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The Statesman

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The Statesman

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    Vrrooom!

    When the styling of the Jeep Compass was introduced several months ago, I didn’t know whether to love it or hate it.’ Many auto pundits were up in arms that a Jeep would be based not only on a car platform, but on the same platform as the compact Dodge Caliber.’ These purists argued, and still argue, that Jeep stands for ruggedness and off-roading: a viewpoint that, while I can see an inkling of validity, makes no sense to me in a world dominated by roads and not dirt trails.’ Equipped with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder and a CVT, I was excited at the prospect of a Jeep getting between 23 and 26 mpg in real driving conditions.

    When I saw the Compass in person, I must admit that I was very impressed.’ It barely resembled the childish toy that it looked like in the Chrysler ads.’ It has a very balanced blend between SUV and classy sedan.’ Stepping inside, the Compass feels very big and spacious for a compact SUV- much more so than the Ford Escape or last-generation Honda CRV or Toyota RAV4 (the latter two have since grown in size).’ Many big-name reviewers have criticized the cheap interior, and I will not join them in their criticisms.’ The spare interior is more than adequate for such a reasonably-priced crossover vehicle, and certainly nicer than some other interiors that I’ve seen in this price range.

    Once I took it out on the open road, however, my perceptions started to change.’ I drove the highest-end Compass with a 2.4-liter 4-cylinder engine, putting out 172 horses and 165 lb-ft of torque, mated to a CVT with an AutoStick.’ It performs both sluggishly and loudly, taking what feels like a lifetime to get from 0-60 (9.5 seconds, according to Car and Driver).’ The road noise was, at first, not much of a bother, but slowly grates on you.’ The engine is always very audible, as it remains steady at roughly 3,000 RPM in an effort to maximize performance.’ The sound isn’t the nice rumbling of a V8, but the exaggerated whining and moans of a four banger.

    The drive isn’t all bad, however.’ On turns, the Compass felt precise, with very little body roll to be found.’ This beats out many larger car-based SUVs, including the Honda Pilot, Mitsubishi Endeavor, and Toyota Highlander, all three of which are considered industry-leading.’ Jeep’s four-wheel-drive system is a great addition to the car, and while I didn’t drive it in any extreme conditions, it felt more precise than many other front-wheel-drive sedans.

    According to the National Highways Safety Administration, the Compass received a 4-star front and 5-star side crash rating, with a 4-star rollover rating.’ While the side and rollover ratings are excellent, it is appalling that in the year 2006, DaimlerChrysler continues to demonstrate that it has trouble building an inexpensive vehicle that crashes nearly as well as its competitors in a head-on collision.

    All in all, the Compass isn’t a bad buy, starting at roughly $18,500 with four-wheel-drive.’ Basic performance could be better, but the Compass is roomy, handles very well for its class, and gets great mileage.’ If you can stand driving a car that lets in every sound from the road and is about as sporty as a Civic, then this is the car for you.

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