but it's the transition between the two that makes it unattractive. We don't think Jeep should give up on modern styling quite yet, but for now we prefer the more classic design of the Patriot.
We still enjoyed our time in the Compass more than the nay sayers had us believing we would. Its smooth ride and decent handling make a compelling argument for a car-based Jeep, as does its excellent fuel economy. While we think the "modern styling" can use some work, we see the Compass as a vehicle with lots of potential, some of which is realized in the Patriot. But if Jeep tweaked the "modern styling", added a little extra power and vastly improved the interior quality, it would have an excellent small CUV on its hands. Unfortunately, those are some IFs big enough to drive a Jeep through.