Portland, Oregon Originally, Jeep was going to create one new entry-level model, but when the final two contenders were sent to consumer clinics, the M&M-munching, highly focused groups were split. Men and confirmed Jeep people went for the Patriot, while women and those who had never before owned a Jeep voted for the Compass. So the Jeep executives thought: Why alienate anyone? We'll make both.
As a guy (but not a Jeep owner), it's hard for me to see what the ladies were thinking. The battery-powered, pink Barbie Jeep these target-market women drove as toddlers has more of the brand's iconic style than does this baby-doll Infiniti QX56 with the Hello Kitty face.
Looks aside, the Compass drives a lot like the Dodge Caliber on which it's based. The 2.4-liter four uses variable valve timing to make a commendable 172 hp, but acceleration is only so-so, and the engine drones. The optional CVT accentuates the noise, so choose the light-shifting five-speed manual instead. Front-wheel drive is standard; four-wheel drive (with an electronically locking center coupling) is available. The ride is somewhat stiff, but with a carlike ride height and the resultant low center of gravity, the Compass's handling is nimbler than the small-SUV norm. Although the seating position is two inches higher than that in the Caliber, when you look out over the large dash through the low, steeply raked windshield, the Compass feels much more like an economy car than an SUV.
It's also priced more like an economy car, starting at $15,985. The Compass boasts some high-profile standard equipment (curtain air bags, stability control, traction control), but to achieve that ultralow starting price, Jeep sneakily skimps elsewhere. Air-conditioning, power windows and locks, and remote mirrors are not included. The cabin is roomy and full of storage cubbies, but it's also wall-to-wall hard plastic.
An economy car in an SUV wrapper may make the ladies swoon, but it seems like a brand extension too far. But, hey, I don't get the appeal of The View, either.