A few days with one suggests why.
In the positive column are its styling, with familiar Jeep cues, and its size, which is right for a small family and allows for a reasonably spacious seat and as much as 53.6 cubic feet of cargo room. The ride is comfortable, while the suspension, revised for '09, is firm enough for crisp handling. The steering is nicely weighted and very responsive. The interior is ergonomically friendly and, while not a standout in terms of materials used, is acceptable.
Fuel economy, though, isn't great - only 24 miles per gallon on the highway by Environmental Protection Agency estimate with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine that's in most versions (and was in my tester) and with the common combination of automatic transmission and four- wheel drive - as I sampled it. I averaged just less than 24 mpg.
Price? Friendly for a version with a stick shift and front- wheel drive: $15,995, with freight. Four-wheel-drive models start at $17,495, again with stick shift. But add automatic transmission and items like leather interior, a navigation system and satellite radio and you end up with my tester's rather unfriendly $30,925 sticker price.
The biggest negative is the 2.4-liter engine, which makes 172 hp. While its performance is adequate, its noise level is nearly intolerable. I've heard quieter diesels. And the problem is exacerbated by the "continuously variable," or stepless, automatic transmission, which allows more rise and fall of engine speeds than conventional models with fixed gear ratios. The racket settles down at cruising speed, at which point it's replaced by tire noise.
Chrysler hasn't announced changes for 2011, but the trade paper Automotive News, which usually is accurate about future products, says the 2011 Compass is due in December with only "some cosmetic changes."
Back on the upside, Consumer Reports says its reader surveys find the Compass "average" in reliability.
The Compass' federal safety rating is pretty good - at least under the old system: four out of a possible five stars in frontal impacts, five out of five in side impacts. There's no rating for it yet under the new system, and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety hasn't rated this vehicle at all.
2010 Jeep Compass
Engine: 2.4-liter, four-cylinder, 172 hp.
Transmission: Continuously variable automatic, full-time four-wheel drive
Safety: Six air bags, four-wheel disc brakes with anti-lock, stability control and brake assist; tire pressure monitoring; heated outside mirrors; automatically dimming rearview mirror.
Place of assembly: Belvidere, Ill.
Cargo room, minimum/maximum: 22.7/53.6 cubic feet
EPA fuel economy estimates: 21 mpg city, 24 highway
Price as driven: $30,925 with freight
Bottom line: Mediocre vehicle for a small family.