2011 Jeep Compass — Review
This 2011 review is representative of model years 2011 to 2014.
By Tom Wilson of MSN Autos
Jeep is on a roll these days. The all-new, completely redesigned Grand Cherokee is an undeniable success, both critically and in sales. Now the Compass gets the same overhaul, and with similarly impressive results.
Due to its commuter car mechanicals, the previous Compass lacked any mud cred, and it wasn't very visually appealing — in fact, it was comical looking. It was widely considered a failure.
The 2011 Compass is a smart redesign, and the addition of optional low-range gearing and meaningful chassis improvements might just be enough to attract the trail-rated crowd. The Compass now offers value and economy in something more like a mini-Grand Cherokee than a watered-down Jeep.
An all-SUV brand, Jeep actually has two compact SUVs sharing the same engine and chassis, the Compass and Patriot. The Patriot takes its lead from the iconic Wrangler, and is slotted just under the Compass, which cues off the much-lauded, higher-end Grand Cherokee. Even so, the Compass is still notably inexpensive to purchase and operate.
Three Compass trim levels are offered: the value-conscious but nicely equipped Base, the midrange Latitude and the fully dressed Limited, which reaches all the way to heated leather seating. All models are offered with front-wheel drive, all-wheel drive or all-wheel drive with low-range gearing, meaning any trim can be paired with your choice of commuter-car to rock-crawling mechanicals. Base and Latitude trims use 17-inch all-season touring tires, while the Limited sports 18-inch all-season performance tires.
The new Compass incorporates a raised ride height and lower-body cladding to better avoid off-road debris, while the overall styling is borrowed from the Grand Cherokee. The headlights, in fact, are straight from the Grand Cherokee's parts bin.
Under the Hood
Two similar all-aluminum, twin-cam 4-cylinder engines appear in the Compass. Base and front-wheel-drive Latitudes motivate with a 158-horsepower 2.0-liter engine, while all other Compasses enjoy a 172-horsepower 2.4-liter. A conventional 5-speed manual transmission is standard on both engines. But you can expect to see mainly a continuously variable transmission on dealer lots.
The big choice for Compass buyers is the drivetrain. Those wanting SUV looks but econocar frugality should stick with the standard front-wheel drive. For all-weather duty on pavement, along with an occasional jaunt down a muddy dirt road or through deep snow, Freedom Drive I is best. It provides full-time all-wheel-drive with a lockable center coupling that really puts some teeth into winter-weather traction. Those packing a tent and sleeping bags need Freedom Drive II; it gets low-range gearing and Jeep's "Trail Rated" labeling, a sure sign aggressive off-road capabilities are on hand.
While not completely redesigned for 2011, the Compass interior has been significantly upgraded — a good thing, considering last year's Eastern Bloc austerity. Soft-touch trim panels, a new center armrest, and a steering wheel with integrated radio, cruise and optional hands-free phone switches are some of the highlights. The seats and cloth upholstery are improved, as is the interior lighting. Standard items on all Compasses include air conditioning; power windows, mirrors and locks; keyless entry; cruise control; aluminum wheels; and fog lamps. All exterior mirrors are heated, too.
Better connectivity is also included via an iPod jack. Optional media upgrades include Sirius satellite radio, navigation, and a 9-speaker Boston Acoustic premium audio system.
Because the Compass doesn't cram in a third row of seating there is good room in front and passable space in back for smaller folks, along with a very useful 22.7 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the rear seats. Manually fold the rear seats and a cargo-gulping 53.6 cubic feet of storage is available. The spare tire is also generously sized, but there are no 12-volt outlets in the cargo space, and 110-volt outlets are available only in the Latitude and Limited trims. Keeping with Jeep's all-terrain background, grab-handles are well placed above all four doors, and visibility is good from both front and rear pews.
On the Road
Despite its impressive off-road abilities, the Compass rides nicely on the highway, feeling much like a small sedan. Only the slightly raised ride height — good for easing ingress and egress — keeps it from slot-car-like handling. Road and wind noise is minor, the seats are mainly supportive — although a bit more lateral support in front would help — and the newly softened feel of the thick steering wheel and padded armrests is welcome. In short, the Compass has transformed from dreary to accommodating inside.
Acceleration and hill-climbing power is acceptable, if not generous, but the one-note motorboat soundtrack provided by the CVT automatic is monotonous. Step hard on the gas and the engine revs to a steady 6000 rpm while the speed climbs; the resulting industrial busyness may be bothersome to enthusiastic drivers.
The optional low-range gearing is a godsend off-road. So equipped, the Compass will go anywhere you dare with excellent control and good ground clearance. Maneuverability and clear sightlines are other strong points. The only meaningful limitation out in the woods is the general-purpose tires. If secure winter driving is the goal, we assure you sloppy weather is absolutely no concern in a Trail Rated Compass.
Right for You?
The Compass is always a good utilitarian purchase, but when you factor in its strong off-road and all-weather skills it joins a notably smaller and more interesting club.
Pricing has moved up noticeably with the 2011 improvements, starting at $19,995 for the base front-wheel-drive version, and rising to $21,695 with all-wheel drive. The popular Latitude is $22,295 in front-wheel drive and $23,995 with all-wheel drive, and the Limited is $24,995 and $26,695, respectively. Considering the gains in comfort, style and capability, it seems money well spent. If slightly lower pricing is important, or if you prefer a more angular design, consider the Jeep Patriot, which shares the Compass mechanicals.