published Saturday, October 20th, 2012

Test Drive: Jeep Compass is pointed in the right direction

Our 2012 Jeep Compass test car from Moss Motor Co. combines good ergonomics with good economics.
Staff photo by Mark Kennedy
Our 2012 Jeep Compass test car from Moss Motor Co. combines good ergonomics with good economics. Staff photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: Jeep Compass 4X2.

Exterior color: Mineral Gray Metallic.

Interior color: Darkslate Gray.

Engine: 2.0-liter, four-cylinder.

Horsepower: 158 horsepower.

Transmission: continuously variable.

Fuel economy: 27 mpg highway, 23 mpg city.

Dealer: Moss Motor Co., South Pittsburg.

Price (as tested): $21,175.

Quick: Think small SUV.

Now, what leaps to your mind? Honda CR-V? Toyota RAV-4? Chevy Equinox? Ford Escape?

Correct answers, all. But let me point you in a slightly different direction. The Jeep Compass may not be a top-of-mind choice for buyers looking at compact SUVs, but it deserves a place on their shopping lists.

Earlier this month, I drove a 2012 Jeep Compass provided by Moss Motor Company in South Pittsburg, Tenn. Our test SUV was a two-wheel-drive model, which slots on the budget end of the trim spectrum.

There's a lot to like about the Compass, which looks like a baby Grand Cherokee. And with a sticker price of $21,175, it represents a solid value as recession-weary shoppers inch back into the market.

STYLING AND COMFORT

The five-passenger Compass doesn't feel like corners have been cut to hold down its price. A beefy, three-spoke steering wheel feels substantial, and the gear shifter is topped with a classy aluminum veneer.

A monochromatic interior color scheme includes Darkslate Gray cloth seat covers and matching plastic parts on the dash, center stack and doors. Headroom is abundant throughout the cabin, but back-seat legroom is a bit tight, especially when front seats adjusted for tall passengers. Seats, front and back, are firm and comfortable.

Outside, the Compass shares a bold, seven-slot grill design with the Grand Cherokee. The sheet metal has nice, tailored lines. Roof rails are cleverly integrated into the roof, and the hood has some handsome contours.

There are some thoughtful details in the design of the Compass, such as rear door handles tucked into the window frames and fender flares that lend a rugged look.

Features in our base Compass include power windows and locks, remote keyless entry, a 60/40 split rear seat and halogen headlamps. Heated exterior mirrors is a nice standard feature for those days when ice and snow intrude.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

The base Compass is powered by a 2.0 liter, four-cylinder engine that pumps out 158 horsepower. In a short test-drive on I-24, the Compass seemed plenty powerful. A larger 2.6-liter four cylinder is available, too, and makes 172 horses.

A continuously variable transmission assembled in Mexico is smooth and responsive and contributes to the SUV's relatively high 27 mpg highway fuel consumption rating. The CVT employs a steel-belt drive and two V-pulleys to control the vehicle's speed. As government fuel standards skyrocket in the next few years, look for CVTs to become the default transmissions for most, mass-market vehicles.

While four-wheel drive is an option on the Compass, most drivers will find the two-wheel drive adequate for Chattanooga-area driving conditions. Beefy Firestone Affinity Tires felt sticky and secure.

BOTTOM LINE

You don't need a roadmap to find a Compass. Just head to your nearest Jeep store. For singles, couples and small families, the Compass is a good all-purpose vehicle with just enough style and performance to make you feel good about your purchase.

about Mark Kennedy...

Mark Kennedy is a Times Free Press columnist and editor. He writes the "LIfe Stories" human interest column for the City section and the "Family Life" column for the Life section. He also writes an automotive column, “Test Drive,” for the Business section. For 13 years, Kennedy was features editor of the newspaper, and before that he was the newspaper’s first Sunday editor. The Times Free Press Life section won the state press award for ...

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