Missing the Marque: 2006 Jeep Compass

Another good idea poorly executed by Jeep – did the Compass simply start out with bad directions?

Boss-eyed? 2006 Jeep Compass. Image: autoevolution.com

By the mid-2000’s it was becoming clear that the market for SUV-type vehicles was changing. The vast majority of buyers liked the looks and versatility of such vehicles, but never put their off-road abilities to the test on anything more challenging than a high kerb in the supermarket car park. Good ground clearance and steep approach and departure angles were largely irrelevant to such customers. What buyers really wanted was to have the image of an SUV coupled with comfortable, well equipped interiors refined on-road driving dynamics.

Jeep, which had always majored on its vehicles’ off-road prowess, realised that it needed to adapt and broaden its market share to include these urban-based (and biased) customers. According to Michael Berube, Jeep’s Senior Marketing Manager, the company was forecasting the market for compact SUVs to double in five years and thought it could triple in a decade.

This expectation led to the development of a closely related pair of new models, the 2006 Patriot and 2007 Compass. Both were what would now be termed compact crossovers. The Patriot, which looked like a scaled-down Jeep Commander, was only offered in 4WD form and was aimed at customers who were looking for traditional Jeep virtues in a more compact and affordable package. The name chosen for the new model, as well as the one chosen for its 4WD system, Freedom Drive II, were clearly designed to appeal to the sensibilities of its anticipated largely rural customer base.

2007 Jeep Patriot. Image: honestjohn.co.uk

The Compass, however, was aimed at a new market for Jeep, urban customers who liked the idea of an SUV but did not need or want the compromises that traditionally came with such vehicles. Like the Patriot, the Compass was based on a platform developed jointly by Daimler-Chrysler and Mitsubishi, one which also underpinned the closely related Dodge Caliber hatchback. Unlike the Patriot, the entry-level Compass was offered with front-wheel-drive, the first Jeep to do so. The Compass was pitched directly at customers who were not currently Jeep owners but might be considering a Toyota Rav4, Honda CR-V or Land-Rover Freelander(1) soft-roader.

The Compass’s transversely installed engines were all inline-fours, petrol units in 2.0 and 2.4-litre capacities and turbo-diesel units in 2.0 and 2.2-litre capacities. The smaller diesel was sourced from Volkswagen, the larger was a Mercedes-Benz unit. Transmissions were five and six-speed manual gearboxes, a six-speed automatic and a CVT unit.

The US Car and Driver magazine tested the Compass in 2.4-litre petrol form with CVT in September 2006. Despite the badging, it was, according to the reviewer, “a station wagon pumped up to SUV dimensions, and not a Jeep”. Steering, handling, body control and ride quality were good on suburban roads, although coarse-surfaced highways caused “booming tire roar [that] made the Compass no quieter than the cargo hold of a 747”. This was attributed to optional 18” alloy wheels with low-profile tyres and “a shortage of sound insulation”.

Performance was acceptable, with a 0 to 60mph (97km/h) time of 9.5 seconds, although the CVT gearbox made the constant 6,000rpm drone from the engine under hard acceleration not particularly pleasant to hear. Average fuel economy on test was 24mpg US (28.8mpg imperial, 8.17 L/100km).

Jeep Compass 2011 Facelift. Image honestjohn.co.uk

Interior accommodation was satisfactory with good head and legroom, although the boot space was limited to 23 cubic feet (651 litres) by the internal spare wheel stowage. The quality of the interior trim came in for heavy criticism, however. “Injection-molded out of flinty plastic with all the passion of a rubbish-bin lid, the dash has barely a whiff of the polish of the CR-V and RAV4 and none of the design spirit of the PT Cruiser. Jagged mold-part seams are easy to find. Some gaps are huge, others are wavy.”

When the Compass arrived in the UK in early 2007, Autocar magazine was similarly underwhelmed. The test car was a 2-litre diesel model with a six-speed manual transmission and 4WD. The engine was “much less refined than in its VW applications and gutless below 2000rpm” but the “slick” gearchange was some compensation. The interior was described bluntly, like that of the Dodge Caliber, as “sub-standard”. The magazine’s verdict was that “the Rav4, CR-V and Freelander are all better cars, albeit more expensive than the Compass”, but its keenest competition came from the similarly priced Nissan Qashqai, which was “much better engineered and finished”.

Styling is, of course, subjective, but the Compass always looked awkward and over-bodied to these eyes, with its boxy wheel arches, ‘hidden’ rear door handles, wide triangular C-pillars and frog-eye circular headlamps positioned unusually far inboard. A facelift in 2011 resolved the latter issue successfully with a wider and shallower grille flanked by properly integrated rectangular headlamps, but could do nothing about the other issues. Even so, the more conventionally attractive front end caused a noticeable jump in sales.

US and European sales data for the Compass are tabled below:

Year U.S. Europe
2006 18,579 306
2007 39,491 9,277
2008 25,349 6,384
2009 11,739 2,401
2010 15,894 1,121
2011 47,709 6,692
2012 40,235 9,617
2013 52,993 6,572
2014 61,264 4,829
2015 66,698 616

Total US and European sales over a decade were 427,766(2) units. By comparison, the Jeep Patriot sold 590,842 units over a nine-year period from 2007 to 2016. These numbers do not look embarrassing until they are compared to sales of the Toyota Rav4 in the US and Europe over the same decade, a total of just under 2.5 million units. This gives an indication of the scale of the market for compact crossovers and, in particular, by how much the Compass fell short, despite the resonance of the Jeep marque name.

(1) The 2006 second-generation Freelander was sold as the LR2 in the US, to disassociate it from the reliability issues associated with the first-generation model.

(2) All sales data from www.carsalesbase.com.


Author: Daniel O'Callaghan

Shut-line obsessive...Hates rudeness, loves biscuits.

15 thoughts on “Missing the Marque: 2006 Jeep Compass”

  1. I sort-of, almost, kinda like the frog-eye face of the original car; it has character, like a sad robot that isn’t very good at its job but keeps plugging away regardless. Said character was successfully expunged from the facelift model.

  2. Wow, it could be said that the 2011 restyling saved the Compass from death…sales tripled between 2010 and 2011 in US. And I´m surprised that sales were so strong in its last year. I suppose Jeep marketing people wondered if it was a good idea to replace it.
    Regarding car styling I usually prefer boring over ridiculous, so the 2011 front end seems a huge improvement to me.

  3. Hi Chris and b234r. Even if it robbed the Compass of some individuality, the facelift certainly seems to have boosted sales.

    Something similar happened with the 2013 KL Cherokee in 2018, when its rather unusual front end treatment was facelifted to something more conventional looking. US sales jumped from 170k in 2017 to 240k in 2018.

    Here are the original and facelifted versions for comparison:

  4. Well, admittedly, the first version of the Compass is not exactly a beauty. But with the facelift, a little Aztek shines through for me.
    (Ah, yes sometimes, and specifically with regard to this class of vehicle, my middle name is “spite”.)

  5. I wonder what makes a Jeep a Jeep. There are a few styling elements, like the 7 vertical openings in the grill. But the Car & Driver’s reviewer remark it wasn’t a Jeep kind of misses the point in my view. Wasn’t that the whole point of the Compass? But then again, my girlfriend had a Wrangler and in her eyes that was the only true Jeep. She always remarked “I don’t have a car, I have a Jeep”.

    The Patriot looks perhaps more what one expect a Jeep to be, but it’s not nearly as attractive as an XJ Cherokee.

    1. Hi Freerk. That’s a good question, to which I’d add another: what do we make of Jeep’s latest offerings, the Grand Cherokee and Wagoneer?

      The Wagoneer carries no Jeep badging because it’s instantly recognisable as such, according to the company. Hmm, I’m not so sure. Without the seven-slot grille, it could be an Escalade, Navigator or any other full-size SUV.

  6. There is something about the Wagoneer which looks bizarre in that particular image. Have they styled it to look a bit like a pick-up with a hard-top rear? Images of the rear end suggest that could be their thinking. Some images, like the one above, make it look as though the front suspension wants lifting. Black versions does not look as hearse-like as the white one suggests, either.

    Against the tide, it would seem, I have a vague recollection that Mike Rutherford was a fan of the Compass or Patriot, as well as being quite favourable about SsangYong for some time.

    As a comparison, how has the Renegade fared in both markets? I see plenty of them, unlike the current Compass. I would imagine that the US is less bothered about it.

    1. Hi Tom. Here you go, Jeep Renegade US and European sales:

      Year – —-US—- Europe
      2020 – 62,847 – 58,975
      2019 – 76,885 – 78,842
      2018 – 97,062 – 72,457
      2017 -103,434 – 72,578
      2016 -106,605 – 76,203
      2015 – 60,946 – 53,940
      2014 – ——— – 7,768

    2. Agreed in this picture one can see the WS Grand Wagoneer’s white pillars are quite substantial, yet they don’t seem to support anything as the roof’s blackness kind of makes it disappear.

      The WL Grand Cherokee looks a bit generic.

    3. That’s interesting Daniel. I wonder how many American cars sold more examples in Europe than they did on the domestic market, if only for one year (2019). I’ll leave out 2014 as I think the Renegade wasn’t introduced on the US market as yet.

      I did see a couple of Renegades yesterday on my trip to a friend in Almere yesterday. I also spotted a dark blue Wagoneer SJ, faux wood panels and all. No chance of taking a picture as I was driving.

  7. Very interesting article. A few years ago my Land Rover LR2 (Freelander) rear wiper motor caught on fire resulting in the insurance company declaring it a total loss. I was given a Jeep Patriot for a rental car while they were trying to figure this out, and both my wife and I decided the Patriot was the most miserable vehicle imaginable on almost all accounts. Despite this, we replaced the Land Rover with a 2015 Jeep Cherokee which was almost the antithesis of the Patriot, other than an almost undrivable automatic transmission. We still preferred it, hands down, over the Honda CRV, Mazda C5 or Toyota Rav4.

  8. How did DC screw up so badly with this generation of FWD compacts? Aside from the cheap materials assembled poorly, they were also generally considered to be dogs dynamically. Meanwhile, the closely related Mitsubishis of this era usually get a pass. Dr Z has some explaining to do…

    1. Hi Ben. That’s a good question. Daimler Chrysler’s new model output in the mid-2000’s was prolific, but mainly of indifferent quality. Apart from Jeep’s misses, there were also duds like the 2007 Chrysler Sebring, Dodge Avenger and Dodge Nitro.

      Maybe Dr Z thought ‘good enough’ was the required standard for the group’s US outpost?

    2. Yes Daniel, I’d agree that DC’s output at the time seemed to take a “mediocrity plus 10%” attitude. Maybe without the 10% marginal improvement. And it was a shame. I liked, for example, the Dodge Caliber. Though a compact, it had big car presence and a distinctly masculine mien. And it had two nifty and unique features: a chilled section of the glove compartment and speakers in the tailgate that could be flipped out to bring the party. But the whole car seemed to constructed from Tupperware.

  9. Daniel, thankyou for the Renegade sales figures. I was surprised as I checked the related Fiat 500X on Wikipedia (using carsalesbase figures, it says) and that model actually appears to have outsold the Renegade in Europe. As for the USA and Canada, 500X sales were far behind the Renegade.

    The SUSW SmallWide platform beneath the Renegade/500X certainly covered plenty of bases in its time, most recently the latest Jeep Compass, and larger “emerging market” Jeep Commander. The only continuing vehicles to use SCCS Small, from which SUSW is derived, are vans, following the end of the Corsa E in 2019.

    Survival rate does not seem to be high for that era of Dodge: Autotrader has just 113 Dodges for sale. Of those, 60 are Vipers, Challengers and Rams. I can’t imagine many once mainstream-aspiring brands in the UK having more LHD cars for sale than RHD ones, so that’s an achievement of sorts.

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