Many Jeep purists were displeased to put it mildly when the compact Compass and Patriot were first introduced. Some say these two vehicles took the Jeep brand in the wrong direction. The initial execution of the Compass may have been off the mark when it debuted, but the smaller Jeep makes the brand more accessible to a larger audience thanks to better fuel economy and a lower price than the Liberty, Wrangler, and Grand Cherokee.
The Compass - which shares engines and chassis underpinnings with the Patriot - has been refreshed for the 2011 model year. What's most noticeable about the changes is the grille that unapologetically apes that of the new and very popular Grand Cherokee. The 2011 Compass wears front styling that's far less cutesy than before. The classic seven-slot grille connects the two Grand Cherokee-like headlights. Squared-off wheel wells give all Compass models a more rugged appeal while the new LED taillights make the vehicle feel more modern. New wheel designs are included in the 2011 model year.
The 2011 Compass also benefits from an interior with softer touch points and higher-quality materials, though don't expect new Grand Cherokee quality at a Compass price. For those looking for an off-road capable compact SUV, the newly upgraded all-wheel-drive Compass may be a viable option. Along with all-wheel drive, the Compass comes standard with front-wheel drive and a five-speed manual transmission. A CVT as well as a more powerful 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine are optional. Pricing ranges from $20,000 for a base Compass in front-wheel drive with the 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine and a five-speed automatic to about $30,000 for a loaded Limited 70th Anniversary model with all-wheel drive.
The 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine makes 158 horsepower at 6400 rpm and 141 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. Fuel economy ranges from 23/27 mpg city/highway with the CVT and 23/29 mpg with the five-speed manual transmission. All-wheel drive is only available with the 2.4-liter four-cylinder engine, which is good for 172 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 165 pound-feet of torque at 4400 rpm. Fuel economy with this engine ranges from 20/23 mpg when you get the all-wheel-drive model with a CVT and the off-road package to 23/28 mpg on a front-wheel-drive model with a five-speed manual transmission. If you consider the 2011 Compass more of a sport-utility than a compact hatchback, these are respectable numbers.
Classifying the Compass as an SUV is less of a stretch for the 2011 model year, thanks to the recent availability of Jeep's Freedom Drive II all-wheel-drive system. The "II" signifies that this is Jeep's second-generation version of the system. Ride height in these models is lifted by one inch, to 8.4 inches, and the CVT sacrifices manual shifting ability for a low range. All-terrain tires with 17-inch wheels, a transmission/engine oil pan skid plate, tow hooks, Hill Start Assist, a fuel tank skid plate shield, and more are included in the package.
If you're looking for a more civilized replacement for an old Wrangler, one that can seat five people in a squeeze, the new Compass might be an option. Motor Trend magazine recently had the chance to test the more advanced all-wheel-drive system on the 2011 Compass, and found it surprisingly capable: "On a test drive outside Jackson, Wyoming, the Compass was able to keep up with the rest of the Jeep lineup on moderately difficult snow-covered trails that saw steep descents, rocky riverbeds, and muddy hill climbs, even if it had to make a few runs at some obstacles."
The Compass has a 20.6-degree approach and 32.2-degree departure angle on Off-Road models. Towing capacity is a maximum of 2000 pounds on the Jeep.
Most Compass drivers will probably enjoy the Jeep's trail-rated reputation for off-roading as they venture off the road and into a mall parking lot. When it comes to practical concerns, the 2011 Jeep Compass has good outward visibility but cramped rear seats. Jeep says the Compass has improved ride and handling dynamics for the 2011 model year and, to that effect, Motor Trend found the Jeep to have a pleasant ride with reasonably flat cornering.
Along with the standard 17-inch wheels, the 2011 Compass offers a couple of interesting features you won't find in too many other new vehicles today. The LED cargo light that's mounted in the headliner can be taken out and used as a flashlight. Then there's the swing-down articulating rear liftgate speakers that could be used for a tailgate party or when working in the yard.
As for safety, the Compass has not been tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, but the mechanically related Patriot SUV is considered a Top Safety Pick for 2011. In tests conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration before the stricter 2011 standards, the Compass received four stars (out of a possible five) in front and rollover ratings, and five stars in side impact test ratings.
The 2011 Compass is an extension of the Jeep brand that some might not have thought possible 15 years ago, but now that the vehicle has been refreshed, this is one Jeep that's worth consideration for a compact SUV buyer who wants a bit of off-road capability.