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Jeep Compass Review: 'This Jeep delivered'

During the Second World War the Jeep was a practical, utilitarian vehicle suited to performing a variety of chores.

According to Calgarian Sherry Johnson, the apple hasn't fallen very far from the tree some 70 years later with the Jeep Compass.

Introduced in 2007 the Compass was Jeep's entry into the crossover utility vehicle segment, and those initial vehicles do bear a superficial resemblance to war-era Jeeps. Up front is where the parentage is most noticeable, as the round headlights were placed to either side, and slightly higher, than the seven-slot grille. If one focuses hard enough, the fender bulges and lower body lines are reminiscent of the first Jeeps.

But Jeep gave the Compass a makeover for 2011, and the freshened vehicle is fitted with a new hood that has a slight power bulge to it, new front fenders and new fascia and headlamps. The grille still features the traditional seven slots common to all Jeeps, but the compact Compass now more closely resembles its larger sibling, the Grand Cherokee.

"The Jeep Compass looked fairly solid, and I would say utilitarian," Johnson said of her first impression. "It looked compact, but not at all boxy."

Jeep offers the Compass in three different models in Canada. There is the base Sport, the North Edition and the Limited.

Each of these models can be equipped with either front wheel drive, full time AWD, or Jeep's Freedom-Drive II full-time, active 4x4 system with low-range capability.

Johnson's tester was a North Edition, complete with the Freedom-Drive II 4x4 system. In this case, the Compass was equipped with the 2.4-litre in-linefour cylinder engine, and a continuously variable transaxle -which is the only mode of power transfer when the Freedom Drive II system is chosen.

According to some reports, the Freedom Drive II 4x4 option does make the Compass off-road capable.

Upon its introduction four years ago the Compass was deemed a pavement-only vehicle.

Johnson was born and raised in Calgary, and learned to drive her dad's Buick Electra. When she turned 16, she bought a 1962 Austin Cambridge, a vehicle equipped with a nonsynchromesh four-speed gearbox. The Cambridge was, Johnson said, her all-time favourite vehicle, and she kept it for 10 years before purchasing a brand new 1981 Honda Accord. Johnson has been loyal to Honda ever since, and currently owns a 1987 Civic with more than 350,000 kilometres on the odometer.

Though she is an outdoors enthusiast, Johnson has shied away from SUV or CUV vehicles.

Her time in the Jeep Compass might have changed her attitude, however.

"The Jeep turned my head a little bit, and not necessarily away from Honda, but to a different vehicle with a different purpose," Johnson said. "I like to snowshoe, ski and hike, and the Jeep also made me realize I'd love to go on a longer road trip."

Johnson has a science degree with a major in zoology. She has her pilot's licence and holds a Class 2 driver's licence with air brake endorsement.

She's a professional driver and though she spends a tremendous amount of time behind the wheel of a vehicle, when it comes to her own car, she likes it to be simple. For example, the Compass featured manually adjustable seats. "I was totally content with that," Johnson said.

At five-foot-one, Johnson found the Compass a little difficult to enter and exit, but she got used to the chore as the week went on.

The driver's seat, Johnson said, was a comfortable place to be -not quite luxury, but not a park bench, either. She usually sits with a cushion at her back, but didn't find that was necessary in the Compass.

Interior fit and finish was given high marks, and she noted the materials looked like they would wear well.

Johnson noted the heating controls were simple, and the stereo system delivered exceptional sound.

"That music system was essential for me. I could live without the Bluetooth, but my music is important," Johnson said.

Of the power produced by the 2.4-litre engine, Johnson said it was enough for her, and found it was easy to find the needle creeping up on the speedometer. When driving on the highway, she set the cruise control to maintain the posted limit.

Engine noise did not invade the cabin and Johnson found it easy to maintain a conversation with a friend or listen to her tunes.

"It was a nice, quiet ride and the Jeep handled the corners very well," Johnson said. "I have a healthy respect for gravel roads, and the Compass also handled gravel very well."

Johnson doesn't like to ride the brakes, especially going downhill.

To see how the Compass would handle that scenario, she tested the vehicle going west down the Cochrane hill.

"It performed flawlessly, the engine braking held the Jeep back," she said.

The continuously variable transaxle also found favour, as Johnson said the Compass never whined or complained, and never felt like it was labouring at any point during her test.

Johnson reported the Jeep had a very tight turning radius, and that she could make a U-turn on a side street if she had to. Testing the Jeep's utility like no other People's Test Driver before, Johnson folded the seats flat and rolled out her sleeping bag for an evening. She slept overnight in the Jeep, and said it was comfortable.

She also loaded the Compass with boxes, and was able to fit her bicycle in the back.

She drove the Jeep about 600 kilometres, with half of her time in the city and the other half on the highway, and said she managed an average of 9.7-L/100 km. Canada's enerGuide claims 9.9-L/100 km in the city and 7.5-L/100 km highway when equipped with the 2.4-L engine and continuously variable transmission.

"I swore I'd never buy an SUV, but this Jeep delivered," Johnson said. "After the test, I would consider it. And if somebody is looking for a smaller SUV, I would definitely check out the Jeep Compass."

- Engine/transmission: 2.4-litre DOHC I-4/w continuously variable transaxle w/AutoStick and 4x4

- Horsepower: 172 @ 6,000 r.p.m.

- Torque: 165 lb.-ft. @ 4,400 r.p.m.

- Wheelbase: 2,635 mm

- Overall length: 4,404 mm

- Price base/as tested: $21,195/$29,365 (includes $3,300 preferred package, $1,400 continuously variable transaxle, $1,400 destination charge)

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