2009 Jeep Compass
2009 Jeep Compass; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

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2009 Jeep Compass AWD Limited

By Paul Williams

The popular Jeep Compass is one of three “flavours” of vehicles from Chrysler that use the same platform. The other two are the Dodge Caliber and the Jeep Patriot. The difference between them, fundamentally, is the styling.

The Compass is arguably the “cutest” of the three, and with a starting price of $17,245, it’s a substantial and well-equipped vehicle for the price.

Our test vehicle is built and dressed for winter. It’s a $26,045 AWD Limited version (base price is $24,645 plus $1,400 for the automatic transmission) with “Freedom 1” all-wheel drive and 18-inch Michelin X-Ice winter tires. It’s wearing Sunburst Orange Pearlcoat, which doesn’t help with winter driving, but does look nice against the snow!

Extras in the Compass Limited include leather-faced seating, heatable front seats, a sunroof, a driver information display, Sirius satellite radio, auto-dimming interior mirror, 18-inch aluminum wheels, tire pressure monitoring system, garage door opener and leather-wrapped steering wheel.

Motive power is a 2.4L four-cylinder engine that makes 172 horsepower at 6,000 rpm, and 165 lb.ft torque at 4,000 rpm. The transmission is continuously variable (CVT), although there is a “manual” option that simulates shifting through the gears.

2009 Jeep Compass
2009 Jeep Compass; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

The Limited safety features include Electronic Stability Control, Traction Control, Electronic Roll Mitigation, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock and brake assist, and side-curtain airbags.

We continue to experience a stereotypical Canadian winter as our “Bring it on!” series progresses, which means there is no shortage of difficult driving conditions and extreme weather. So far, the AWD Compass is taking things in stride.

The huge benefit with AWD in slippery conditions and deep snow is in starting from a standstill. Where front-or-rear wheel drive vehicles sometimes step sideways (or move reluctantly or not at all) when the road is slick, the AWD vehicle generally provides good, straight ahead traction, and get you out of deep snow (an unplowed driveway, for instance) where a standard vehicle may get stuck. The Compass AWD has succeeded in both the above tasks.

However, the Compass isn’t a handling machine like our recently tested Acura RDX. The ride is fairly soft, there’s lean in the corners, and throttle response is somewhat mitigated by the CVT gearbox which, in the interest of fuel economy, always seemingly provides the minimum torque required for the task. Nonetheless, it will get up and go if you keep your foot down.

2009 Jeep Compass
2009 Jeep Compass; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

But what of the basics? The windshield wiper/washer system is very good. Its old-style, metal-framed wipers do a much better job than the new, one-piece plastic types now standard equipment on several vehicles. The washers are not prone to blockage by snow and ice, and direct two wide jets of fluid that that completely clean the windshield.

The rear wash/wipe system is also good. The fluid hits the glass in just the right spot for the wiper, which effectively removes grime on the back window. The wiper is also big enough that it clears a large part of the rear window.

The heating/ventilation system takes a while to warm up. When it does, believe me, you’ll have no shortage of heat in the cabin which can be effectively directed where you want it. The “high” setting of the driver’s seat warmer is perhaps too high once it gets going. Maybe it should be called “fast start.” The driver can then turn it to “low” for comfort.

Headlamps are effective at night, but they are easily covered with grime which compromises illumination. There are no headlamp washers.

2009 Jeep Compass
2009 Jeep Compass; photo by Paul Williams. Click image to enlarge

So far, starting and stopping in slippery conditions has not challenged this Compass. But cornering — I think because of its high centre-of-gravity and soft suspension — requires care. Slow and steady is the best approach to a long, slippery curve in the road.

Not winter related, but useful to know, is that the rear-seats fold flat, as does the front-passenger seat, which produces a cavernous cargo area in the Compass.

Fuel consumption is nudging 13L/100 km in the city. This is much more than “official” expectations of 9.2 L/100 km, so I’m keeping my eye on this. Fortunately, regular grade fuel is specified.

Next week, more driving impressions, and a detailed discussion of the Compass drivetrain.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse LT

By Grant Yoxon

2009 Chevrolet Traverse
2009 Chevrolet Traverse; photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

The Chevrolet Traverse is an all new offering from General Motors for 2009. It is a large crossover utility vehicle (CUV) that gives owners both the people-hauling and cargo-carrying capability typically found in larger SUVs.

At first glance, the Traverse appears to be more car-like than an SUV. It has a lower stance than one would associate with a truck-based SUV such as the Chevrolet Tahoe, one of the biggest SUVs on the road. But while it is 185 mm (7.3 in.) lower than the Tahoe, it is actually 76 mm (3 in.) longer.

The only passenger vehicle (not a pickup) that GM sells that is longer than the Traverse is the Chevrolet Suburban.

But unlike the Tahoe and Suburban, which are powered by a range of thirsty V8 engines, the Traverse uses a 3.6-litre V6. The V6 feels a bit overwhelmed by the 2,234 kilograms (4,925 lbs) that it has to move around, but with 281 horsepower and 266 lb-ft of torque, it is sufficient to get the job done. And if necessary it will move quickly enough when the right foot is pressed firmly on the accelerator.

Of course, the benefit of the V6 in a large vehicle like the Traverse is fuel economy. There is no doubt that the Traverse, rated at 13.1 L/100 km (22 mpg) in the city and 8.8 L/100 km (32 mpg) on the highway, will get better fuel economy than the Tahoe or Suburban, but you have to ask yourself before buying if you really need a vehicle as big as this to meet your daily driving needs.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse
2009 Chevrolet Traverse; photo by Bob McHugh. Click image to enlarge

Some people do. With seven and eight passenger configurations and still plenty of room for luggage and groceries, the Traverse may be just right for a large family. And with a maximum towing capacity of 2,359 kg (5,200 lbs.), the Traverse will have no problem hauling a pair of skidoos or the family trailer.

But be warned: the best we could manage on the 401 highway in Ontario, travelling at a constant speed of 115 km/h was 11.1 L/100 km. And on a cross-town drive in light mid-day Toronto traffic from King and Yonge to Yorkdale Shopping Centre, the Traverse’s trip metre showed 25 L/100 km. Yikes!

The Traverse is happier on the highway than being manoeuvred around a mall parking lot. With its solid weight and well-planted feel it is exceedingly comfortable to drive on the highway. But considering its width and length, a parking spot further away from the mall entrance will be appealing.

Our Traverse LT tester came equipped with all the winter necessities – all wheel drive, StabiliTrak electronic stability control system with enhanced rollover protection (more on that next week), traction control, anti-lock disc brakes and Toyo Observe G-02 plus winter tires.

It’s been cold the last couple of weeks in Ontario with relatively little snow, so we haven’t been able to give the Traverse the kind of foul weather test that we would like to. But with temperatures hitting -30 at times, we have tested the Traverse’s heating system, windshield wipers, washers and other stuff that keep the cold out and the comfort in.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse
2009 Chevrolet Traverse; photo by Bob McHugh. Click image to enlarge

The Traverse LT (2LT in GM-speak) comes well-equipped for $44,860. Standard features include seven-passenger seating with cloth bucket seats in the front and second rows, eight-way power driver’s seat and two-way power passenger seat. The third row is a 60/40 split bench. Tri-zone automatic climate control, tilt and telescopic steering, ultrasonic rear parking assist, rearview camera, power windows and locks and keyless entry, cruise control, power rear hatch, Bluetooth connectivity for your phone, driver information centre with oil life monitor and tire pressure monitor, and Bose 10-speaker audio system with XM satellite radio and steering wheel and rear seat controls, are all standard equipment on the 2LT. Optional equipment for out tester included a sunroof, DVD entertainment and navigation systems and heavy duty trailer-towing package, which brought the as tested price to $52,260 before taxes and destination ($1,300) charges.

With respect to cold weather driving, we had a number of concerns. Tri-zone climate control should take all the fiddling out of keeping the cabin warm and putting air where it is needed. However, on the coldest days, the windshield tended to fog up from left to right, making it necessary to run the system on defrost to keep the windshield clear. This would result in too much heat up top and not enough below, while switching to auto would put too much down at the floor and not enough up top. Keeping the system on defrost and floor seemed to work best, but after a while the cabin would become too warm.

The climate controls are typical of many GM models, and personally, I find these controls too small to operate with gloves and too low on the console to be operated without taking my eyes off the road.

2009 Chevrolet Traverse
2009 Chevrolet Traverse; photo by Grant Yoxon. Click image to enlarge

Similarly, the rear window wiper and washer are operated by a switch mounted even lower on the console. The Traverse pulls up a lot of dirt onto the rear window and hatch and reaching for the washer – located next to the traction control off switch – is frequent.

The quick build up of dirt also renders the rearview camera inoperable. Of course it is not possible to clean the camera lens as frequently as the rear window.

The Traverse uses the newer one-piece rubber wipers and quite frankly, they don’t do a very good job. They tend to smear rather than clean and leave the window with salt streaks. The passenger side is worse than the driver side meaning an adjustment is probably required.

Cold weather can lead to big changes in tire pressure and it is not uncommon for the tire pressure monitoring system to indicate a problem on many vehicles equipped with TPMS. GM’s system will tell you which tire is low and the driver information centre will display the tire pressure in each tire allowing you to determine if you have a tire going flat or simply a cold-related difference. I observed differences of more than 30 kilopascals for an individual tire depending on the outside temperature and the length of driving time. But the difference between tires was never more than eight kilopascals.

Next week we’ll talk about safety features including GM’s StabiliTrak electronic stability control and the Traverse’s all-wheel drive system. In the meantime we’ll hope for a big snow.

2009 Toyota Matrix AWD

By Chris Chase

2009 Toyota Matrix AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix AWD; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

At first glance, the Toyota Matrix isn’t a car you’d expect to offer all-wheel drive; very few compact hatchbacks do. But wait – Toyota insists that, despite its Corolla-based underpinnings, the Matrix is actually a “sport crossover,” and a crossover, sporty or not, is commonly defined by a car-based platform and available all-wheel drive system.

That means the Matrix competes with not only other popular compact hatches like the Mazda3 and Volkswagen Rabbit (to name just two of many), but also small crossovers (albeit, more outwardly truck-like ones) like the Jeep Compass (and Patriot) and the Kia Sportage, two of the other vehicles featured in this winter driving series.

As far as direct competitors go, though, a Matrix AWD like the one Toyota sent us has just two: the all-wheel drive-equipped version of the Suzuki SX4, and the Subaru Impreza hatchback. Dodge did offer an all-wheel drive version of its quirky Caliber, but that model has been discontinued for 2009.

The Matrix AWD, in its base form, comes dressed up like the entry-level front-drive model, but adds standard air conditioning and keyless entry. As well, it comes fitted with the 2.4-litre engine that powers XR and XRS models; the standard and only transmission offering is a four-speed automatic (XR and XRS models get a five-speed auto as an option to their manual transmissions).

2009 Toyota Matrix AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix AWD; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

My tester came with both the top-end XR Sport option package. This adds stability and traction control, 17-inch alloy wheels, cruise control, a rear lip spoiler, two extra stereo speakers (for six total) and a leather-wrapped steering wheel with audio controls (all part of a lesser XR AWD package). Then, there’s an in-dash six-CD changer, power tilt/slide moonroof, front chin spoiler, chrome exhaust tip, front door sill plates, a rear bumper skirt, auto-dimming rear view mirror with compass and fog lamps.

All in, a Matrix like the one you see here is worth $28,570, including freight – a not-small amount of money for a small car. A Subaru Impreza 2.5i Sport with automatic transmission, which comes with many of the same niceties as our Matrix, rings in at $28,190 with freight, while a Suzuki SX4 hatch with all-wheel drive and automatic transmission costs $25,690 with freight. Stability control is standard in the Impreza and is part of the SX4’s top-end JLX trim.

The Matrix’s engine makes 158 horsepower and 162 lb-ft of torque, healthy numbers for a small car. The four-speed transmission is a little old-fashioned compared to the five speed units offered in other Matrix models, and the six-speed autos that are becoming commonplace elsewhere in the industry. That said, the four-cogger is smooth and quick to downshift for sprightly acceleration.

Toyota’s Active Torque Control all-wheel drive system does the dirty work of getting power to the ground in slippery conditions. The transfer case is the same one used in the larger RAV4. The system operates in front-wheel drive until the fronts slip; then, up to 55 per cent of the engine’s torque can be sent rearward. While the set-up is essentially the same as that used in the first-generation Matrix, Toyota updated the system for the new car to make it faster to react to changing road surface conditions. What the Matrix misses out on is the centre differential lock that the RAV4 gets.

2009 Toyota Matrix AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix AWD
2009 Toyota Matrix AWD; photo by Chris Chase. Click image to enlarge

That all-wheel drive system, coupled with this car’s traction and stability control programs and a set of performance-biased winter tires sounds like a formula for snow-bound fun. Initial impressions indicate that this is a pretty tidy little winter package: the all-wheel drive system does indeed work quickly when faced with slick surfaces, making navigating snowy city streets much easier than it would be without the all-wheel drive working in your favour.

Another plus that I noticed early on was that the engine warms up very quickly. Even on a couple of minus mid-20 degree mornings, the temperature gauge began creeping upward after just three or four minutes of driving, and there’s useful heat to be had from the vents not long after that. One knock against the Matrix, though, is the lack of heated seats, even in this fully-optioned version; many less-expensive compacts offer bum warmers, and the Impreza and SX4 mentioned earlier have them, too. Heated seats are a frill, but their absence is conspicuous when the weather gets as frigid as it was when I first picked up this car.

The Matrix AWD’s interior is the same as you’ll find in other models. The climate controls are big, chunky dials that are easily used with gloved hands. The radio controls are less glove-friendly, but still straightforward. The auxiliary input jack is standard (as it should be), and the stereo comes pre-wired for satellite radio (only the Matrix XRS comes with ready-to-use satellite, though).

Small-item storage compartments are scattered throughout the front part of the cabin, and the glovebox is large. The 115-volt power outlet is a nifty touch, and is paired with the more common 12-volt cigarette lighter power point.

Stay tuned for more impressions on the Matrix AWD.

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