Exterior Design: *
The Jeep Compass takes all the good hot-hatch looks of the Dodge Caliber and chops them off. The sweet-looking crossbar front-end is gone, replaced by what looks to be leftover front ends from the first-generation Liberty. The rest of it appears far too low to the ground to be of Jeep lineage.
Interior Design: ***
The Compass, like the Caliber, suffers from an overuse of light-duty plastic. Otherwise, the Compass gets good marks for comfort and design of the pump-it-higher seats, which provide a feeling of riding tall in the saddle. The air conditioning vents, fold-flat rear seats, crisp instrument panels and the center console are ergonomically spot-on, which helps compensate for the shortfall in materials.
When you drop the hammer, the Compass actually feels much more substantial than its price would suggest. Use of the 172-hp version of Chrysler's 2.4-liter four-cylinder world engine mitigates some of the power-to-weight issues of the entry Dodge Caliber.
The Compass, like its Caliber cousin, has adequate braking power. Extra star for standard brake assist on all configurations, plus four-wheel ABS.
Since it's a Jeep, expectations are it'll treat passengers like kernels in a popcorn popper. It doesn't. Four stars for that.
Because the Compass has a tight turning radius, emerging from one of them thar Michigan lefts on Woodward Avenue means not spilling off into three or four lanes. Otherwise, it's got a tight, almost tentative feel in the turns.
Although the Compass comes with standard five-speed manual, the tester was equipped with the optional CVT2 continuously variable box. It uses a morass of V pulleys and a steel push belt to keep revs in the engine's most efficient range, and it did so without much ado (or free-revving, as is some CVTs' wont). No jerky upshifts means fewer spilled beverages.
The stereo does have that killer aux in — but we're still bummed about the whole iPod-not-fitting-in-the-armrest thing. (Update: The company folks are checking on it.)
The Compass, like the Caliber, is chock full of toys — from the liftgate speaker system (great for tailgating) to the factory-installed rear-seat video system. Minus one star for not adopting the Caliber's refrigerated glove box.
Even without the liftgate speakers, the rest of the Compass has ample cargo room for transporting a parking-lot or beach bacchanalia, with a diamond-plastic floor that's easily washable if the festivities go south.
The Compass is priced competitively with others in its segment, though more horsepower and AWD make it a better value than most.
Were it not for the Jeep badge, the Compass wouldn't rate the slightest comparison with any vehicle from the Trail-Rated stable. Otherwise, it's a fun, economical wagon with all-wheel-drive for a decent price.
[By Ray Wert]