Cargo

The Compass boasts a hard-floor cargo area as a plus. Personally I prefer carpet back there, mainly because my dog — a boxer — hates standing on the slick plastic when the back seats are flipped forward. Otherwise the cargo area size and height were ideal for her. The rear windows were right at her head level, and she could stick her face out the window all day long if she wanted.

The Compass is just adequate for cargo, and here's where those comparisons to the CR-V and RAV4 fall apart. The Compass has 21.9 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats up and 52.5 with the seats folded. The RAV4 is significantly larger at 36.4 cubic feet and 73 cubic feet, respectively. The CR-V has 33.5 cubic feet and 72 cubic feet, respectively.

That's why consumers should compare the Compass to other car-based hatchbacks, like the Mazda3 or Toyota Matrix; in this category the Compass easily bests them. If cargo is a major concern, the Compass has to be ruled out of a shopping comparison with small SUVs. But if you just want the utility, it's better than most hatchbacks. Just go into the dealership in the right frame of mind.

Features

There are a few spiffy features in the Compass. An optional Musicgate stereo system is also a must, not because the rear speakers flip outward when the tailgate is lifted, transforming the Compass into an impromptu boom box, but because the sound inside when the rear is closed is far superior to the stock system. It's the one option I'd opt for.

There's also a holder built into the armrest for iPods or other MP3 players. I found this awkward to use with my iTunes-enabled cell phone and not at all comfortable as an armrest while driving. Instead I just dropped the cell phone into a handy cubby below the shifter and left iTunes on shuffle. There it was out of sight and out of mind, and that wasn't even the intended use.

A standard rear dome light pops out of the roof lining for use as a flashlight. I honestly can't remember the last time I needed a flashlight while looking around my trunk, and during the week of testing nothing came up that needed such illumination.

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