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2009 Jeep Compass Sport 4x4 Review

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2009 Jeep Compass

2009 Jeep Compass Sport 4x4

The Compass pointed to a new direction for Jeep when it debuted two years ago. And yes, the pun is an irresistible groaner, but it's also true. The Compass was and is the first Jeep crossover, and the first Jeep not to be meant for serious off-road use. Contrast it with Jeep's other entry-level vehicle, the venerable Wrangler, and there is a world of difference.

A Luddite's dream, the Wrangler continues to be built in the manner of its ancestors, with body-on-frame construction, solid axles, removable doors, and a fold-down windshield. It's still the best new turn-key four-wheeled off-road vehicle readily available. Which means that it makes sacrifices for its off-road prowess. Using a Wrangler as a daily driver anywhere where "road" is more than a vague suggestion on a map demands a certain amount of sacrifice of comfort. There will always be a niche for the Wrangler, but it definitely doesn't fit into what is one of the most popular current car market segments, urban-oriented compact crossover. For that, enter the Compass.

"Crossover" means car comfort with SUV styling, and on that, the Compass delivers. It shares chassis and drivetrain with the Dodge Caliber, which means unibody construction, fully-independent suspension, front- or single-range active four-wheel drive. Unlike most 4WD crossovers, the Compass's "Freedom Drive I"(tm) system has a lockable center coupling, which allows it to better handle low-traction situations such as deep snow, sand, or mud.

There are two trim levels, Sport and Limited. As is the Jeep convention, "Limited" denotes top-of-the-line specification, although various option packages enable a Sport to nearly meet a Limited there, or for the Limited to be even fancier. Power is from parent Chrysler's 172-horsepower 2.4-liter "World Engine", matched to either a five-speed manual or continuously-variable (CVT) transmission, although the front-drive Sport may be had with a smaller, 2.0-liter, 158-hp version of the World Engine, matched to the CVT for improved fuel economy. A variety of improvements are new to all models this year, including an upgraded interior, improved soundproofing, and revised suspension tuning.

I've spent the past week with a well-equipped Compass Sport in 4WD trim. With the comprehensive "Special Group E" option package, it was nearly to Limited specification, lacking only the Limited's standard bright interior and exterior trim, leather seating, navigation system, and upgraded "uconnect" audio package with built-in 30gb hard drive. It was a pleasantly comfortable vehicle, conveniently small outside but roomy within, and the split reclining and folding rear seat and fold-flat front passenger seatback gave it great interior versatility. 4WD adds excellent disc brakes, and the improved soundproofing and suspension retuning add refinement. Power is more than merely adequate, and if the Compass would be out of its league on the Rubicon Trail, that's no concern to the city and suburban crossover buyer. The Compass is perfect for its natural habitat.

APPEARANCE: No doubt as to the Compass's manufacturer. With the signature seven-vertical-slot grille, round (ok, oval) headlights, and trapezoidal wheel arches in athletic but not muscle-bound flared fenders, it could only be a Jeep, and bears a more-than-passing resemblance to the first-generation Liberty. It does -- appropriately -- have a more car-like, or crossover-like, look, with a sloping, curved windshield (flat, fold-down not spoken here...) arched roofline (with built-in luggage rack, of course), triangular D-pillars, and decidedly un-boxy proportions and profile. The strong shoulder line and distinct fender flares give it a muscular look, and huge taillights give it presence from the rear.

COMFORT: Compact urban crossover buyers want space, comfort, convenience, and versatility, and the Compass will not disappoint on those parameters. Its high roofline adds interior space, and allows excellent headroom and a high and high-eyepoint seating position for both comfort and good visibility. In the Sport, upholstery is cloth and windows are manual in standard trim, although air conditioning, a rear window defroster, 60/40 split folding rear seat, and AM/FM/single CD/minijack audio are standard. The "E" package adds stain-repellant cloth upholstery, driver's seat cushion adjustment, power windows and mirrors, speed-sensitive power door locks and remote keyless entry, cruise control, a 115 VAC power outlet on the console, rear seatback recline adjustment, a fold-flat (forward, for cargo) front passenger seat, map lights, and a few more small items. At over $2,000 it isn't inexpensive, but it does add convenience and usefulness. The interior is cozy (in a good way) and practical. Seat comfort is good, with that E-package height adjustability (manual, like all other adjustments) a plus. The new instrument panel keeps glare from the instruments, and the closer position of the center stack makes control of the audio or climate systems easy for either front passenger. An open tray, with textured rubber floor, above the glovebox is a handy place for small items, including audio players as it's close to the auxiliary jack. Vents are now simple round, manual items, easy to open, close, and position. The rear seat has very good room for two, but a high central tunnel makes the center position a short-term proposition -- as in just about any small vehicle. Luggage space behind the rear seat is good, with a space-saver spare under the floor. The ability to fold either part of the rear seatback, and (E, again...) the front flat means that a Compass can hold more than you might believe.

SAFETY: All Compass buyers get standard side-curtain airbags to complement the multi-stage front bags, although seat-mounted side airbags are optional. The unibody structure features a central safety cage and front and rear crumple zones for further protection in case of an accident. Antilock brakes with Brake Assist, traction control, and the Electronic Stability Program with the Electronic Roll Mitigation extension are also standard safety equipment in all Compasses. Standard brakes in 4x2 models are disc/drum, while 4x4s get four-wheel discs.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The Compass is a city slicker with no pretension to being a backwoods roughneck. Need a small Jeep to ford streams, climb rocks, and get through deep mud or snow? Get a Wrangler or Wrangler Unlimited. Need a small Jeep to ford the puddle in your driveway, climb the ramp to the mall parking lot, or get to the local ski slopes via paved, if slick, roads? Those are jobs for which the Compass is suited. Its fully-independent MacPherson strut/multilink suspension is tuned for comfort but has good damping. With 8.1 to 8.4 inches of ground clearance depending on the wheels and tires fitted, a Compass should be a fine vehicle for camping trips come summertime, and with a little ingenuity and all those fold-flat seats you could even sleep inside in comfort.

PERFORMANCE: With 172 horsepower (at 6000 rpm) and 165 lb-ft of torque (at 4400 rpm), the Compass's 2.4-liter twincam alloy four-cylinder engine is well-suited for its job. Its long stroke, relatively large displacement, and variable valve timing on both camshafts widen the torque band, for good low- and mid-range acceleration. The optional CVT is more efficient than a regular torque-converter automatic, and "AutoStick"(tm) manual shifting (by software simulation of six ratios) is possible but necessary only for traversing dubious surfaces - Jeep territory. The "Freedom Drive I" single-range four-wheel drive system uses electronic sensors and an electronically-controlled coupling to transfer torque to the rear wheels as needed, and works in concert with the ABS and ESP systems. It is transparent in operation, although it can be locked in four-wheel drive mode for winter conditions.

CONCLUSIONS: The Compass is a Jeep for the wilds of suburbia.

SPECIFICATIONS 2009 Jeep Compass Sport 4x4

Base Price			$ 19,465
Price As Tested			$ 24,565
Engine Type			dual overhead cam aluminum alloy
				 16-valve inline 4-cylinder with dual
				 balance shafts and variable valve
				 timing on both camshafts
Engine Size			2.4 liters / 144 cu. in.
Horsepower			172 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			165 @ 4400 rpm
Transmission			continuously variable (CVT) (opt)
Wheelbase / Length		103.7 in. / 173.4 in.
Curb Weight			3300 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		19.2
Fuel Capacity			13.5 gal.
Fuel Requirement		87 octane unleaded regular gasoline
Tires				P215/60R17 95T Firestone Affinity
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS and ESP standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent Macpherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground Clearance		8.1 inches
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 single-range four-wheel drive (opt)

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		21 / 24 / 22
0 to 60 mph				est. 11  sec
Towing Capacity			1000 lbs. or 2000 lbs with towing package

Customer Preferred Package 26E - includes:
  height-adjustable driver's seat, passenger-assist
  handles, stain-repellent premium cloth bucket
  seats, deep tint sunscreen glass, power fold-away
  mirrors, power windows with driver's one-touch
  down, speed-sensitive power locks, remote
  keyless entry, illuminated entry, cruise control,
  rear 60//40 reclining and folding seatbacks,
  fold-flat front passenger seat back, 115VAC
  auxiliary power outlet, interior removable/
  rechargeable flashlight, reading lamps, premium
  front and rear floor mats				$ 2,125
Sun and Sound Group - includes:
  Sirius satellite radio, power glass
  sunroof, 9 Boston Acoustics speakers with 
  subwoofer, 2 articulating liftgate speakers, 
  steering wheel-mounted auxiliary audio controls,
  leather-wrapped steering wheel			$ 1,295
Continuously-Variable Transaxle II with Autostick	$ 1,100
Destination charge					$    580

MORE: Jeep Specs and Comparisons-Jeep Buyers Guide