First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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by Paul Williams

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Portland, Oregon. At the Jeep Compass launch in rugged Oregon, Jeep’s Jack Dolan had already explained that the Compass, while not the trail-rated rock crawler of Rubicon fame, was not a total poseur (well, he didn’t exactly put it that way, but you get the idea).

“It’ll handle city streets and two-lane trails,” he said, “and it has the ground clearance, approach, breakover and departure angles to manage some tough stuff when it needs to.”

But there’s no doubt that this Jeep, built on the Dodge Caliber base front-drive platform with a compliant fully independent suspension that gives a very smooth ride on the highway, is something of a Jeep-lite, when it comes to genuine off-road credibility.

So it was with some surprise that Quebec colleague Marc Bouchard and I found ourselves in four-wheel drive “Limited” version of the Compass, ascending a steep, rather treacherous mountain trail, peering down at an ever-disappearing canyon floor below. Especially as we were on fancy optional rims with performance tires.

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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“They must want us to see that this vehicle can handle difficult terrain after all,” said Marc, as he pulled a lever that locked the front and rear axles into 4WD mode to reduce wheel slip.

“Or we made a wrong turn,” I said, puzzling over the map.

Up we went, lurching and bouncing on the rain-soaked trail, waiting for the magic 13.5 miles to appear on the odometer at our next turn, confirming that we were indeed on the right route. The 2.4-litre, transverse-mounted inline four-cylinder “World” engine (it’s a joint venture between DaimlerChrysler, Hyundai and Mitsubishi) willingly cranked out what was required of its maximum 172-horsepower and 165 lb-ft of torque as we climbed ever higher.

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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“W’oh, that was a deep one,” said Marc, as we forged through yet another channel caused by the rainwater spilling down the side of the mountain, occasionally carving up our plucky trail.

Thirteen-point-five miles came and went, and as the sky darkened due to the low cloud that we were now entering, our track became suspiciously narrow. Yes, we’d made the typical auto-journalist ride-and-drive mistake of talking rather than carefully following directions on the drive route. So now we were stuck on top of a mountain in the pouring rain with several thousand feet of free-fall on one side, and sheer rock on the other.

Sheepish grin time. Or mountain goats, more like.

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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Carefully, we turned the Compass around, selected the equivalent of first gear from the six simulated gears available in the continuously variable transmission’s manual mode, and began our descent. Ultimately, our off-route excursion ate up five miles, and seriously, is not suggested as an everyday activity for the Compass. But then again, it was none the worse for wear, we didn’t slide off the mountain, and we weren’t even last to arrive at our Tillamook lunch stop, next to the crashing waves of the beach there.

So no harm done, except for a tree branch that got stuck in the wheel well, making a rather alarming sound until we yanked it out. An easy fix.

At a starting price of just $17,995 for the front-wheel drive Compass Sport, this is a Jeep designed for people who like the heritage and image of the brand, and don’t really intend to habitually (or ever) clamber over fallen tree trunks or jagged rocks.

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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For the low base price, you get a chunky looking SUV-type vehicle – Jeep simply refers to it as a compact SUV, although Calibers are regularly described as cars — with Jeep’s signature seven-slat grille and round headlights, along with the characteristic trapezoidal Jeep wheel arches. It’s on an elevated platform with big 17″ aluminum wheels, and you get standard anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, traction control, roll mitigation control, side curtain airbags, fog lamps and CD player with MP3 input jack. No air conditioning, though, or cruise control.

An extra $2,000 adds Freedom Drive 1, the new four-wheel drive system that sends torque mostly to the front wheels in normal driving, but transfers it to the rear via a two stage clutch when conditions warrant, to a maximum of 40/60 front/rear.

And as mentioned above, you can also lock the centre coupling, which will split power 50/50 front-to-rear, and you can disengage the stability control system. This may provide an extra level of traction at slow speeds in snow, sand, or on those occasions when you inadvertently find yourself climbing a slippery mountain trail.

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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According to Jeep, unlike other on-demand four-wheel-drive systems, the
new system requires no front-to-rear slippage for activation. Instead, sensors detect imminent loss of traction and correspondingly transfer
power to the rear wheels.

Starting at $20,255 ($22,255 with 4WD) a Canada-only Compass North package adds driver’s seat height adjustment, reclining rear seats, air conditioning, power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a 115-volt outlet, removable/rechargeable flashlight and tinted windows.

The Compass Limited, at $22,355/$24,355, FWD/4WD, adds, among other items, leather faced seating, heated front seats, cruise control, steering wheel mounted audio controls, performance tuned steering and 18″ aluminum wheels (you can pimp your Jeep with optional 18″ chrome rims if you’re so inclined).

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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Fortunately for consumers, fuel economy is a big factor in the Jeep Compass’ design and engineering, according to Jeep engineers. The “fast” windshield, rear spoiler and smooth underbody panels contribute to a lower coefficient of drag, and help in this regard. Along with the dual variable valve-timing engine, the CVT gearbox is specifically used because of its effect on fuel efficiency, although note that the standard, five-speed manual transmission returns returns better fuel numbers than the CVT. The 4WD Compass, a comparative car heavyweight at 1,520 kg, delivers 10.2/9.0-l/100km city/highway with CVT, and 9.4/8.1-l/100km city/highway from the manual.

On the road the Compass is quiet on most surfaces (some of the highways in Oregon use coarse aggregate, which is not conducive to a quiet ride), and benefits from

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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increased insulation material and suspension modifications compared with the early Dodge Calibers. The seats are comfortable and the rear seat passengers benefit from excellent knee-room and lots of space for your feet below the front seats. There are lots of compartments to store things like cell phones, wallets, purses and other sundry items. Once underway, highway speeds are quickly reached and the second generation CVT gearbox produces less drone than earlier versions (it’s still not as quiet as a conventional automatic transmission under acceleration, though).

Interior headroom is very good, as is cargo capacity, but the rear liftgate opening seems small compared with the available space within. Likely you could fit some fairly big items in there with the seats folded down, if only you could get them through the rear door. It does have a ledge back there, however, to rest things on while loading them.

Too bad there are no hooks in the cargo area to hang bags on, though, (although there are tie-downs) and there are no pockets behind the front seats for magazines, books and the like. While the steering column tilts, it doesn’t telescope, and the seat height adjustment is only available as part of a package. Likewise, items like
air conditioning, heated seats and cruise control must be ordered as part of a trim level or separately. These seem like things that you’d expect as standard equipment, although it’s good that you can at least get them separately.

First Drive: 2007 Jeep Compass jeep first drives
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The interior of the Compass seems a bit claustrophobic to me. This is a feature of the new DaimlerChrysler car designs, and now it’s moved to Jeep. The short
windows and small windshield create a close — rather than airy — interior, especially without the sunroof or height adjustable driver’s seat (on the other hand, some might say it makes them feel secure). And for some reason, if you order the audio system with six-CD changer, there’s no MP3 jack. Seems odd.

Finally….what? No standard compass in the Compass? You’d think.

But all in all, a well-equipped addition to the Jeep family. Just don’t get seduced too much by the low introductory price (it’s the least expensive Jeep available), because it adds up when you start selecting those desirable extra items. Before you know it you’re in Suzuki Grand Vitara territory/Hyundai Tuscon territory, with a V6 and more interior volume.

That being said, if you’re stuck on a mountaintop on a rainy day with the light fading fast, there is something comforting about being in a Jeep. Even a “lite” one.


At a glance

  • Type: Compact SUV/wagon

  • Price: $17,995-$24,355
  • Available: July, 2006
  • Built: Belvedere, Illinois


Manufacturer’s web site

DaimlerChrysler Canada

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